David Porter was born in 1941 in Memphis. While he was still a student at high school, Porter began to develop an interest in music as a career. He was working at a grocery store opposite Satellite records, so he decided to see whether the recently-formed record label might be willing to offer him work.
He met with Chips Moman, Satellite’s recording engineer and producer, who shared Porter’s love of R&B, and was offered work as a song-writer. When he told his friends about his lucky break, they too presented themselves at Satellite Records and also ended up working together. The friends were Booker T. Jones, William Bell, and Andrew Love.
Soon after this, Moman helped to find a new venue for the company, an old movie theatre on McLemore Avenue, which became the headquarters of the renamed Stax Records. Unfortunately Chips Moman left Stax soon after, in 1961, after a disagreement with owner Jim Stewart over royalties, to be replaced by Steve Cropper, who took over as Stewart’s assistant.
Porter later introduced another new face to Stax, when he was instrumental in bringing in Isaac Hayes as a session musician and song-writing partner.
Isaac Hayes was born in 1942 in Tennessee. At five years of age he began singing in his local church. He was a self-taught musician, playing piano, Hammond organ, flute and saxophone. He attended Manassas High School in Memphis and then worked a day job, whilst finding opportunities in local bars and nightclubs to play. His first professional performances came at the end of the 1950s.
Porter and Hayes started working together in the 1960s and in 1966 had their first success with Johnny Taylor’s “I Got to Love Somebody’s Baby”, which reached number fifteen on the R&B chart. Ten more of their songs charted in 1966, including two big hits for Sam & Dave, “You Don’t Know Like I Know” and “Hold On, I’m Comin‘“. The second of these topped the chart. Carla Thomas took two more of their songs into the charts,”B-A-B-Y” and “Let Me Be Good to You” . What a good first year together!
The following year saw further chart appearances for their songs with Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas and Sam & Dave reaching the top fifty of the R&B charts. Sam & Dave were the most successful with “When Something Is Wrong with My Baby” (number two) and “Soul Man” (number one). Between 1968 and 1971, seventeen more songs made it into the R&B charts.
During this period, Hayes was also recording his own songs, with a jazz-based debut album “Presenting Isaac Hayes” released in 1968 and the more successful “Hot Buttered Soul” appearing in 1969. At the start of the 70s he decided to concentrate on his own work and the partnership with David Porter ended. Both continued to write songs, but with new collaborators.
Porter widened his scope, producing hit songs for Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Celine Dion, Otis Redding, Drake, ZZ Top, Tom Jones, Ted Nugent, Bonnie Raitt, Wu-Tang Clan, Eminem, Patsy Cline, Albert King and the Eurythmics.
Hayes began to write film soundtracks and act.
Hayes and Porter were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005. During their short collaboration, they produced around two hundred songs together. They helped to turn Stax from a relatively unknown studio recording pop and country songs into a world-renowned centre of Soul music.
They helped put Memphis on the musical map.
“Soul Man” was their most successful song and their most important. It was written in response to riots in Detroit in 1967, involving the police and some of the black community. Hayes has explained that they wanted the song to reflect the pride of the black man, telling a story about the struggle to rise above his present conditions. It is still relevant today.
Photo 1: Memphis Music Hall of Fame
Photo 2: GWaddell81 2005 (Wikimedia Commons)
Photo 3: William Henderson 2007 (Wikimedia Commons)