NEWS FROM THE WOODS
By Bob Ketchum
Originally Published November 1, 2000
"Another Star Shines In The Heavens"
It is with great sadness that I find myself again sitting here in front of my computer, trying to think of what to say about yet another fallen comrade It is not easy writing about someone close to me that has died. But it does give me some kind of closure, I suppose. I guess it's a way of saying "Goodbye old friend. You've gone but you will never be forgotten." Perhaps it's knowing that - at least in some little way - that persons memory will forever carry on in the form of this single document.
It wasn't that long ago that I said farewell to a childhood friend, Charlie Blackburn. Now I find myself struggling with the loss of another good friend, Porky Hill. I didn't know Porky as long as I had known Charlie, but Porky was a musical kinsman. He was also a great drummer, and being a drummer I can appreciate the loss to the musical community. Porky was in recent years the drummer for Arkansas' premier "home grown boys", The Cate Brothers. He also served double-duty as the main man behind the kit for all the recent Whiplash Gumbo projects for M.R. Keck. Both the Cate Brothers and Whiplash Gumbo had spent many hours here at Cedar Crest Studio doing recording projects, on which Porky played either his drum kit or mine, depending on the session. We also spent a fair amount of time just hanging out on the lake or around the house. Most people close to the Cates or to Porky knew about all this, but not many people knew much about where he came from before this Arkansas connection began.
William "Porky" Hill inherited his talent naturally. His parents were professional entertainers who played with the Count Basie Orchestra. He personally knew and played with B.B.King, Joe Morello, Jimmy Reed, Albert King, and Bobby Blue Bland among others. Porky once said his greatest influence was from his one-time music teacher Elvin Jones.
After college he served 13 years in the USAF, first as a chopper medic in Viet Nam, and then playing in the official USAF rock band, "Mach One", performing all over the globe. After spending a few years in Memphis he moved to Northwest Arkansas in 1987 to work in Paul Hughes' Wonder Valley Recording Studio. He also played with Paul in several local bands. It was also at this time he met up with M.R. Keck and began serving as Keeper of the Sticks in Keck's "Whiplash Gumbo". It was in 1988 that he got his start playing with The Cate Brothers. While in the Cates Brothers he played for many prestigious dates, including the Inaugural Ball for President Clinton.
In September of 1990, Porky and The Cates came to Cedar Crest Studio to lay tracks. At that time the studio was only 16-track. Many of those tracks have shown up on one album or another for The Cates. "Can't Keep Up With You", "Blue Motel", and "Hurry Sundown" appeared on the recent "Struck A Vein" CD (Big Burger Records). I remember that session like it was only yesterday. I always get along with Earl & Ernie Cate and have known them from way back in my Ft. Smith years. I have known David Renko from when he was playing with his mom & dad. And as for John Davies - well, I used to be John's personal manager when he was bassist for "Paperkid". So when the Cate Brothers came into my studio in 1990 it was more like a get together of old friends and by the way…...... let's record some tracks. I'd still rank that session in my Top 10 sessions of all time.
Porky had his own ideas about how his drums should sound and how his arrangement should be played. But since I am a drummer and we knew each other so well we never locked horns in the studio. I always respected his talent and abilities. I usually tend to ride drummers pretty hard in the studio, but Porky had a unique ability to feel what was the right part for the arrangement, and I pretty much let him have his way in the studio. 95% of the time he was right on the money. In addition, he also subscribed to one of my pet idioms in recording: "Less Is More". In other words, sometimes it's not what you play but what you don't play that makes the difference. He was one of those rare individuals who's talent was matched only by his winning personality and warm sense of humour. He was a kind and gentle man, and didn't have a vain bone in his body. He was always unassuming and you would never hear him brag on himself. We had some really great times here at Cedar Crest Studio, both in the recording process as well as relaxing on the lake.
Porky was married twice and the father of nine children. In recent years he called Fayetteville home with his fiancee Shannon Frank (the mother of Sasha, Mikaela, Gabriela and Jessica). He and Shannon were making final plans for their wedding when he passed away September 9th from a fatal attack of histoplasmosis.
Although the funeral was held in his hometown of Gary, Indiana, a memorial service was held September 19th at the Fellowship Bible Church in Lowell. Hundreds of friends attended to pay their respects.
A benefit for the loved ones that Porky has left behind was held October 8th at Doc Murdock's in Fayetteville. It was a huge event which featured more than 20 bands and lasted all day long, culminating in a giant star studded jam session which extended into the wee small hours of October 9th. Featured performers included: The Cate Brothers, Ultra Suede, Rhythm Method, Earl's Garage, The Tares, Jungle Bush Beaters, Whiplash Gumbo, Corefor, The Lucious Spiller band, Cherry Brooks & TLC, The Michael Burkes Band, Steve Pryor & The Mighty Kingsnakes, The Nace Brothers, Big Bad Bubba, Full House, The Barrio Brothers, Windy Austin's Hot House Tomato Boys, and many other "walk ins". Everyone - including the sound system provider (John Anderson) club employees, waitresses, security, bands and crew donated their time to the cause. Auctions were held and donations asked for on behalf of Shannon and the children. One thing that stands out in my mind was the fact that Shannon offered Porky's drum kit for the event. So….. every band that played that day played on his kit. What a special touch.
I sat in with Whiplash Gumbo. We played a 30-minute set and ended with "The Letter 'S'", on which Porky played drums for the album cut. Whiplash had never played this song live, but M.R. "Randy" Keck thought it would be a fitting tribute to Porky to end on it. In several places during the track there is featured a marching snare drum part. Porky overdubbed four snare parts for the album, so we arranged to have four drummers and their snare drums on stage for the final song. At the end of the song, Randy motioned for us to keep playing the cadence as the song ended. We stood there playing the snare pattern for a couple of moments and then slowly played softer and softer until all you could hear was the entire room full of people in total silence. It was truly a tearful moment. You could have heard a pin drop.
For those of you who knew Porky and for those of you who were touched by him at some point in time, donations to his family may be made in several ways. An account has been set up at McIlroy Bank in Fayetteville. Make your checks out to The Porky Hill Children's Memorial Fund, Account #11521264. Or, mail your donation to The Porky Hill Children's Memorial Fund % Paul Hughes, P.O. Box 208, Cave Springs, Ar 72718.
I'm really going to miss you, old friend…………………
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