Rupert Cleo "Bobby" Porter, 59, died of stomach cancer at the age of 59 in the VA hospital. The mighty mite of a singer fronted garage punkers Young Lust, Thin White Line, and his current band Short Dark Strangers.
A memorial for Porter will be held Sunday, November 21st at 9 PM at Kopecs in Lawrenceville. Friends are invited to speak, and are asked to keep their comments to three minutes.
Born in the Hill in 1951, he learned his craft in a church choir. After high school, Porter joined the Marines and went to Vietnam as a tunnel rat, scurrying through dark warrens under the jungle floor chasing after Charlie. The punk scene was a holiday after that tour of duty.
He got his discharge in the early '70s, and Porter led a southwest band called Otis and the Red Z (southwest as in New Mexico, not Pennsylvania) that played rock & soul. Porter returned to Pittsburgh a few years later to get in on the emerging Three Rivers punk scene and formed Young Lust.
They played clubs like the Electric Banana (Porter lived in Oakland then, and held court at Chief's Cafe when he wasn't singing or clubbing), the Lion's Walk, Cedar Lounge and Phase III. Like most punk bands, they didn't get much mainstream love, but their tapes were played on the college stations.
His shows were legendary. The music may have been from the garage, but Porter's vocals were straight from Memphis. And though slight of stature, he was a physical dynamo.
He would go through a variety of stage antics and back-flipping acrobatics, jump on tables, walk on the bar...it was always a good idea to hang on to your drink when Porter took the stage. And when the band took a break, Porter would do a powerful acapella "Dock of the Bay" to remind the punk crowd of his R&B roots.
In fact, his second band, Thin White Line, made up their own version of the tune, “Dock of the Bus Stop.” TWL was a fixture on the Youngstown and Pittsburgh punk scenes starting in 1983 through the mid-90′s.
That's when Thin White Line became Short Dark Strangers, which described their sound as "Otis Redding or Wilson Picket (with) a punk band backing them."
The band did two tours of Europe and had a healthy performance schedule, hitting towns like Buffalo, Erie, Baltimore and Cleveland. Their home base in Pittsburgh was Howler's, though they performed in several area bars and clubs.
Music was a way of life for Porter, but not a way to earn a living. He took whatever day jobs fit his schedule, from bouncing to pushing a broom. Porter was single, and the life suited him.
Now he and Otis can join in a duet - and hang on to those glasses!
(Bobby's friends have set up a Facebook remembrance page; some great tales, pix and vids on the site.)
Bobby Porter and Thin White Line - Strange Glances