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It’s been a few miles across America, Canada, the UK and Europe since Willy Porter released his debut CD, “The Trees Have Soul” in 1990. Back then he traveled in his Volkswagen selling discs out of the trunk, mesmerizing audiences with his guitar chops and original tunes. In 1994, he released his second independent CD entitled, “Dog Eared Dream.” The album marked Porter’s artistic growth from his constant touring and a more developed songwriting perspective. The song “Angry Words” became a top-10 staple on Triple AAA radio stations around the USA. This radio success established Porter as a nationally recognized artist, and brought the inevitable major label bidding war to a boil. “Dog Eared Dream” highlighted his pop songwriting sensibility and also his acoustic guitar work that would grow into a style uniquely his own – a mixture of Leo Kottke, Michael Hedges, Richard Thompson and Lindsey Buckingham. He would ultimately sign with Private Music/BMG in 1995. European and American tours with Rickie Lee Jones, Tori Amos and The Cranberries followed over the next year and a half. Amos summed up her thoughts by saying “Willy plays rhythms that make me want to crawl inside his guitar and sleep there forever.”
Private Music went super nova in 1997, and Porter was left in contractual limbo with BMG. Porter regained momentum in 1999 when he signed with San Francisco-based Six Degrees Records and released the folk-pop gem, “Falling Forward.” Produced by Grammy winner Neil Dorfsman (Dire Straits, Sting), “Falling Forward” contained the radio friendly tracks “Mystery” & “Cut the Rope.” National tours commenced with legendary artists Paul Simon, Sting, Jeff Beck and Jethro Tull.
In 2002, Porter brought seemingly disparate elements together on his eponymous self-titled disc, “Willy Porter.” The album combined his fiery acoustic guitar work with career defining songwriting and vocal work—equal parts rock muscle, and folk-based intimacy. “Willy Porter” showed his growing vocal talents as he sidestepped through various character songs with power and detailed subtlety. In 2003, the solo live album “High Wire Live” would further forge Porters’ relationship with his growing audience. It clearly showcased his mastery of the acoustic guitar in his most comfortable environment—his live show. He continued to stretch over the next couple of years morphing performance art, live audio looping, and improvisational sketch comedy into his solo whistle stops. Each tour date became a unique event, a musical experience much greater than just a review of past, present and future recorded work.
Porter’s combined experience at both major and independent record labels ultimately fueled the drive to release a wider variety of music on a more frequent basis, and led Porter to start his own imprint, Weasel Records in December 2005. Since then he has released, “Available Light” and “How to Rob A Bank” (eOne Distribution) through this independent label as well as produced and released two discs for singer/songwriter Natalia Zukerman. Porter then began a unique collaboration with Carpe Diem String Quartet called the mealies. Adding an acoustic guitar and vocals to a traditional string quartet, the mealies have captivated audiences throughout the Midwest and captured one of their performances as “LIVE AT BoMA” released on Weasel Records in 2010. Porter’s most recent release brought him back to his roots with an acoustic focus and is a collaboration with Milwaukee area singer Carmen Nickerson. “Cheeseburgers & Gasoline” was recorded at Porter’s home studio and captured live largely as they would be heard at a live show.
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, has described Porter’s musicianship this way: “Willy Porter’s music demonstrates admirably that the technical excellence of his guitar-playing will never overwhelm the essence of the song itself. In perfect symbiosis, the disciplines of performance and songwriting combine together to create the unique work for which he is admired by professional peers and audiences alike. Oh – and a damn fine singer too. Thank goodness he doesn’t play the flute.”