Thanks to Shawn Ryan and the Times Free Press for this feature on Radney Foster, who’ll be with us on Friday, November 18. Follow the link or read it below.
Keep on keepin’ on: Radney Foster still writing and singing after 35 years in the biz
But about a month ago, he released a new song called “All That I Require.” Its chorus goes like this:
“I’ll make us strong again
You’ll sleep safely in your beds
I’ll rain down hell upon those dirty mongrels’ heads
Your pantries will be full
And your faith will be inspired
And the blood of all your children is all that I require.”
He never names names in the song, but the day after Donald Trump is elected president, Foster’s voice is something of a weary shrug when he says: “It’s an interesting morning in America.”
He doesn’t really want to discuss politics, he says, calling the song a “morality tale, an allegory.”
“No matter what, I’m praying for the president-elect, praying for our country and praying that we continue to have a peaceful transition. Outside of that, I’m not sure I have anything to say at this point.”
But he does.
“I stand by what I said in that song and about that song. Perhaps in the weeks coming that becomes a touchstone where we have some self-reflection. You have to take the mote out of your own eye before you take the log out of others’.”
Now, on to music.
Foster and his guitarist, Eddie Heinzelman, will be in town Friday, Nov. 18, for an acoustic show at Barking Legs and, as he does at almost all of his shows, he’ll open with “Just Call Me Lonesome,” which hit No. 10 on the Billboard Country charts in 1992.
“I just think it’s a great opener,” he says. “It’s kind of cool at this age that I can hit them with a bang, with a big, fat hit.”
Foster, 57, has had a lot of big, fat hits in his career and not just ones he’s written for himself, although included in that list are the No. 2 “Nobody Wins” and the No. 20 “Easier Said Than Done.” But his songs also have been recorded by such artists as Sara Evans (“A Real Fine Place To Start,” a No. 1 hit), Keith Urban (“Raining on Sunday,” “I’m In”) and the Dixie Chicks (“Godspeed”).
He tries to write a song a week, he says, and after 35 years in the business, that adds up to a warehouse full of songs. Admittedly, he says, some aren’t all that great. The number itself, however, is a combination of simple work ethic and inspiration and, frankly, it’s one of the ways he makes a living.
“I can still be woken up by a song,” he says, “but it’s a work ethic because I accept the goal of writing a song a week, and I’m trying to live up to it. I’m a better writer because of it.”
He recalls some advice that his hero, Willie Nelson, gave him when he was still a no-name, struggling songwriter trying to make it in Nashville. Foster was 22 years old and, though he’d already written about 35 songs, he was driving a van for a film company, picking up supplies, carrying people from one site to another. One day, he gave a ride to Nelson, who had a cameo in one of the films.
“When I let him out of the van, I told him I was a struggling songwriter — I’m sure he thought, ‘Oh God, one of those’ — and I asked if he had any advice,” Foster recalls. “He said, ‘Yeah. The first 100 songs don’t count; keep writing.’ I was staggered by it.”
But songwriting won’t quite pay the bills anymore. The days of making a ton of money from the sales of albums and CDs and singles are over (thanks, streaming and downloading), so Foster tours more than he did in the past. Back in the late ’80s and ’90s, he would do about 50 concerts a year, now he does 80 to 100, he says.
When he hit the country charts in the late ’80s as part of Foster & Lloyd, his duo with Bill Lloyd that landed five songs in the Billboard Country Top 20, a songwriter could make good money just by having a song on a best-selling album, even if the song wasn’t a hit single. These days, Foster figures, the same song, even if the album was streamed 1 million times, he’d get a check for “$62.40.”
But music is his life and career, so he’s putting together songs for a new album he expects to release next year. But, in a new angle, he’s writing short stories to go along with each song. The stories aren’t just extra words attached to the song lyrics, he says.
“They’re not a prose version of the song; that would be as boring as watching paint dry,” he says.
For an example of what he’s doing, he mentions a new song called “Sycamore Creek” that encompasses 15 years in the lives of two people. The short story, however, focuses on “the three years of high school before the first verse.”
He’s negotiating with a publisher to release the short stories in book form but, if that doesn’t pan out, he’ll try self-publishing, he says.
“It’s not very glamorous, but it can be financially lucrative.”
If you go
› What: Radney Foster in concert.
› When: 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18.
› Where: Barking Legs Theatre, 1307 Dodds Avenue
› Admission: $20.
› Phone: 423-624-5347.
› Website: www.barking legs.org.
Contact Shawn Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6327.