Music » Music Features

Perfect Match

Songwriting legends Isaac Hayes and David Porter come together (again) for two big events.



Isaac Hayes and David Porter have been friends for a mighty long time.

The two met in Memphis in the early 1960s, forming a songwriting and producing team that yielded hundreds of smash soul hits, including Carla Thomas' "B-A-B-Y," Johnny Taylor's "I Got To Love Somebody's Baby," and Sam & Dave's unforgettable "Soul Man," "Hold On, I'm Comin'," and "I Thank You."

Porter was citified, raised in South Memphis and educated at Booker T. Washington High School. Hayes was a country boy, who started life picking cotton in Covington, Tennessee, before moving to Memphis to attend Manassas High School, Booker T.'s biggest rival.

At Stax Records, the duo found common ground.

"I became aware of Isaac shortly after high school," Porter recalls. "He was a member of the Teen Tones, and I was part of the Marquettes. We would compete at the Palace Theater on Wednesday nights."

Porter was a hired singer, selling life insurance on the side and just trying to make it when he started writing songs with Chips Moman. But Porter would soon find a new songwriting partner.

"As I got the opportunity at Stax, Isaac got the chance to do a few sessions there, so I approached him," Porter says. "Initially, Isaac and I started a record label -- Genie Records -- with money I borrowed from Bishop G.E. Patterson, then an elder at the Church of God in Christ. After that, I went back to Stax, and I was given a six-month trial to become a staff writer."

"David said, 'Hey man, you're playing music and I write songs. Why don't we team up?,'" Hayes remembers. "He had that idea of songwriting teams like [Motown's] Holland-Dozier-Holland and [Burt] Bacharach and [Hal] David."

"I wanted us to have an identity," Porter confirms. "That was a definite goal. I was motivated by these other writing teams, who were having great success."

Together, Porter and Hayes composed more than 200 songs. Their story is now considered music history: In June 2005, they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

"Our creativity was so wide open we could write a song about everything," Hayes remarks.

This Saturday night, Hayes and Porter will receive top honors from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences -- aka the Grammy organization -- during a star-studded event at the Memphis Cook Convention Center.

"Having your peers honor you is great validation," Hayes says. "It means a lot knowing that they're cognizant of how far-reaching our influence has become."

Porter agrees: "I've been involved with the Recording Academy for more than 20 years, but to be recognized in this fashion is a special compliment."

Hayes and Porter will be celebrated at the event by Lisa Marie Presley and by Minneapolis songwriter/producer Jimmy Jam, who, along with partner Terry Lewis, has formed a hit-making tandem in the Hayes and Porter mold.

Stax's dynamic duo will share the stage with more recent local success stories, Hustle & Flow director Craig Brewer and pop star Justin Timberlake. (Historic local radio station WDIA is also being honored.) But Hayes and Porter have nothing but praise for their upstart fellow honorees.

"Craig Brewer is not only doing a tremendous thing for his career but a tremendous service for the local music industry," Porter says. "He took it on himself to incorporate Memphis music [in Hustle & Flow, which features Hayes in an on-screen role], and he's made a tremendous impact and brought a lot of attention to the local music scene. For that, I applaud him."

Timberlake, he says, represents the future. "He's a great young talent and an excellent singer. He has tremendous range, and he knows what to do with the songs -- how to paint the picture, which is phenomenal."

Hayes and Porter will share a stage again next week, when they join forces with fellow Stax alumni Steve Cropper and Carla Thomas to honor the late, great Rufus Thomas at a program scheduled for Tuesday, October 25th, at the New Daisy Theatre. "Legacy: A Tribute to Rufus Thomas," a fund-raiser for the Stax Music Academy, will also feature Vaneese Thomas, Kirk Whalum, and producer Phil Ramone.

"David has such a knack for writing lyrics," Hayes says. "Together, we have mass appeal. Whether our songs were about life experiences or affairs of the heart, we struck a chord with the listeners.

"We're a perfect match," he concludes. "It's good to realize that your music is timeless."

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