Up Close With Richard Porter
Leader of the Legendary Poor Boys During The ‘50s In West Texas
[Photo: The Poor Boys (left to right): Richard Porter, Eddie Williams;
(front row left to right) Bob Hardwick, Ronnie Smith, and Carl Bunch
Interviewer’s note: Richard Porter and his group, The Poor Boys, were members of the first wave of garage bands that sprung up in West Texas during the mid – ‘50s, primarily due to one man’s influence: Elvis Presley. In fact, “The King” was the definitive motivator for nearly every aspiring rockabilly band in West Texas during that time, including Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Therein lies the similarity; that is, when all these aspiring musicians were on equal grounds at the beginning of their careers, building the foundations of a desired unique expression that had been originally sparked by the music of Elvis Presley.
What makes The Poor Boys’ contribution so important is really not so much that of a music prevalence (no releases), but that of an historic roll the group played when West Texas rockabilly was in its infancy, as revealed in the following captivating featured interview with bandleader, Richard Porter.
The members of The Poor Boys should be inducted into The Unsung Heroes of the West Texas Rockabilly Pioneers Club, if such an organization exists. They were there during rock ‘n’ roll’s beginnings and they struggled with the rest of the aspiring artists of the time to make themselves known, all the while giving little thought that their toils would some day connect historically to that of the development of a music genre that many believe died on February 3, 1959.
[ Lance Monthly] When and where were you born, Richard?
Richard Porter Pampa, Texas in the Panhandle, January 23, 1940.
[ Lance Monthly] Did you grow up in the country with your birth family or in town?
Richard Porter My father was in the South Pacific in WWII on the USS North Carolina. I was born on an oil lease just outside Pampa and grew up in a small frame house in the town of Pampa.
[ Lance Monthly] How many brothers and sisters do you have?
Richard Porter I have two older brothers and one younger sister that I grew up with. My father later remarried and I have one half-sister from that marriage. She and I are pretty close, as I am with all of my siblings. We value family very much and are always there for one another.
[ Lance Monthly] What instrument(s) did you learn to play and how did that come about? In addition, did other members in your birth family have a musical interest?
Richard Porter My mother's family was musical. I think each of the eight children played an instrument of some kind. My mother taught me some guitar chords and my older brother, Bob, also taught me what he knew. My sisters are pretty good singers, but don't play
[ Lance Monthly] What chores did your parents expect of you while you were growing up and what did you do to entertain yourself during your free time?
Richard Porter I didn't have too many chores in the traditional sense of "Little House on the Prairie," but I was pretty much expected to carry my own weight. As a young child, I was in the kitchen with mother learning how to cook. I took an early interest in creating a meal that was not only pleasing to look at but tasty as well. When I was a pre-teen, I raised chickens from birth and sold them as "fryers" as we called them then. Also, I would take my shoeshine kit downtown and shine shoes on the courthouse square for a dime. In the afternoons I would take those profits and buy the daily newspaper, the Big Spring Daily Herald. We had since moved when I was in the first grade. I'd pay three cents for each paper and sell it on the street for a nickel. I'd make maybe a dollar a day doing this.
At night I'd go out to the ball park and sell sodas in the stands and watch the ball game out of one eye. There were several players on that team who made the majors. Sometimes we had horses that we'd ride. We had the run of the town. I had many friends and enjoyed school and was a serious student. My grades were always tops and I was proud of my academic record. Sometimes I'd make as much as two or three dollars a day and fall asleep a happy kid.
When I was twelve, I got a job (we'd moved to Odessa at this time) at Otto's Ice Cream making forty cents an hour. This was a great, great job. I got all the ice cream and 'burgers I wanted. I think I gained 80 pounds. Actually, I did work there for five or six years.
[ Lance Monthly] Were you originally a country-music fan before rock ‘n’ roll came on the scene?
Richard Porter Yes, I was a huge fan of Lefty Frizzell, who hung out at the Ace of Clubs in Big Spring, Texas, where he was actually “discovered.” We lived there during my elementary school years. Of course, I never went to the club, as it was a true "honky-tonk" in not the best sense of the word. Also, Hank Snow was an early influence on me. Their songs were not complicated to chord and their voices not in a wide range. I was able to do their songs pretty well. When Johnny Cash came in, it was pretty clear to me that we were soul mates. I could and still can do a pretty [good] Johnny Cash. The chording and leads were very simple and I could do both fairly well.
[ Lance Monthly] When rock ‘n’ roll made its appearance, what artists did you listen to on the radio? Did Elvis make as big an impression on you as he did with the other West Texas rockabilly aspiring artists?
Richard Porter Bill Haley was a startling discovery for all of us. It was electrifying to hear that band. His voice was not much, but with a band like the Comets, his voice was pretty much secondary. Listening to that upright bass being slapped (pre electric bass days) was a pure joy. Sometimes I'd like to isolate just that bass. Bill Black was in that same mold. He was just as important to early Elvis as Scotty Moore, although he doesn't get the accolades. I remember the trips Elvis made to Odessa. The effect he had on the young girls was something to behold.
I remember when he was released from the Army and took that famous train ride across the U.S. to make his first movie. The train stopped in Odessa where I lived my junior and senior high school years. The local radio stations had publicized it. Col Tom Parker came out on the platform on the last train car, ostensibly, to check the safety for Elvis. My little sister, Jackie, made me take her down to the train depot. There was only a small crowd. When Elvis came out on the platform, he looked as if he'd just awaken from a nap. He looked very pale from a couple of years in Germany. His hair was died jet-black. When he left it alone, it was light brown as it was in the earlier appearances in Odessa. Some girls tried to reach up and steal his shoelaces but he jumped back. I know he'd had some problems with aggressive fans.
I saw him also in 1971 in Macon, Georgia, when he was on his "revival" tour. It was a more mature Elvis, but it was before he got fat. He looked really good and put on a great show. It was a little different seeing him with full orchestration and a vocal ensemble, the Sweet Temptations I think, doing the background. We'd been accustomed to Scotty Moore, Bill Black and the Jordannaires and later he added his drummer, D. J. "Sticks" Fontana.
[ Lance Monthly] What high school did you attend and describe the typical teen in reference to what was “in” in respect to cars, attire, choice of music, cool sayings etc.?
Richard Porter I attended and graduated from Odessa High School in 1958. I was an athlete and a scholar. About a dozen different colleges were recruiting me to play football on scholarship, including the U.S. Air Force Academy. I chose SMU in Dallas and a teammate was Don Meredith of "Monday Night Football" fame.
Cars were definitely cool, but I didn't have one. A friend's father bought a brand new shiny red and white (OHS colors) '55 Bel Air Chevy two-door hardtop convertible. It was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. That was the ultimate. No doubt. My mother had an old '51 Buick, which I [was] allowed to use. Driving anything was okay, just as long as it would circle Day's and Tommy's drive-in.
Of course, we were "hip" and "cool." We pretty much wore genuine "Levi's" and white tees in the warm weather. There was NO printing on the tees. The smokers would roll up their cig packs in the sleeve. The Poor Boys bought matching poplin red jackets and had the backs of them embroidered with our logo and names. They were very, very cool. It was the James Dean model in “Rebel without a Cause.”
[ Lance Monthly] When did you become serious about performing in a band and was The Poor Boys your first group?
Richard Porter I got pretty serious during my sophomore year. I had joined a pure country band headed by Hank Telford. He did a good Hank Williams, but after a while he felt one singer was enough and I left. I took Ben Bevers with me, who later played with the Classics, and Eddie Williams, who later played with everyone. We were not the Poor Boys at that time. Ben left for military school and Eddie and I found Carl Bunch playing for the Hood Jr. High orchestra and liked him immediately. We invited him to join us.
We were doing a live telethon at the West County Park Auditorium in 1955 and a skinny 14-year-old kid was in the back trying to get a band to back him up. He wanted to do "That's All Right." We agreed and it went well. Ronnie Smith could not play a chord on the guitar then but used it simply as a prop. We liked Ronnie. He was a much better singer on the coming rock 'n' roll, so we asked him to join us as well.
Carl had a buddy, Bob Hardwick, who loved to travel with us and always brought his harmonica. I said, "Bob, we don't have much need for a harmonica player, but we could sure [use] a bass player." His sweet mom, Rubye, bought one for him and he locked himself inside his house for a week playing along with his Elvis records and eventually was as good as Joe B. and Jack Kennelly. He was a super addition.
Elvis's first movie, “Love Me Tender” came out about this time and we enjoyed the song, "Poor Boy." We learned to play it and used it. Everyone began to call us the Poor Boys. We decided to adopt it as our official band name.
[ Lance Monthly] Did The Poor Boys open for any high-profile artists?
Richard Porter We shared the stage with Roy Orbison at times. I remember opening for Johnny Horton at the Ector County Coliseum. We also did some shows with the Odessa PRCA Rodeos opening for an act with Ken Curtis and Milburn Stone, doing their Festus and Doc characters, and once for Robert Horton who played Flint McCullough on "Wagon Train" and "110 in the Shade" on Broadway. Strange, he stuttered just like Mel Tillis unless he had his lines memorized, as on TV or in a song. He was a pretty good singer and released a single or two, but never made a splash that I remember.
Once at another telethon, we were on stage with the great Broadway and movie singer Kathryn Grayson (“Show Boat”). Someone called in and said he'd pledge twenty dollars if she'd sing "Hey Good Lookin'." I doubt she'd ever heard it. So I told her that I'd whisper the words in her ear as the song progressed. We sang it together. I still remember her perfume. Everyone was very deferential to her since she was such a huge star at the time and was donating her time, as we all were, to the telethon. It was before Jerry Lewis began his thing.
Funny thing, I remember once going out to Broncho Stadium [Editor’s note: not the Denver Bronco’s stadium in Denver, but that of Odessa High] where we played football, to attend a Faron Young concert. Guess who his opening act was? Yep, Buddy Holly and the Crickets. I'd never heard of them as they'd not yet released "That'll Be the Day," but I remember that I liked him.
[ Lance Monthly] How popular did The Poor Boys become in your area and can you remember the names of some other local rock ‘n’ roll bands that were making a little noise during The Poor Boys’ reign?
Richard Porter Of course, the Teen Kings [Roy Orbison’s band] were the guys. They were bigger and better that we were, but when we hit our peek, they'd gone on tour and were making records, [which] had yet to chart. When they toured, we played their Wednesday night TV shows, a 30-minute gig on KOSA-TV sponsored by Pioneer Furniture. Elroy Dietzel, Delbert Trollinger and Joe Melson also played with various groups, and on Saturday afternoons we'd all set up out in an old airplane hangar, which doubled for the early KMID-TV station. They'd have us set up about twenty feet apart and [had] a huge TV camera on rollers [that] simply rolled from one band to another, pausing long enough to do live commercials. It was a Battle of the Bands. Some were pretty good.
[ Lance Monthly] What were some of the popular songs that The Poor Boys covered in their live performances and can you remember a particular one that the group performed that went over particular well?
Richard Porter Everyone LOVED "Tequila." We'd picked up a great little sax player, Brent Clark, and a popular local trumpeter, Roy Licon. We did a great "Tequila." "Night Train" and "St Louis Blues" were also a crowd favorite. Roy also did a sweet version of "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White." Ronnie could do just about any Elvis song well, but strangely enough, I don't ever remember his doing a Buddy Holly song. Buddy was just getting popular about the time we were breaking up. Ronnie was never into Buddy as much as he was Elvis. He even looked like him. I did okay on Johnny Cash and particularly enjoyed doing "White Sport Coat" by Marty Robbins and "Kansas City." I moved Ronnie more into the front and myself in the back as time went on.
[ Lance Monthly] Did all the members of The Poor Boys get along fairly well?
Richard Porter Remarkably, we did and still do. I can't remember any petty jealousies and bickering. I ran a pretty tight ship, but usually it wasn't needed. They might sneak off on occasion and have a beer, but they hid it from me. Everyone, except me, smoked though. Strangely enough, not a one smokes now.
A funny story: We were going to Dallas to record and spend the summer playing at the Sky Club. We had two cars and one broke down in Eastland. Hardwick and I volunteered to hitchhike [to] Arlington where we were to stay. We strapped his upright bass on top of the car that belonged to Eddie Williams' father. When Hardwick and I got to the motel and walked into our room, his bass was on the bed and, man oh man, the neck was on the floor. Hardwick about died. What had happened was Eddie was driving and they wanted to whip into a drive-in for a burger. There was an awning [that] covered the cars and it was made of huge steel pipe. One of the pipes hit the bass, pulled it down the back of the old Buick, hit the deck-lid trunk and snapped the neck clean off. Both pieces were on the parking lot. Luckily Bob's mother, Rubye, was in the insurance business and had it insured. He wound up with a shiny brand new Kay bass.
[ Lance Monthly] Did The Poor Boys actively record and were there any vinyl releases?
Richard Porter There were no releases with the Poor Boys’ name. As a group, we recorded professionally on the one song, "Goin' Back Home," in Fort Worth, but we didn't really know how to find a label. It was never released. I remember going to some DJs around Dallas and asking them to play it anyway. They wanted five bucks per play. We were just kids and thought this was the way the business was run. We didn't have any money to pay them, so it didn't get any airtime. The payola scandal broke shortly after that. I have some taped songs that the Poor Boys recorded in '56 in my mother's living room. These were done with a small reel to reel with one mike. Ronnie would hold it when he sang and would hold it around the room during leads by the various instruments. There were several of Elvis's early hits as well as some Chuck Berry. We were all about sixteen at this time. The one record we recorded in Fort Worth at the Clifford Herring Studios on 7th Ave was done in the summer of '57 when we were playing at the Sky Club in west Dallas on Fort Worth Avenue.
[ Lance Monthly] Ronnie Smith laid down some tracks as a solo artist. Where were these tracks recorded and who paid for the sessions?
Richard Porter There were one or two recorded at Norman Petty’s in Clovis in late 1958. His dad paid for the sessions. I sat in on these, but did not participate musically. The group consisted of Tommy Allsup, lead; Geo Atwood, bass; Bo Clarke, drums; Vi Petty on piano; and the Roses, backup. Norman said we should use his studio musicians for the sessions and we could do the tours and personal appearances. They gave the best sound, of course. We were pretty raw.
Two or three others were recorded in Nashville, at which studio I don't know. Backups were Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer, D. J. Fontana, and the Jordannaires. I don't know who paid for this, but I suspect Ronnie's dad did, as well. Some were released on Imperial. Mr. Smith gave all of them to me and I recorded them to cassette and gave them back to him. All of these are on one cassette tape. I suspect the originals are in the possession of his younger sister, Sherry Smith Nabors, who lives in Richardson. She could even be in possession of the master tapes. I have no 45s of these. They are stored in a ribbed plastic bag and in the heat the plastic made indentions on the 45s, so some were not in very good condition.
[ Lance Monthly] All aspiring bands have had at least one disastrous venue because of equipment failure, unruly fans, band member(s) not showing up or showing up intoxicated, etc. Can you recall an unfortunate performance by The Poor Boys where nothing seemed to go right?
Richard Porter Wish I could come up with a good story here, but we had only the one Fender amp for Eddie's and my guitar. There was no other amplification except for the mikes, which were usually provided by the local venue. Carl and Eddie always brought their girlfriends. I tried to get them not to do it, since they sat in a chair near the bandstand all evening doing little but looking pretty.
TV and radio was live, of course, since taping wasn't even in its infancy then. Kinescope was for the high dollar network TV shows and not local live shows. Once, however, I had a new Gibson ES-125 electric jazz guitar and was playing a dance with much vigor. The dance was "western" themed and I had a new Levi jacket. After the dance, I was looking at the back of my guitar and saw that the metal buttons had made a number of unsightly scratches on it.
[ Lance Monthly] Did you meet Buddy Holly personally?
Richard Porter I sat down and talked with him only once before he went off to New York. It was at the Silver Saddle where Tommy Allsup was playing western swing with his band. Buddy and Waylon came in from Lubbock and was seeing Tommy about hiring him and a drummer, who turned out to be Carl Bunch. I got to know the rest of the Crickets later and see them from time to time at the Buddy Holly Music Festival in Lubbock. I have gotten better acquainted with Peggy Sue, as well as the backup singers of Buddy's early releases. Gary and Ramona Tollett on "That'll Be the Day," John Pickering on many of the other releases, and also I knew the Roses pretty well since they went to school at Odessa College and were later the staff backup singers at Norman's studio. I still see them and the Picks or at least those who are still alive.
[ Lance Monthly] Don Meredith was one of my favorite quarterbacks for the Dallas Cowboys. After he left his announcer’s spot on Monday Night Football a while back, he disappeared into the mountains near Santa Fe, NM. Did you find him to be a very private person during his high-school football days? What’s your take on his overall demeanor? In addition, did you ever have any aspirations for making football a career?
Richard Porter Actually, it wasn't high-school days. I played for the Odessa Bronchos [Editor’s note: This is the actual spelling adopted by Odessa High School even though the Spanish, Broncos is the more popular grammatical spelling of the two.] and he played at Mt Vernon. We were teammates at SMU. I get an email from him on occasion, but we were not fishing buddies. I did beat him once head-to-head at the basement student center bowling lanes at SMU. It was just the two of us. I took a sports photo off the wall and had him sign it for my little sister.
I last saw him at the opening of the new SMU football facility a couple of years ago. He was swamped and really couldn't visit with anyone he wanted to. I think that's the reason he is so reclusive. He doesn't return to many SMU or Cowboys’ functions. He just can't get any privacy. He was/is a funny guy, but I guess he knew he was pretty special and received special treatment by the coaching staff. He always had the alligator shoes and the convertible. I did like him though. He never put on any airs with his teammates.
I received an offer to attend training camp with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1962. They had started out as the Dallas Texans of the old American Football League. I was in the Navy at the time and couldn't have done it if I'd wanted to. I really wasn't professional football material. Those guys get serious.
[ Lance Monthly] When you sat down with Holly, do you recall any of the conversation? Did he mention anything about his falling out with Petty, J.I., and Joe B.?
Richard Porter Actually, I was more of a fly on the wall. Buddy and Waylon were trying to convince Tommy to join with them. At that time, it didn't seem important—certainly not what we attached to it today in Buddy's history. It just wasn't an item to pay close attention to. Wish I had a rewind button to go back and replay it. There was no mention that I recall of J. I. and Joe B. leaving New York. On their return trip, they, with Peggy Sue, Buddy Knox and his bride, did stop by Odessa, as I think I mentioned previously, and we all sat up long into the night and talked. Their leaving Buddy almost seemed to me to be temporary and that they planned to rejoin him after the WDP. They just didn't have the fire in the belly to make that tour and apparently were feeling the same financial pinch that Buddy was.
[ Lance Monthly] How long did The Poor Boys last and what was the principal reason for its demise? Did Bunch’s decision to go with Holly have anything to do with it?
Richard Porter If I could isolate beginning and ending dates of the Poor Boys, I’d say the beginning was in the fall of 1955 and the ending in June 1958. Carl's decision to go with Buddy came around Thanksgiving 1958. I remember that date because I was home from SMU for that holiday. We didn't do any gigs that summer as I was preparing for college, working in the oil patch for school spending money, and even had a two week U.S. Naval Reserve boot camp in San Diego that I had to attend. There was no ceremonial "break up" and I think the idea of any one of the other guys carrying on with the band name didn't occur to them. I know Ronnie wanted to go solo and really didn't need or want to carry on the band name.
We have done two gigs since (freebies, of course). In 1978 we played a dance for the OHS Class of '58 twentieth reunion. Of course, Ronnie wasn't with us, but Sherry came as well as Eddie's mother and sister. It was quite an emotional experience and a great deal of fun. Brent had trouble remembering how to insert his saxophone reed, but he warmed up pretty good.
Eddie had been playing Holiday Inn lounge gigs and was a bit rusty on the ‘50s R&R. Did you ever hear Johnny B. Goode being played by someone who'd been playing "Moonlight in Vermont" for twenty years? I teased Eddie about it. It was kinda funky. Carl also had been dormant and got tired fairly early on. We slowed down the pace a bit. The interesting thing was when I looked out into the dancing crowd, I saw the same people I'd seen on the dance floor twenty years earlier.
It was an amazing time warp. Everyone sounded pretty good though. Bob sounded especially good on the bass. I'd also kept up with a good set of calluses on the fingertips. I was never in Eddie’s class with guitar talent, but I never told anyone. I just can't sing Elvis and Buddy very well with my bass/baritone voice, but I did them anyway. I don't think anyone expected American Bandstand.
[ Lance Monthly] After The Poor Boys’ breakup, what direction musically did each band member take?
Richard Porter This might take a separate interview with them as I was trying to survive on the gridiron and the classroom 350 miles to the east. Ronnie did his cuts at Norman's and Nashville, failing to chart anything and was really into drugs by this time. I understand he went on to harder stuff, although I never personally witnessed it. Several Buddy bios indicated that Ronnie was the one who first gave Waylon drugs as a way to calm him down after Buddy's death. I can't confirm this. Bob Hardwick went into the U.S. Air Force for four years and attended several colleges on and off. I don't think he actually received a formal degree. He did some gigs with Orbison, as did Carl. You know Carl's bio and his stints with Hank, Jr. and just about everyone else in Nashville. He did some solo singles, but I don't know of their general release. He embraces Christianity in a very serious way and has done lay pastoring and counseling for many years.
I understand that Eddie did a tour with Chuck Berry and also the Classics of Odessa, backing the Velvets. He has done gigs with just about everyone in West Texas, doing a ton of lounge work around the country. He continues to be fairly active, as I understand. Brent Clark, sax, made a fortune in real estate, having owned acreage in and around Disney World in Orlando before it opened. He and his father built condos there. Roy Licon, trumpet, has had a pretty tough time working odd jobs around Odessa and as I understand it, lives in the same house that his parents lived in when we were kids. I understand he is not in the best of health. As far as I know, the rest of us are in pretty good shape.
I graduated from SMU in 1966 and went on to law school at the University of Florida in Gainesville, graduating in 1969. I was admitted to practice in Florida, but never did actually open an office. I went to work for West Publishing Company, the premier law book publisher in the world, and was later involved in the development of WESTLAW, the famous online legal research system and also the infancy of CD ROM libraries for archival legal material. I was with them 26 years and a huge European company made us an offer we couldn't refuse, so we sold out. I had become a shareholder in the meantime and after the sale, retired at age 55. Liz (my bride of 42 years) and I, enjoy retirement by doing international travel, cruising our condos in Colorado and Branson, MO, and doing our grandparenting duties here on the banks of beautiful Lake Ray Hubbard in Rockwall, Texas, twenty [miles] northeast of downtown Dallas.
Our oldest daughter, Leslie, lives here with her family. Our son, Brian is in real estate in Portland, Oregon, and our youngest daughter, Carol, is an art director with a large advertising agency in Minneapolis. All are well-educated and productive tax paying citizens. My life is and has been good. Liz and I do mission and humanitarian trips to Cuba a couple of times a year working with a church there.
[ Lance Monthly] I understand that Ronnie tragically took his life in 1962.
Richard Porter Ronnie had accidentally gotten hooked on sniffing glue back when no one had ever heard of it and had no clue of what it was. He had been into making model airplanes as a pre-teen. His house had a sunroom atrium and the sun would shine in and [it would] get pretty warm. He worked over the glue and wood and began to notice that it gave him a high. After several years, he began to purchase large quantities and would hide it around his house and back yard. If his family found any bottles and discarded them, he'd always have a stash some place. This behavior was not too bad during the Poor Boys’ days, but got increasingly worse as he tried to go solo. I think he saw the success of Buddy and particularly the success of Roy Orbison, with whom we were a bit closer since he'd been in Odessa several years by that time. Ronnie was depressed at not being able to sell any records.
After the Winter Dance Party tour [Editor’s note: Ronnie joined the tour after Holly’s death.], he was never really the same psychologically. I have an original letter from him in my possession that he wrote to me two days before he took his life. It was upbeat and he looked forward to being released from the Institute for the Criminally Insane in east Texas. His parents had had him committed as he was out of control by this time. He'd [earlier] been admitted to the Big Spring, Texas, mental hospital, but it was minimum security and he simply walked away.
One morning, some of his buddies called to him to come out and play some softball. He said he'd be out shortly. He tore his T-shirt or bed sheet into strips, made a rope and hanged himself from the light fixture. This was the week of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Oct '62. I was a pallbearer. The Poor Boys were scattered by now, military and other ventures. I don't remember any of them being there, but I could be mistaken. I know Roy wasn't there or any other "celebrities" that I can remember. I liked Ronnie and had known him since the late ‘40s when we were both well pre-teen. He had a little ego, but not terrible. He and I got along very well and he considered me the boss of the Poor Boys and [that] he was simply one of the band members doing vocals, a la Tommy Duncan with Bob Wills or Frank Sinatra with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.
[ Lance Monthly] Richard, I ask this of all those who have had a connection with Norman Petty. What was your overall honest impression of the man and do you have any thoughts about his relationship with Buddy Holly? In addition, give our readers a brief description of Petty’s sound-studio set-up.
Richard Porter On a personal level, I had only the one-time connection with Norman. Ronnie's dad agreed to pay $125.00 for the Poor Boys to cut "My Babe," previously recorded by Little Walter. We auditioned in the main recording studio and although Norman said we should do well on tours and on personal appearances, we lacked the experience and polish to do well at this point in a recording session. He had session musicians as I alluded to in a previous question and won't repeat it here.
The studio was not a Nashville type, but pretty homemade. Everything in it was function and Norman was a perfectionist and an innovator in sound reproduction at the time. He was very patient with Ronnie, who kept hitting bad notes. The Roses said later [that] it was the longest single session they'd ever been involved with. I remember it took something like twenty hours working all through the night. Vi, Norman's wife, was a trouper and stayed with us all through. I can't imagine how the $125.00 was split up between Norman, Vi, Tommy Allsup, George Atwood, Bo Clarke and the Roses (three members). Maybe they made $15.00 each?
I am sorry I have no personal observations concerning his relationship with Norman. I've never heard Travis or Larry Holley speak ill of Norman. I know Sonny West had a real problem with him and won't hesitate to let anyone know about it. I do respect Sonny's opinions, as he doesn't seem to me to be an unreasonable person. I've chatted a bit with Terry Noland and Charlie Phillips and they just sort of roll their eyes and smile when his name is mentioned.
[ Lance Monthly] Apparently, Lubbock, Texas, has decided to no longer support the annual Buddy Holly Symposium mainly because of Maria Elena’s extraordinary licensing fees. Your thoughts?
Richard Porter It's very sad. As Bill Griggs said and I'll paraphrase, “People won't come to a ‘Lubbock Music Festival,’ but they will come to a ‘Buddy Holly Music Festival.’” I made many friends from England and Europe who revere Buddy's memory and they'd come only if Buddy's name were attached. It might be a final blow to an already diminishing event. From the grand opening of the center to now, crowds have been getting smaller and smaller. Perhaps it has run its course.
At the last event, Labor Day weekend, as John Mueller, the premier Buddy Holly tribute artist (they are not "impersonators") in the world was performing, a white limo circled the center several times until security opened a barrier where it could pull up onto the parking lot DURING THE SHOW and Maria and her entourage disembarked and opulently made their way to the front row. She got up and made a little speech and departed before the show was over. [Interviewer’s note: Actually, and in Maria’s defense, she was still at the Winter Dance Party Band show after its conclusion as this interviewer spoke to her briefly during that time. She then made a quick exit.] It was the best show John had done, as he called the Buddy's record backup singers to the stage. The Tolletts, Picks and Roses sounded very, very good and made John sound more authentic.
Carl and Tommy lived with Buddy and Maria at the New York apartment as everyone knows and they are the ones who have the good insight.
[ Lance Monthly] Can you recall the time when Buddy died?
Richard Porter I recall it like it was yesterday. I was a second semester freshman at SMU in Dallas. Although we didn't get a newspaper in the dorm room or even have a TV for news watching, I heard it from contemporaries in the Lettermen's Dorm. I was not in direct contact with Carl at the time, as I was extremely involved in trying to survive big time college football and the rigors of academia at the first class university.
[ Lance Monthly] Rumor has it that Buddy had a child out of wedlock. Do you have any off-hand information that may support this?
Richard Porter No. I've never heard anything credible. I certainly never heard Travis, Larry, Carl or Tommy discuss this.
[ Lance Monthly] If you could live your musical career all over again, would you have done anything differently?
Richard Porter No, we were a garage band. I was the least talented of the group instrumentally (not false modesty here either) and not as good a singer as Ronnie. I was however a good organizer and a good front person. The band members listened to me and respected me as pretty much a no-nonsense guy, although I did enjoy life and had a great time while it lasted. I don't think there was ever a real future in the entertainment industry for me. I am, however, my wife's favorite singer.
[ Lance Monthly] Did you enjoy the instrumental tunes of The Fireballs, The Ventures, and The String-A-Longs during their heyday?
Richard Porter Very much so. The Fireballs were a little later for us. The Ventures were big for us as well as the Champs, Duane Eddy and the group that did "Night Train." The String-A-Longs were not that big in Odessa, but I remember them from Petty's studio. I've subsequently been involved in projects including the Fireballs and enjoyed their company on a personal level.
[ Lance Monthly] What projects would those be, Richard?
Richard Porter They were part of the video that Shawn Nagy put together assembling many of those who had recorded at Norman's. We were all interviewed and videoed. We had a great jam session on Norman's back patio that day some of which was also videoed. Also we did an ill-fated video at the last Lubbock gathering featuring mostly gospel music on a Sunday morning. Carl said the video quality was too poor for general and commercial release. Most of my contacts in the past few years have been mainly with George Tomsco, but I have met and visited with the other Fireballs. I don't know the String-A-Longs.
[ Lance Monthly] Do you think that the innocent and rhythmic expressions of ‘50s and early ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll will ever make a serious mainstream comeback?
Richard Porter No, I think it's for us in retrospect. Although I've never met any kids today who aren't crazy about ‘50s R&R. I know my kids have always loved it [and] know just about every song I know. My grandkids love it also. However, I think it's a thing to be enjoyed in nostalgia.
[ Lance Monthly] Thank you, Richard for sharing your fascinating memories with TLM’s readers. What are your final thoughts?
Richard Porter I have gotten to know more performers and artists of that time period in the last five years than I did in the old days. I have particularly enjoyed my renewing friendship with Peggy Sue Gerron and share her dismay at the factually weak movie "The Buddy Holly Story." Also in the play "Buddy," she was embarrassed by the "locker room" humor in which the drummer character (J. I. presumably) was letting Buddy know that he (drummer) would be the recipient of Peggy Sue's "special favors" if Buddy would agree to change the title of his new song from “Cindy Lou” to “Peggy Sue.” I doubt there's any basis to that, but we all know screenwriters have to take dramatic license to make a movie funny or telling. The day-to-day lives of most people, including performers, is pretty boring and not the fodder for an interesting film.
Richard Porter It was a great life and I continue to enjoy God's blessings with a wonderful and beautiful wife of 42 years, three super kids and three grandkids that are the joy of my life. Thanks for asking and for the opportunity to put some of these thoughts into print.
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