Radney Foster – I love a lot of different stuff, and I’m just going to do that
Born in Del Rio, Texas, in 1959, as his first solo album title pointed out, Radney Foster been deep inside and well outside Nashville’s country music mainstream since moving up there to write songs in the 1980s.
From 1987-90, he was half of the celebrated Foster & Lloyd duo (along with British Invasion pop-influenced partner Bill Lloyd) that wrote and performed such smash country chart hits for RCA as “Sure Thing” and “Crazy Over You”, records that challenged the separation of what rocks and what twangs. It was amid the short-lived era that put Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam on the country charts as well.
In the early ’90s, Foster headed off on his own to pursue twangier material, continuing to deliver memorable hits such as “Nobody Wins” and “Just Call Me Lonesome”. Since then, he’s written some 25-30 songs a year, sometimes collaborating with the likes of Kim Richey, George Ducas, Darrell Brown and Cindy Bullens. Through a succession of discs for the late, lamented Arista Austin label, Foster’s songs got more personal, culminating in 1999’s See What You Want To See — a dark, confessional snapshot of a man who’d been through a tough divorce and custody battle.
Foster has always voiced concern for the ability of talented musicians and songwriters to make a decent living from their work. He set up his own record label, PureSpunk, in cooperation with Dualtone Records to release his 2001 live CD Are You Ready For The Big Show and his new disc, Another Way To Go (due out September 10).
I. I’LL TAKE PASSION OVER PERFECTION ANY DAY
NO DEPRESSION: You’re on a pretty short list of artists and writers who have had success in both mainstream country and out in the edgier alt-country neighborhood.
RADNEY FOSTER: Just to begin with, Foster & Lloyd had a #1 country record and a top-10 CMJ college record at the same time! Of course, that was RCA in 1987; that’s totally impossible now.
ND: A college station is not going to play that record, unless it’s on some specialized show or maybe it’s Johnny Cash singing Soundgarden.
RF: Right. At that time, you had Foster & Lloyd, Steve Earle, Jason & the Scorchers, the Beat Farmers, the Blasters, Rank & File, and Dwight Yoakam, all really cut from the same cloth. Some got labeled as country bands and some as rock bands.
What was the difference? Who signed them — Sire/Slash, or RCA. If Foster & Lloyd had been signed by Warners L.A., we might have dialed that first record further toward rock and sounded more like “The Clash meets country” — which is what we sounded like live anyway.
Even so, I can’t tell you how many acts that open shows for me, and who are regularly discussed in No Depression, who come up and say, “I started a band because of Foster & Lloyd and Uncle Tupelo!” Which is the best compliment I ever get.
ND: A difference between “alt” and the mainstream is often simply the sound. You’ve got a pretty polished and flexible voice, by alt.country standards.
RF: And that may even be a “shoot yourself in the foot” problem for me. By alt-country standards, I’ve also made a “slick” record; by Nashville’s, it’s absolutely loosey-goosey.
ND: So you do run into people who point out that for a Texas singer-songwriter, you don’t sound much like Guy Clark?
RF: Oh yeah! Elvis Costello’s a brilliant songwriter and interpreter of a song, but not much of a pitch source. And I’ll take passion over perfection every day — but does that mean I should complain because the guys in my band can play their instruments?
ND: Arguably, the Foster & Lloyd act had a lot of influence on both alternative country and on ways mainstream country has taken in pop influences.
RF: The problem is, they took in those pop influences and threw the country out the window. People in Nashville who really love stone soul country music are a minority, and always have been. What scared Nashville about us, and Steve Earle, and Dwight, was that even the people who love pop are scared to death of rock ‘n’ roll. The Stones element, or the looseness of the Faces, ain’t ever gonna happen there.
When Waylon Jennings rocked, it scared Nashville, even though it sold a boatload of records. College kids from Albany, New York, or Youngstown, Ohio, who never came up in a “country background” still saw his renegade rebellion, the hot rod cars and long hair and the twang and the grit and the growl, and totally related to Waylon — the same way they related to Lynryd Skynyrd.