Si Senor (I Theenk) (R Porter) and 5,4,3,2,1 Zero (R Porter) 1962 and 55 Days At Peking (D Tiomkin) 1963 and When You’re Not Near (R Porter) – 1964 Rob E.G.
Lap steel guitar player extraordinaire from Sydney, Rob E.G. (real name Robert Porter, 1941) was seen performing a version of Santo and Johnny’s Sleepwalk on Sydney television and was signed to Pye records in 1960 and had two minor hits, an instrumental version of the theme music from the early Australian TV series Whiplash which starred Peter Graves and an original composition entitled Railroadin’.
Rob incurred spinal injuries in a car accident in Cammeray (Syd) in 1961, which forced him to wear a back brace and stand while he performed, but he bounced back to compere the Channel Nine talent show Opportunity Knocks and sign a new deal with Festival Records.
His teen idol good looks and musical flair, ensured that his point of difference as a clean-cut instrumentalist who did not directly compete with the bawdier rockers of the day, enabled him to enjoy considerable chart success in the period 1962-63 with a succession of national instrumental hits – Si Senor (#2 1962), 5-4-3-2-1-Zero (#13 1962), Jezebel (#4 1962) and 55 Days At Peking (#1 1963), and he also wrote many of his own songs, making him a unique performer in a market crowded by covers and songs churned out by American tunesmiths in New York and Los Angeles.
Si Senor charted at #2 for Robie’s first top five hit, the song traded on the popularity of other contemporary songs with a Mexican flavour such as Tequila by the Champs (#1 US ’58), Lonely Bull by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass (#6 US ’62) and particularly Speedy Gonzales by Pat Boone (#6 US ’62) which used the voice of Mel Blanc to animate the cartoon character Speedy Gonzales.
This voice was copied on Robie’s next major hit 5-4-3-2-1 Zero which was inspired by the advent of Russia’s first space satellite Sputnik, the Mel Blanc-inspired voice appears in a vocal insert near the end of the record when the rocket crashes to Earth. Mel was better-known as the distinctive voice of Bugs Bunny and many other Looney Tunes animated characters.
In 1963 Robie scored his only #1 hit with an instrumental cover of the Brothers Four vocal tribute to the popular movie of the time about the Boxer Rebellion and U.S. gunboat diplomacy in imperial China, 55 Days at Peking starring Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, and David Niven. The arrangement, orchestration and production of the record, combined brass, strings, military-style snare drums, backing vocals, the resounding crash of a Chao Bullseye gong in the finale and Robie’s crystalline steel guitar riffs, it was remarkable for its time given the two- track recording technology available.
Surprisingly it was not until 1964 that Robie revealed his vocal strengths when he wrote and recorded the power ballad When You’re Not Near, it was another superb production, the musical arrangement and big band backing was impressive and Robie’s surprisingly convincing tenor vocals carried the song to #7 nationally for his last top ten hit in Australia.
His manager Jack Neary recognized Robie’s appeal to a broader more mature audience and he started appearing at clubs around the country, also opportunities began to open up overseas; and Robie relocated first to the UK and then the USA. There he landed roles in film (Three, and The Carey Treatment) and network television shows (Daniel Boone, Malibu U, Mannix, and The Immortal). At the same time he partnered up with American writer-producer-director Steve Binder, whose TV credits included the legendary music shows Hullabaloo, the T.A.M.I. Special, and Elvis’s 1968 Comeback Special. Below L-R Robie in Daniel Boone, Rob with Steve Binder, Rob in the movie Three with Sam Waterson and Charlotte Rampling.
Porter returned to Australia in 1970 and acquired a controlling interest in the independent record label Sparmac, which had been established by DJ Ken Sparkes and John MacDonald. Robie also released several singles, but his future success would be linked to a career as a music entrepreneur and respected record producer, promoter, and artist manager, both here and in the US in the 70’s and 80’s, working with such acts as Daddy Cool, Healing Force, Marcia Hines, Colleen Hewett, Hush, Air Supply, Rick Springfield, Tommy Emmanuel, and Gerry and the Joy Boys (Gerry Humphreys). Below L-R – Air Supply, Rick Springfield, Marcia Hines.
He subsequently fell out with several artists over royalties and artistic differences, and there was litigation between Porter and Marcia Hines, Ross Wilson, and Rick Springfield. Robie met his first wife Jill at the Vincent Chase Actors Workshop in LA, they married in 1965 and had a son Christopher in 1978, no further personal details about Rob are available. Below- Robie Porter then and now.
Robie has been a resident of the USA for many years, although he did make a guest appearance on the 2018 Go Show Gold Spectacular in Australia, performed several of his lap steel hits and was warmly received, he worked in television production in the US, and was also a successful horse breeder there. Thus far Robie Porter has not been inducted into the ARIA Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, surely an oversight given career achievements as a songwriter, performer, producer, and artist manager, hopefully this will be corrected in the near future. Sadly Robie passed away on December 16, 2021 after battling dementia later in his life.
Thank you for the wonderful article on Rob E G. Like you I cannot believe that he has not been inducted into the ARIA Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he has done more for the Australian Music Industry than anyone I know and showed that our artists could match it with the world. I have tried several avenues to have Rob inducted but it always fell on deaf ears. Let’s hope that it can be corrected now, but it’s a shame he has recently passed and will never know.
Hi Val, thanks for the positive feedback, it’s much appreciated, I must admit I had not updated my blog on Robie to reflect his sad passing last December, which I have now done. ARIA have been slow to recognise the true status of such performers as Rob, and others from the early rock era. 4TR has also called out ARIA on their failure to admit Jon English or James Reyne as a solo performer to the Hall of Fame, and there are others, hopefully our efforts will correct these oversights, best regards Graeme Davy 4TR.