Catching Pork McElhinny on a weekend at home is sometimes a tough venture to accomplish, but while enjoying his morning coffee, we were lucky enough to catch him after a night of fishing with his buddies. And quite an early morning it was for the guitar picker that had a late night prior. But not from music in this case. Pork came in from Percy Priest lake in the early morning hours after experiencing unfortunate auto troubles on his way home.
But with a van wracked up with miles in the rear view mirror from a musician’s touring requirements, it’s no surprise that this far into Pork’s career, the touring van has a few new clinks and clunks. Each and everyone of them, come by honestly, showing not only the wear and tear on the mechanics, but more so showing a homage to all the enjoyment George “Pork” McElhinny has provided so many audiences around the country. Fans spread from Montana to Philadelphia continually praise the entertainment of the Nashville-based guitar-slinger’s live performance. With the fun-loving energy, as well as the impeccable musicianship in each song Pork performs, his fan base continues growing as does his musical catalog of tunes. Many require a full band to provide full entertainment, but a “Pork” show however, provides just as much entertainment value, all from his own solo delivery. “It’s definitely something to see!” says one of the smile-ridden fans at his show.
Hailing from Brookville, PA, Pork’s musical beginnings began a bit different from his modern-day solo performances. Growing up in his rural town a good click north of Pittsburgh, working for 14 years in a beer cooler factory as a press operator, Pork started like most in his musical endeavors, playing in full bands.
“I can’t ever remember not playing music,” says Pork. "There was always music in our family. My mom and Dad had a band, along with my older brother playing guitar - I was too young to be in the band at the time but I can remember the family band practicing once a week in the band-room-addition to the house. Continually surrounded by music as a child, George "Pork" McElhinny started playing guitar at the seasoned age of 3 years old.
Pork’s older brother, he claims, was his first guitar-playing influence. “I listened to whatever music my brother listened to and did my best to steal as many licks from him as I could,” says the younger sibling. And thereby Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn and others began to mold the young lads listening and guitar-playing habits from an early age. McElhinny was exposed to a very wide range of music. He says, “My mom and dad had a huge country music influence.
Among a list of others in a typical musician’s history, Pork had his own bands as well, including a bluesy/rock-based 3-piece band, called ‘Pork McElhinny and the Fender Benders’ and another called ‘Code Blue’. Pork also played in a band with his brother called ‘Four on the Floor.’ “We had some regional success,” says Pork. “We recorded an album and did pretty well with some local radio airplay in the mid 1990’s.”
Pork, also the wordsmith, began writing his own songs as well. After playing everyone else’s music he realized that the passing mention of a clever phrase or idea from someone could lead to his own musical creativity. “Sometimes I’m just playing guitar and a chord-progression will transpire,” he says. “And then I might have had an idea for a title, or a hook. Sometimes the two fit together like a glove, and other times the ideas are shelved for another attempt at another time. Every song comes along a little different.”
As time passed, Pork had to add singing to his resume, because at times, no one else was actually able to fill the void. Pork’s first band had a band-leader that showed up to practice one day with a brand new microphone he had purchased for Pork’s use. “What’s that for!?” asked the would-be vocalist. “I was always afraid to get in front of a microphone, I didn’t want to sing – but I’ve had to step into that position from the beginning – just a transgression over the years to become a vocalist too.” Pork, in his love of making music admits that becoming a singer wasn’t his thing. “I love getting on stage to do what I do,” says McElhinny. “I gotta sing to be able to play music for a living. It’s my love of a guitar that far outweighs wanting to be in front of a microphone. But singing allows me to play guitar, so I make the very best of it and deliver what I can for both.”
Both of which not only appear loud and clear in his live performances, but also in his recorded performances as well. Look back through the years and time has presented quite a few selections from Pork McElhinny, for a listener to play over an over and continually enjoy the musicianship one might have caught on stage.
Pork’s first recording project was released in 2004. Pork was still employed at the factory, and the majority of the music on the The Boy in the Man CD was the results of Pork’s ‘songwriting’ in his head while he was on the job. Long Way to the Top followed the next year. Still in Pennsylvania, 2005’s completion of his 2nd CD inspired Pork to start looking to the south and imagining himself relocating and stepping up his musical career. Pork started by bouncing back and forth for a month at a time, making connections, writing songs, and recording more tracks, in a destination known for musical attraction. “Every other month, I would come to Nashville,” says Pork. I would go back home to play enough gigs to pay for my next month, and then come back again. I started recording the ‘Long Way’ tracks at home in PA, and then brought my tracks to Nashville for added steel guitar and fiddle tracks,” says Pork. “That was my transition to Nashville from PA. Working in Nashville was my ultimate goal and making music has always been the dream.”
With his time back and forth paying off, Pork had landed himself a couple full time live gigs booked at honky-tonks famous for down home, traditional and roots country music shows. “Robert’s Western World and the Nashville Palace are Nashville staples for traditional, classic country,” says Pork. “It’s hard to find ‘traditional’ these days and they have been great to work with. I’ll have a lot of fans that have seen me before, somewhere else though, and request that I play Walking in Memphis, or Sweet Home Alabama or others just a bit off-brand for the traditional venues. These honky-tonks are thankfully still a couple places in Nashville where I’ll just respect the job and the location I’m playing. When those songs may not fit the one location, I just have to hit them the next night instead, in a different juke-joint somewhere else down the road,” chuckles Pork.
Once he had made his move to Music City in November of 2006, Pork also started churning up tunes for his next record. After a couple years of acclimation to his new surroundings and making it official as a full-time Nashville musician, Pork proudly released his Guitar Man recording project in 2008. “This one was a little bit unique,” says the now-Nashvillian. “I recorded a ‘double’ record, but both discs were the same songs. One disc was recorded with a band, and the other was just my solo version. I was always getting feedback from crowds that they liked hearing me with a band, but they preferred to hear me solo.”
With the inspiration setting-in that he could probably make a living at this by himself, Pork changed his tune from a full band to a solo act. “I can work easier without the multiple schedules,” says Pork of his revelation. “I can load all of my equipment into one vehicle and go. I’m on my own; easier to book, pay, pick songs and get paid for my work.” Pork, having found his niche for solo performances, started to take his career more serious and began elevating his goals and aspirations. And so was the beginning of Pork’s venture into stripping away the full instrumentation and proceeding on his way, with just his voice and his guitar.
Stomping Ground delivered Pork’s fourth recorded compilation of creativity, released in 2013. Pork recollects one of his favorite songs on the disc, “He Calls Me Dad,” as one that he wrote about adopting his son. Soon thereafter Pork also recorded a live album entitled Help Bring the Wall, Live Concert, as a fund-raiser to help fund the traveling Vietnam wall replica. Pork donated the proceeds from his 2013 benefit concert as well as the proceeds from his live album sales to the cause. The album sold out and is no longer available in distribution.
For his live performances, Pork speculates over 5000 showings in his past. “I was playing 5 nights a week back home, and now living in Nashville, I’d play doubles and triples some days,” says Pork. “There were some weeks when I first came to town, where I was playing 12 to 15 jobs a week.” Pork even recollects a 6-hour gig when he was hired to play a private party. “I played for 4 hours, then they passed the hat around, and I had to play another 2 hours after that. I love music, but that was a long one – imagine how much you would have to pay a plumber for their services, 6 hours of work at night – I was working cheap!”
Included in Pork’s many gigs, one of his favorites was playing in Vicenza, Italy. Originating from a Nashville show, where an audience member enjoyed Pork’s show so much that they invited him to play their guitar festival being produced overseas. “I was playing at Robert's and these guys were just leaning up against the wall watching. They poked their head in the door at first but then ended up staying,” says the global guitarist. “A foreign gentleman asked in between songs, to speak with me when I was ‘taking a break.’ I had to inform him, I wasn’t taking a break. I lose customers when I take a break so I don’t walk off this stage.” Pork claims that they said to him that he would like what they wanted to talk about, so Pork asked that they speak to his wife instead who was sitting in the audience at the time. They happened to be right in their speculation and invited Pork to play alongside some of the best guitar players in the world at their guitar festival in Italy.
Included in the exuberance of playing special shows, is sometimes a not so exuberating method of travel to get there. Plans were that they would arrive in Europe a day prior to the show, with time to acclimate to the time change and be ready for his show. On the flight to Italy, Pork was stranded in Chicago however, sleeping in the airport instead of the successful transportation the airlines promise in the exchange of one’s hard-earned money for a flight ticket. Plus, the airlines had also lost his luggage. With the delay in the flight, Pork arrived a few shorts hours just before the gig. He had no sleep for 36 hours, he had no change of clothes from what he had been wearing throughout the three-day travel fiasco, and had no time to properly prepare for what Pork calls the most prestigious gig he had ever played.
“This was a performance at the oldest, still-standing theater in the world,” says the American invitee, “and I have to walk in, in these dirty clothes still grungy from sleeping in an airport. I asked my wife to shop for something while I was getting to the theater. She returned with an XL button-up shirt so I could at least look somewhat presentable.” Unfortunately the Italian version of an XL and the American version of an XL are two very different auspices. “This shirt came up to about my belly button,” says Pork. “So that didn’t work either and this gig wasn’t working out too well. And instead, I ended up going on in the same airport clothes after all. The guy that introduced me spoke in Italian and from what I could tell was explaining my travel difficulties along the way. Which thankfully, he somewhat clued in the audience why I was looking like a bum!”
Pork unwaveringly played through his set, and yielded a standing ovation from the Italian guitar-loving crowd, who then also requested that he play one more. “And truth-be-told," says Pork, "with everything going wrong, I was just hoping to back out. I learned a lesson though, I had to suck it up, put on my big-boy pants and get out there and play the gig. And sure enough, It went fine, and it was a great night.”
Had Pork succumbed to all the emotions, and adversity he faced not only would he have missed a great reaction from his audience, but he would have missed a much bigger bonus that will live with him forever. Pork experienced the proof that music is the universal language. After he had successfully completed his first night of three, Pork was asked to set in with one of the Italian bands on the festival. It was an experience that quickly proved, how complete strangers can come together over a song. “I went up on stage with them, but we couldn’t speak to each other. I didn’t know their language and they didn’t know mine. But we were on stage together smiling, laughing, playing music and had a great time! I was living it and quickly learned the true meaning of ‘music as the universal language.’ And It’s very true.”
For a Pennsylvania guitar-slinger wanting to make his dreams come true, making his move to Nashville, and following the next logical steps in his career, Pork has been able to reach beyond language and musical boundaries he didn’t even know existed. Quoting Miles Davis, "Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself." And with the inner struggle as a creative musician, between playing cover songs that an audience wants to hear versus making your own music and finding an audience to appreciate your own product, the Pork McElhinny that most know and love has been able to find his balance between both. From his transitioning as a hometown rock band, to learning to play a more traditional based country show for his first few gigs in Nashville, to playing various modern hits, to the sole creativity of his own original music, he has taken the horse by the reigns and produced a variety of entertainment in not only Nashville but also reaching across many state lines across the country and beyond. So if you’re reading this and feel compelled to help, feel free to turn a friend on to Pork's music by sharing a video, song, or taking them to one of Pork's live shows.
What Pork admires most about making music is the human connection. “There’s nothing better than going to work, and playing music. There is just something about music that moves a person. When it’s a good day, the music is effortless. It just pours out. But there are days you have to work harder to get it out of yourself," Pork explains. "But the most rewarding, is the connection. It’s my greatest achievement; to provide an audience my music and let the world wash a way from them for a few hours. It’s all about the people that music has provided me the opportunity to meet. I actually have friends all over the world now, thankfully, because of this danged guitar.”