By Mike Peery
If sometime over the past 30 years you’ve been a country music fan, you’ve heard Radney Foster, the Texas singer-songwriter who makes a Northern Virginia tour stop this week.
He partnered with Bill Lloyd in the duo Foster & Lloyd, who were at the forefront of the new wave country movement of the late ’80s. They combined rock attitude with pop melodies and harmonies over classic country undertones. It was a new sound in 1987 and quietly influenced scores of artists who successfully blurred the traditional music genres of rock, pop, and country.
But Nashville’s commercial machine never waits for moss to grow, and in 1992 Foster moved forward with a solo career, releasing the critically acclaimed and commercially successful album, Del Rio, TX 1959, named for the city and year of his birth. This album produced one of his biggest hits, “Nobody Wins” (which featured DC-area favorite Mary Chapin Carpenter on harmony vocals) and arguably one of the greatest country shuffles ever written, “Just Call Me Lonesome.” It further influenced a generation of artists, including the band Hootie and the Blowfish, who were known to cover any song on the album at various times.
Foster spoke of that connection: “I got a call from my sister, who told me to turn on VH-1, so I did, and there’s this rock band, with a singer with a thunderbolt of a voice wearing a Radney Foster T-shirt. I called my manager and asked him to find out who these guys were and whether they were fans, or just wearing my shirt ironically.” It turns out they were huge fans, and the relationship evolved with the entire band. Darius Rucker even titled one of his country albums Charleston, SC 1966 in direct homage to Foster. “It was a real honor. He called and asked permission, as a tip of his hat. I thought, wow, you don’t get many accolades like that.”
Foster has released 10 solo albums, plus four with Bill Lloyd. They include songs that have been hits for him, as well as other artists, including Keith Urban and Sara Evans. His most recent album is called “Everything I Should have Said.” The title track is an autobiographical account of the dissolution of his first marriage, and the life lessons it taught him. “You must forgive one another … you don’t start getting better until you start owning up to the mistakes you’ve made,” Foster said.
Although Foster has never been overtly political in his writing, he often writes about causes dear to his heart. “Not in My House” is a song that was inspired by a “hate-speech” episode involving his middle-school-aged daughter. “We had a long talk about what happened,” Foster said. “The next day (co-writer) Darden Smith and I were sitting around the house talking about it and this song came out.” It is an anthem demanding the intolerance of intolerance.
Another cause that is dear to his heart is an organization called Songwriting With Soldiers. The brainchild of Foster’s good friend Darden Smith, it pairs musically inclined veterans with professional songwriters to help them write about their experiences as a means of therapy. It started after writing a song together called “Angel Flight,” which was written from the perspective of a military C-130 pilot bringing a fallen hero home. Foster has donated much time to the cause. “It is one of my favorite charities in the world. The catharses of those soldiers when they write about their experiences are extraordinary.”
Currently, Foster is involved with pre-production on a new album that he hopes to begin recording soon, to be produced by Will Kimbrough. “He’s a remarkable player and creative individual. I’ve known him since ’86 or ’87, and had urged him to come to Nashville. It’s not all mainstream country music here. It’s a very open and encouraging creative community that engulfs a lot of different genres and areas of art,” Foster said. “I called Will recently, took him to lunch, asked him if he’d like to work together.”
Foster will be performing at Jammin’ Java in Vienna on Thursday, May 19. As of Monday, tickets were still available. Although he has no personal ties to the area, he has toured for decades across Europe and North America. “I love Jammin’ Java,” Foster said. “It’s a great little club.”