Born July 20, 1959, in Del Rio, TX; son of John (a lawyer) and Bette Foster; married a woman named Mary-Springs, early 1980s (divorced, 1995); children: a son. Education: Graduated from the University of the South. Addresses: Record company--Arista Records, 7 Music Circle North, Nashville, TN 37203. Management--Fitzgerald-Hartley Co., 1212 16th Ave. South, Nashville, TN 37212.
Country singer and songwriter Radney Foster began making a name for himself in the late 1980s as half of the duo Foster & Lloyd. Later, Foster shone on his own as one of a bright new generation of country stars raised as much on the Beatles and the Rolling Stones as on Merle Haggard and Hank Williams. Coming from a pop-country background and wearing glasses instead of the requisite cowboy hat, Foster was nonetheless embraced by a Nashville not known for bucking trends. But Foster's country roots are beyond reproach and that's something the folks in Music City appreciate.
Born in Del Rio, Texas, in 1959, Foster recalled in an Arista Records press biography, "I remember the first time I heard Waylon [Jennings] sing 'The Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line.' I mean, I had to pull the car over. It was like, 'Maaaaaannnn, that's the hippest thing I ever heard.'" As a student majoring in forestry and geology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, Foster performed as part of an acoustic duo. When a friend found out that Foster was the one writing the twosome's material, he invited a producer from Nashville to hear Foster play. The producer was impressed.
So Foster told his folks that he wanted to quit school to pursue music. They were appalled, but they struck a compromise with him stipulating that if he didn't have a publishing or record deal in a year, he'd leave Nashville and finish college. "Hell, I was 20 years old, full of fire and way too much energy," he recounted in the Arista bio. "I thought I was gonna be the next Elvis by the time I was 21. It didn't work out that way." Foster returned from Nashville, finished school, and married his college sweetheart. He then moved back to Nashville to give it another shot.
In 1985 Foster was signed as a staff songwriter by MTM and began writing with Holly Dunn and Bill Lloyd. With Lloyd he wrote Sweethearts of the Rodeo's first Top Ten hit, "Since I Found You." He and Dunn wrote several songs that she would eventually record, including her first Number One single, "Love Someone Like Me." Foster also wrote the T. Graham Brown/Tanya Tucker hit "Don't Go Out With Him" and has contributed songs to a range of other artists, including Guy Clark, the New Grass Revival, and the reunited Poco. In 1987 Foster and Lloyd were signed as performers by RCA Records.
Their pop-country mix was well received. Together they recorded three albums: Foster & Lloyd, Faster & Llouder, and Version of the Truth. The pair's initial single, "Crazy Over You," was the first debut effort by a duo ever to reach the Number One position on Billboard's country chart. Boasting a wide appeal, their records crossed over from country radio to the alternative and college rock formats. Stereo Review offered this of their sound: "If the Byrds and the Beatles were to have lunch at the Everly Brothers' house and listen to Hank Williams, Sr., records, the music would sound like Foster & Lloyd." In a similar vein, Guitar Player wrote, "These guys are either two of country's hottest rockers or two of rock's hottest country players." But some reviewers found the music derivative. An Entertainment Weekly scribe opined that Foster & Lloyd "seemed merely to be grafting pop elements to country lyrics, or country instrumentation to pop attitude."
"We'd get reviews," Foster recalled in his press bio of his days with Lloyd, "and it would always be, 'This country guy from Texas and this pop-rock kind of guy,' and I turned to my wife after reading the fifth one of those, and said, 'Why do I always have to be the 'billy in the band?' And she turned right back around to me and said, 'Because you are.' I think that's the point at which I accepted the fact that I may write with other influences for other people or even for myself, but as a singer and as a person, that's who I am. I'm a Southern kid from a small town in West Texas who grew up liking country and rock records."
In 1991--after placing four Top Ten hits and a total of nine singles on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart--Foster & Lloyd found themselves going in different directions. "We did things the right way," Foster told CMA contributor Mandy Wilson. "It was an amicable split. Both of us knew what we wanted, and we went after it."
Foster promptly went looking for a solo deal. He started talking with Arista president Tim DuBois, who had once managed Foster & Lloyd. DuBois knew that Foster was talented, but he wasn't sure the bespectacled singer had the sound Arista was looking for. After hearing Foster's set at Nashville's famed Bluebird Cafe, however, DuBois realized that what Foster was doing was much more traditionally country than the Foster & Lloyd material had been. They shook hands on a deal in the restaurant's kitchen.
At DuBois's suggestion, Foster concentrated on songwriting before jumping back into recording. He also spent some months opening for country stars like Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Alan Jackson, and Vince Gill with just his guitar as accompaniment. "It was really good for me," he explained in his Arista biography. "There's a different feel you get when you're writing things you can do with just a guitar. It really influenced what I was writing and what I wanted to say."
In 1992 Foster released Del Rio, Texas, 1959. "This record," he noted in the press materials heralding its arrival, "is about learning how to two-step at the 4-H barns in Del Rio. It has to do with growing up in a little tiny town and cruising the Sonic on Saturday nights, and with all of the records that accompanied that- -the Waylon Jennings, the old Beatles, the Buddy Holly and Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris--there was life-changing stuff for me in there." Del Rio spawned three Top 10 singles, "Just Call Me Lonesome," "Nobody Wins," and "Easier Said Than Done," and sold roughly 350,000 copies.
Critics were delighted by Foster's musical approach, even with its eclectic pop influences. A Country Fever reviewer called the disc "one of the freshest I've heard." In the Edmonton Journal Peter North said, "Foster could very well become one of the finest songwriters in the history of country music." Observers were especially impressed that Foster had written or cowritten every cut on the album, which is not often the case in country music.
Foster toured extensively for Del Rio, greatly broadening his fan base. He also contributed songs to several compilations, including an all-star tribute to Merle Haggard, Mama's Hungry Eyes, and the AIDS benefit album Red Hot & Country. Then, in 1995, Foster released his own second album, Labor of Love. Country Music's Bob Allen called it "an intelligently wrought, inspired work, full of earnestness and bravado, with near-seamless arrangements and precious few weak spots." A Billboard writer reported that Foster had "developed into one of country music's more substantive singer/songwriters, capable of turning out songs that are as hook-laden as they are thought-provoking." And Country Music International averred that Labor of Love "showcases Foster's vocal thump, every song delivered with earnest passion and polished to near perfection.... Foster has produced an accomplished, intelligent and very listenable slice of progressive country."
Despite the "progressive" tag, a nod to his pop sensibilities, Foster has not strayed far from his roots. "If you're in country music," he told Billboard's Peter Cronin, "you're traditional, and I love traditional country. But there's always something creative and different that comes along in country music and shakes the trees. It may make things easier on me, or tougher, but that's my goal."
by Joanna Rubiner
Radney Foster's Career
Staff songwriter, MTM, Nashville, TN, beginning in 1985; began writing songs with Bob Lloyd, 1985; as part of duo Foster & Lloyd, signed with RCA Records, 1987; released Foster & Lloyd, 1987; Foster & Lloyd disbanded, 1991; signed by Arista Records, c. 1991; released first solo album, Del Rio, Texas, 1959, 1992.
- Selective Works
- Solo releases; on Arista Records Del Rio, Texas, 1959, 1992.
- Labor of Love, 1995.
- Also contributed to Red Hot & Country, Arista, Flaco Jimenez, Arista, the Maverick soundtrack, Icon/Atlantic, and Mama's Hungry Eyes: A Tribute to Merle Haggard, Arista, all 1994.
- With Foster & Lloyd; on RCA Records Foster & Lloyd, 1987.
- Faster & Llouder, 1989.
- Version of the Truth, 1990.
- Billboard, November 14, 1987; September 3, 1988; April 22, 1989; October 31, 1992; July 16, 1994; March 25, 1995.
- CMA, September 1993.
- Country Fever, September 1994.
- Country Music, March 1988; July 1989; March 1990; November 1992; January 1995; March 1995.
- Country Music International, October 1994.
- Edmonton Journal (Alberta, Canada), February 10, 1995.
- Entertainment Weekly, December 18, 1992; June 17, 1994; November 18, 1994.
- Guitar Player, December 1990.
- People, April 17, 1995; June 27, 1994.
- Rolling Stone, January 14, 1988.
- Stereo Review, January 1988; July 1989; September 1990.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from Arista Records publicity materials, 1992, 1995.