Radney Foster grew up in two worlds – herding cattle on horseback at his grandfather’s East Texas ranch in the summers and hunkering over a transistor radio in West Texas hometown, listening to border radio. “My house in Del Rio was a mile from Mexico, so I heard everything growing up – from country to conjunto.” That hybrid of influences may be why Foster’s always been tough to categorize; his first success was with the seminal country/cowpunk duo Foster & Lloyd, whose first single, “Crazy Over You,” went straight to #1. His subsequent solo albums told tales through a honky tonk lens and yielded enduring hits “Just Call Me Lonesome” and “Nobody Wins.” Throughout his 30 year career, Foster has continuously stretched the boundaries. “I strive to challenge myself as a writer, a musician and a singer every day.”
STEAM First, I wanted to thank you for taking time to talk to us. I know that you are prepping to teach a songwriting seminar in Nashville.
RF Yeah, its three days and this is my first one. I’ve never done one like this. I’ve done some “Grammy’s in the Schools” talks in the past, which are sort of a songwriting 101 with my take on things and then maybe an hour of question and answer with the students, but nothing like preparing three days of material!
It’s a bit more intense than what I’d set out to do, but this has given me a lot of thought on how I do things. And then I’ve got special guests and am doing interviews with other writers on what their process is and about the skill set of writing their hit songs and building a real definition of what that means. Like “The Piano Has Been Drinking” by Tom Waits is a huge hit, but so is “For the Good Times” by Kris Kristofferson and “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen and certainly “All About that Bass” by Meghan Trainor and Willie Nelson’s “Angel Flying to Close to the Ground”; every one of those is a hit but so much different from the others and why. All of those and using perspective on some of the hits I’ve written whether they made it to the charts, the radio, or just songs that are in high demand by my fans during my shows. I’m not trying to pigeonhole anyone; just trying to pass on as much knowledge as I can.
STEAM And I can imagine that you have a lot of knowledge when it comes to writing.
RF Well, the jury’s still out on that, but their having me do this anyway.
STEAM I wouldn’t say that! You can’t write a lot of number one hits or a lot of good songs without knowing what you’re doing. So do you have a set process to write a song?
RF I am inspired by everything and anything is good fodder for a song. The first song on my last record, Everything I Should Have Said, is “Whose Heart You Wreck” and it’s my ode to the muses, because I still get awakened very often, if not once a week or more with a song idea in my head. And I have to get up out of bed and write it down and honor that. Sometimes you get up the next morning and read it and it’s crap and you wonder why you got out of bed. And sometimes you read it and you say, “there’s a song in this.” Then I set aside time and I write. So I am guided by inspiration, but I make appointments for myself and sometimes with another writer. Then I look at those inspirations and say “this is something I should do on my own,” or I’ll look over my calendar and say I’m writing with that guy and this would be perfect for that person. So when I’m co-writing I try to cast the idea to them or I keep it with the thought that I need to mess with it, whether it takes me a half an hour or a month.
STEAM What’s the longest it’s taken you to finish a song?
RF Seven years.
STEAM Really? That’s longer than a lot of marriages.
RF Yeah, I was a kid and the song is “Texas in 1880” which was a big hit for Foster and Lloyd and then again for me with Pat Green. I was 20 and had packed my Volkswagen full of everything I owned and was heading for Nashville to seek my fame and fortune when my mother’s best friend said, “Radney, you need to be careful about that music business because it’s just like the rodeo. It gets in your blood and you can’t get it out.” And I got about an hour or so down the road when it struck and I wrote the first verse and I had no idea what it meant, I just knew it was about the rodeo. It stuck with me and haunted me as I moved from apartment to apartment and nothing seemed to work until just as we were going in to record the first Foster and Lloyd record when it finally came to me. And really it was at the encouragement of Bill Lloyd and some other songwriters, that I felt were much better than me, that said they didn’t know anything about rodeo and that I should just finish it myself, so I did.
STEAM Wow, that’s a very cool story. My hat is off to you, because that’s a skill I don’t have and I really appreciate those that do. And you are very good at it. So, let’s switch gears a little to your upcoming show at Cinnamon Shores in Port Aransas. Being a Texas boy, did you spend much time in Port A while growing up?
RF Oh yeah, my dad was in the reserves so many of my summers were spent in East Texas at my mom’s dad’s ranch where I learned to rope and ride. I can ride just about anything and while standing I can rope a post, but the whole riding and roping I just can’t do. Anyway, after a summer at the ranch we’d vacation in Port Aransas and even father south at Port Isabella.
STEAM I don’t think you get down to the Coastal Bend too often, so we’re excited to see you.
RF Yeah, I do and I don’t it seems. I certainly play in Houston often, Corpus or Port Aransas are usually about once a year. You know one of the problems is like a lot of other singer/songwriters, I cover all the states as much and as often as I can, so I’m touring from Seattle to London. Usually when I get a request, the chances are, I’m nowhere near South Texas.
STEAM I understand, because I was looking at your schedule and you are a busy man!
RF Yeah, I just got back from Norway. Jetlag.
STEAM That’s just crazy!
RF It was awesome! It was really one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
STEAM Wow, it sounds amazing. It’s on my bucket list for places to see! So between giving a three-day songwriters seminar and flying around the world, Port Aransas fits in there!
RF Yeah, have you seen the Cinnamon Shore grounds? I played there last year and when it came up again I jumped for it, because it’s a great location. The way the lawn lays at those condos it makes an amphitheater and if you think about it all those people, in the condos with the balconies overlooking the lawn, have almost opera box seats above the show. So you have people on the lawn in front of me and people on their porches that are two or three stories up, it just makes great phonics and for a really good show.
STEAM So is this trip to Port Aransas going to be a show-and-go-home or are you going to get some time to vacation?
RF Well, that remains too been seen. I’ve got a thing to do in Austin on Thursday and my booking agent is threatening that there are some offers on that Friday night, but I told him he needs to check with me on those, because come that Friday morning I hoping to be cruising south with my fly rod. I know fall is a great time to be chasing red fish and I’m hoping to catch a really big one in the surf. So it’s really very rare that I hope I don’t have a gig, but I’m kind of hoping no one comes up with the money to make me say, “yeah, I gotta do that one.” You know one of those big bulls on a fly rod in the fall is a thing of beauty!
10/10 Boots, Birds & Birdies Charity Fundraiser for Boot Campaign, Pleasanton TX
10/17 Fall festival @ Cinnamon Shore, Port Aransas TX
11/6 McGonigel’s Mucky Duck, Houston TX
11/7 Franklin Theater, Franklin TN
11/14 Rodeo Austin BBQ Auction & Concert: ACL Live at the Moody Theater, Austin TX
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