Robert Porter: Remembering Sam Phillips|
Song for Sam
From an article in the Times Daily written by Russ Corey, Jan. 7, 2006
Not every college student is able to land that dream job after graduation. For Robert Porter, being
in the right place at the right time probably had something to do with it. When he was a student at
Florence State College, Porter lived across the street from Judd Phillips, brother of the legendary
Sam Phillips. Porter said he knew who Phillips was and wanted to meet him. "I came from Lexington
to go to college," Porter said. "I didn't know I'd end up across the street from someone like that."
He met Judd Phillips, and they became friends. Porter would sometimes eat dinner with Phillips and
his wife. Sometimes when Porter was visiting, Phillips would call some of the stars his brother Sam
was promoting at the time, such as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. He once placed Porter on the
phone with Lewis, who was performing in New York City at the time. Porter said he didn't recall
what he said, if anything at all, to the man affectionately know as "The Killer."
When Porter finally graduated in 1971, he said Phillips told him he would be good in the
entertainment business, but he needed to see the backside of it. He ended up going to Memphis where
he spent some time with Sam Phillips and time sleeping on the floor of Judd Phillips' motel room.
But eventually, the Phillips brothers took Porter to introduce him to someone: Jerry Lee Lewis.
Porter said Sam Phillips told Lewis, "Jerry, you've got to meet this boy, he comes from good stock.
You got a lot of people around you and you need somebody from good stock." "Jerry said, 'Where did
you get this boy from?'" Porter recalled. Porter said Judd Phillips was determined that he would
work for Lewis, and he was hired. Eventually, Porter worked his way up to being Lewis' business
manager, a job he held for about 11 years.
Porter traveled from Nashville, TN, where he now works for a nonprofit organization, to visit with
his old friend and employer.
Porter said Lewis allowed him to handle the business side of the entertainer's career. He said Lewis
told him that "he was the piano player." It was up to Porter and others in the organization to do
Porter said Lewis is a born performer who has a knack for reading his audiences. He could have them
standing in their seats dancing to "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" to weeping to his rendition of
"Amazing Grace." He said when he worked for Lewis, the entertainer would never go into a show with a
set list and rarely did encores. "He was a showman," Porter said.
Porter said he and Lewis parted ways amicably in the early 1980s after Lewis was hospitalized with
severe stomach problems. His illness kept the entertainer sidelined for a brief time, and Porter
said it hurt him to see the fiery Lewis in such a frail condition. "I kinda wanted us to part when
we were on top," Porter said.
Lewis was more popular in country music circles in the U.S. during that time, Porter said, but he and
the other Sun artists were also in demand in Europe.
Porter said Sam Phillips brought out the natural talent of his artists. "What you heard on the
record is what they were," Porter said. "There hasn't been a record person since Sam that came up
with so much raw talent that were successful till the day they died."