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And then there's Radney Foster

By Dan MacIntosh, January 2005

Radney Foster is not and may never be a household name. But if you spend any time at all poking around the country music business, it's fairly hard to miss his significant contributions to the genre.

Foster began his recording career in the late '80s by making 3 albums with the influential Foster & Lloyd duo before becoming a solo artist. He had a hit right off the bat with "Just Call Me Lonesome," taken from his debut solo release, "Del Rio, Texas, 1959."

He also placed the wonderfully personal lullaby, "Godspeed," on the Dixie Chicks' "Home" release, and has had numerous other artists record his songs.

And if all that work isn't enough to make any self-respecting job experience profile bulge at the seams, he even hosted CMT's "Crossroads" TV program for one year.

"It was real fun," Foster recalls of his brief TV experience. "If somebody told me I'd have to do that to make a living, I would definitely be an unhappy guy because I like playing and singing a whole lot better."

So how in fact did the CMT folks come up with Foster's name in the first place?

"They definitely wanted a singer-songwriter," Foster theorizes. "To be quite frank, I think there was some sort of connection with how the PBS series 'Sessions at West 54th Street' was done. They felt like you'd get better questions when a musician was interviewing another musician. You'd get this sort of better rapport and consequently better questions."

Foster probably had more fun just hanging out with his fellow musicians, than with making TV programs. "That was my favorite part - the part you (the TV viewer) didn't see."

But even though Foster had plenty of fun in front of the camera, he probably had even more of a blast behind the scenes making "And Then There's Me (The Back Porch Sessions)," his new, mostly acoustic release self-released through his web site.

Usually when artists do such unplugged things, they fill these discs with powered-down retreads. You know, hits without all the studio bells and whistles. But Foster, in clear contrast to this general rule of thumb, packed his new outing with mostly new songs. So one just has to ask why he wanted to fly so flagrantly in the face of conventional industry wisdom.

"I've just got so many songs," Foster admits with a chuckle. "I think there's probably going to be two songs off of this one that go over to the next album. And I just felt like the fans are always after me to do this kind of thing. And in particular, they're always after me whenever I play live in just an acoustic setting. About a third of my (live) dates, are me and my guitar dates, and two-thirds are with my band. And I like doing both. And even during those band dates, I always break down and do a couple of songs just acoustically."

But whether he's with or without his band, being on the road has become an increasingly difficult task for Foster.

"The road is hard on me and harder on my family. I got three children and a great wife, and I really miss 'em when I'm gone. That's the part I hate. I love performing, but I hate being on the road. I generally do between 50 and 75 dates a year."

Nevertheless, this latest re-lease's combination of a stripped down setting, combined with its bevy of new material, makes it an excellent vehicle to promote on the road.

"I figured that I could go out and do new shows, and the audiences would really be happy with new songs, rather than, 'Ah yeah, he's rehashing some of the old stuff.'"

This latest recording is also a CD booklet credit reader's dream since Foster has collaborated with a number of other high profile songwriters on its songs.

One of the most surprising names listed there is that of Austin's Dale Watson. He and Foster co-wrote "And Then There's Me," surprising, since Watson is much more of a cryin' in the beer, honk-tonker, in contrast to the more literate Foster.

"I've known Dale a long time. I really like him. He's really a nice guy. We were just fans of each other's music, and he always loved that 'Del Rio, Texas, 1959' record," Foster explains. "So we were just talking one day about how we loved Jim Reeves, and that nobody wrote that way anymore. Nobody does that or the sort of Ray Price doing 'For The Good Times.' That's a Kris Kristofferson song. You've got a literate guy who's writing really stone cold country songs. So we started just fooling around with it, and that's what we came up with."

Foster, who also co-wrote with Jack Ingram ("Never Gonna Fly") and Cory Morrow ("If You Can't Be Good (Be Lucky)" to create the songs for this CD, finds both benefits and drawbacks to either collaborating with other writers or writing by himself.

"I like 'em both," Foster notes. "The reality is that you write different songs by yourself than you would write with somebody else. And neither one is necessarily better. There are certainly songs that I've written by myself that I don't ever put out because they're not very good. I tend to be one of those guys where if you hear 10 songs on a record, I've probably written 30 others. I don't think of myself as prolific because I have friends who write a hundred songs a year who are in the Nashville staff songwriter kind of mode. I think of that as prolific. That's kind of insane prolific. And I would say that of those 30 (that I write), I probably write 10 or 12 on my own and maybe another 20 with somebody else."

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