Radney Foster playing at Heritage Hall

| May 19, 2018 | Reply

Mary Jane Farmer, courtesy photos. This first appeared in the May issue, Paris Life magazine.

Radney Foster minces no words. Whether he’s telling tales by song, by story, or by telephone, he tells the whole story.

Recently, North Texas singer/songwriter Matt Nix and I talked at length with Radney — well, actually, Matt and Radney did the talking while I just took it all in and wrote it all down. And what fun it was, but probably not near the fun he and Brandon Rhyder will be bringing to Heritage Hall in Paris when they play there on May 19.

Radney talks about losing his voice in 2015.

Matt: “I’ve heard you talk about a vocal injury that almost made you have to quit singing altogether. What did you learn from that experience and how does that affect your outlook as you continue to pursue music?”

Radney: “There always was a part of me that knew I was going to get better. Imagine, though, you are sitting in a doctor’s office and haven’t spoken a word when he says, ‘nope, not yet.’ I had to face it — what if I’m not able to sing. First, it was a financial burden. I spent three months not working. Whoa! Taking time off? Very few musicians can take three months off. I couldn’t speak, I had to write everything down to communicate. I could either get angry about it, or get productive. I chose to get productive.

“I journal a little bit, in the morning, to get my day started. Those journal notes become part of my songs. It’s been my process for a long, long time. , I thought, ‘just what way am I not telling stories and what other way can I tell stories?’ It gave me a better perspective.

I started writing short fiction, and it felt like it was a gift from God. The first one was a true story inspired by a song. That naturally led me to look for other short stories in a song. Of the first three stories, two of them were inspired by songs, and the third, I decided, ‘I’ll just write a song to go with that.’”

Note: Those short stories are in a book called “For You To See The Stars,” which is the title of the corresponding CD, the stories from the book put to lyrics and music.

“Wait a minute, I could do a whole project this way. It’s amazing how many doors have opened for me to do other types of writing. My wife and I are writing. I’ve started a novel. And still writing songs. Since January, I’ve written half a dozen songs, not as many as I normally do. And I got an offer to write a song for a feature film.T his guy was intrigued by the cover of the book. He said, ‘I have this movie I’m doing right now and I need a country song.’ I’m halfway through the song.

“When you stretch the boundaries of what you are trying to do, it opens other doors. What seems like a curse can really be a blessing. I’m a late bloomer. Jack Ingram wrote Biloxi at 19 years of age. I started way later than that.”

Matt: “Funny you should say ‘late bloomer.’ I didn’t start playing until later. You were intertwined in my first show ever. I was teaching math then and played music in class, trying to make it less boring.

“I finally got into a songwriting contest, one of Justin Frazell’s picking party deals. I won and the prize was to open for you. What? I’ve got three songs total. I was scared to death to go on stage in front of you.”

Radney: “You have to do that, to get over those fears.”

Radney talks about playing full time.

Matt: “What would you say to guys like me, who can’t play music full time?”

Radney: “Think about this — everybody has to figure out what their life is about, if you are going to be involved in music in any way. Think about your family, about if you will draw people besides your friends, if the money is good enough to support a family, about that it is a hard life that draws you away from your family. I didn’t know what was coming, what it would require. “Royalties have, for the most part for songwriters, died out. I love being home and being with my family, and I have to juggle and balance it all out. Everybody ought to plan the balance. I might could sell out one club every Wednesday and that’s all I want to do, not to travel to get to a gig. Be creative, the goal of being an artist is to go digging around in your soul. That is your job. Put words to about how other people feel, but don’t know how to say it. It’s amazing, the number of people who come up to me and say how they felt the song. I may be writing about my own experience, be in my own soul, and write something common enough that someone else relates to it.

“The next step of it is that good songs are written, great songs are re-written. I’ve rewritten every song at least three times. Getting to where you know your soul is and run with it.”

Matt: “Your influence over Texas artists is vast. Who are some of the artists that you have enjoyed working with in the Texas scene? Who you admired or enjoy? I personally like listening to you and Zane Williams and Guy Clark. I can tell you care about the craft of it, the meter matters.”

Radney: “Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt and Rodney Crowell, they’ve all been a huge influence on me. Those guys always included me. When you got a compliment from Guy Clark, you knew you had a song. It was the same with Townes. And Zane is quite the writer. And Jack Ingram is like a brother to me. I think that passing that down is how I progress, get better.

“I became a music producer.  I got used to how a studio works and got to enjoy it. It’s another way of telling stories. I think that is what really made me discover a nest of young writers and really just enjoy and listen. Wow, that’s a great song, really soulful, where did that come from? Always be asking those questions. I don’t really ever think about if they are influenced by me.”

Matt: “Who are some artists that maybe are under the radar right now that we should be listening to?”

Radney: “Turnpike Troubadours. I’ve never met them, but they make great songs. Molly Thompson, a very cool songwriter from Alabama. Kacey Musgrave started out as my background vocalist. Things come full circle and now she’s become the star. Hayes Carll.

“I’ve been listening lately a lot to older recordings and I don’t know why. I recently discovered of Mance Lipscomb, the Texas Blues Man. All of his blues will give me input for my next record. I love that style. Spent a lot of time in my younger years trying to learn that fingerpicking style. In the last 3 or 4 years I’ve been trying to return to it.

“Remember, I’ve toured the rest of the world, not just Texas,” said the Del Rio, Texas, native, now making Nashville his home.

Matt:  “Turnnpike Troubadours, throughout their albums they have built stories inside stories, continuing their stories. As you write, do your characters come out and do you want to development more in that vein?”

Radney: In most of the stories (in the book), the song came first to develop the characters. “Howling,” I felt it that way. The boy (character) heard Wolfman Jack on the radio, and was terrified. But with family and love he was OK. I wrote the story first, I had the internal idea first.

“I’ve started to write with other writers, starting with taking a little word that I’ve written down. It’s just opened a whole level of doors.”

Matt: “I heard Guy Clark talk about what he said in songs, but it he said it was the holes he left in them that made them special.”

Radney: “Yes, leave out enough in a song so that people can slide their lives into that section. One is about more, the other is about less.”

Matt: “So what are you doing now that you have the voice back and know you can also write stories?”

Radney: “Now, I am recording an audio version of the book. I had no idea how much work would be required for this. Your voice has to be really geared up to make it believable. I am constantly recording. I’ll have the song written for the upcoming movie recorded very soon. And I’m demo-ing songs I’ve written. I’m in the studio at least a couple of times a month.

At Heritage Hall

Radney: “At Heritage Hall, I will read excerpts from the book, talk about it, then sing the corresponding song. A good example is ‘Raining on Sunday.’ I always read from (the story) ‘Isabel,” The song is so influenced by the folk music from Mexico. The audiences really love it.”

For more on Radney Foster, go Online to RadneyFoster.com

For more on his concert and all concerts at Heritage Hall, go Online to HeritageHallParisTX.com



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