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The Fearless Artistry of Radney Foster
By Bobby Reed    © 2006 CMA Close Up News Service / Country Music Association, Inc.

Among Americana fans, Radney Foster is known as a dynamic concert performer with a deep catalog of hits. Among fans of mainstream Country Music, Foster is known as the bespectacled half of hit duo Foster and Lloyd and as one of the hottest songwriters working today. Foster’s success and critical acclaim in those two worlds demonstrates that there is more overlap between them than many people realize.

In early May, Foster’s single “Prove Me Right” reached No. 3 on the Texas Music Chart, and his new and third album from Dualtone Records, This World We Live In, went to No. 5 on the R&R Americana album chart.

His albums are often a source of material for top-selling artists who are looking for hook-filled tunes with carefully crafted lyrics. Foster’s 1999 Arista album See What You Want to See contained songs that were later covered by the Dixie Chicks, Pat Green, the Kinleys and, most significantly, Keith Urban, who took “Raining on Sunday” to No. 3 on the Billboard Country Singles Chart.

“The songs that have been the biggest cuts have been funny little happenstance surprises,” Foster said. “I’m smart enough to realize that when I make an album, it’s going to be heard by a lot of Country and pop artists who will listen and maybe become fans. Then there’s a possibility they will cut a song. I never even thought of pitching ‘A Real Fine Place to Start’ to Sara Evans. I actually had pitched Sara some other songs and I had also written with her. But I mailed her a copy of my album, Another Way to Go, and a couple of weeks later she told me she loved the opening track and was going to cut it.”

The result was one of the biggest hits of Evans’ career. “A Real Fine Place to Start,” which Foster co-wrote with George Ducas, went to No. 1 on both the Billboard and the R&R Country charts.

“Radney is one of the most talented singer-songwriters of our time,” Evans said. “He is one of my all-time favorites, and as a true fan I cannot wait to hear his new music.”

Throughout his career, Foster has forged strong relationships with musicians who enthusiastically jump at the chance to work with him. “Prove Me Right,” for example, was co-written with his long-time collaborator and fellow Texan Stephanie Delray.

“That song began from an argument that Stephanie had with her husband, Jace Everett,” Foster recalled. “They were discussing an old Mustang when I walked in to write with her one day. Stephanie turned to me and asked, ‘What is the deal with you guys and old cars? Can you explain it to me?’ I said, ‘Hey, I believe in leather saddles, old Camaros and picking your battles.’ So that’s where the first line in the song came from.’’

Many of the contributors to This World We Live In had worked with Foster in the past, including producer Darrell Brown (who co-wrote four of the songs), recording engineer Niko Bolas, legendary bassist Bob Glaub (Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon), and Wallflowers keyboardist Rami Jaffee. Foster also enlisted help from two new collaborators, drummer Charley Drayton and guitarist Waddy Wachtel, both of whom worked with Keith Richards on his side project, the X-pensive Winos.

“Darrell and Niko are two of the most creative individuals I know,” Foster said. “And we’re like brothers, so we hold nothing back. The trust and freedom that brings to a project is immeasurable.”

Foster recorded the basic tracks for the new album in a whirlwind, two-day session in Los Angeles. According to Brown, there’s an advantage to recording basic tracks quickly and efficiently.

“When you know what the songs are and you get the theme ready, it’s amazing how quickly the honesty can be caught,” Brown explained. “It’s like casting a movie; you know what you’re trying to accomplish emotionally and intellectually. Then you find players who naturally fulfill those roles. I think producers sometimes spend too long trying to grab the honesty out of a performance. With a great singer like Radney, you can spend too much time and then lose it.”

Back in the late ‘80s, Foster’s success with Foster & Lloyd yielded hit singles such as “Crazy Over You” “What Do You Want From Me This Time?” and “Sure Thing.” After the duo amicably disbanded, Foster had solo hits in the early ’90s with “Just Call Me Lonesome,” “Easier Said Than Done” and “Nobody Wins.”

Following a stint on Arista, Foster signed with Dualtone, which released the live album Are You Ready for the Big Show? in 2001.

“Radney Foster is a flagship of the Dualtone roster,” stated Dan Herrington, Partner and Co-Founder of the label. “We are thrilled to be able to work with such an amazing singer-songwriter.”

Foster has written or co-written songs that have been recorded by an impressive array of acts, including “Again” (Brooks & Dunn); “Somebody Take Me Home” (Kenny Chesney); “Picasso’s Mandolin” (Guy Clark); “Love Someone Like Me” (Holly Dunn); “Leave It Alone” (The Forester Sisters); “Another Year’s Gone By” (Hootie & the Blowfish); “I Got You” (the Mavericks); “Anyone Else” (Collin Raye); “Since I Found You” (Sweethearts of the Rodeo) and “Don’t Go Out” (Tanya Tucker with T. Graham Brown).

Devoted fans may view him primarily as a recording artist, but Foster understands that his success as a composer of hit songs is more than just “gravy” nowadays.

“Yes, it’s gravy, but it’s certainly a big part of my living,” he admitted with a chuckle. “If you weighed the publishing money versus the money from my live performances and album sales, I think the publishing income would be what they call ‘a significant contribution to the bottom line.’ That’s the technical term that my accountant would use!”

Singer-songwriter Kevin Welch, a contemporary of Foster’s, has observed his friend’s artistic growth over the decades. 

“Radney became a liberated songwriter as he came up through the business,” Welch said. “He hasn’t been hindered by what he thinks an A&R person or a radio person wants him to do. He has managed to stick to his guns all these years. He’s a real hard worker and very diligent. It’s hard to keep somebody like that down.”

When Foster is not on the road, he frequently collaborates with other Nashville tunesmiths.

“I get a lot of calls these days to write with young artists,” Foster explained. “I think one of the reasons they’re interested in writing with me is that they’ll hear some lines in a song I wrote and they’ll think, ‘Wow, that is so different and so risky.’ Then, when we get in the process of writing together, I’ll come up with something like that, and they’re terrified of it. But the songwriters who are my heroes, like Guy Clark, write fearlessly. They’re fearless about what they can use as imagery to get a point across. I try to emulate those songwriters.”

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