- Associated Press - Monday, April 4, 2016

FOREST CITY, N.C. (AP) - One of the three men to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame is a Rutherford County native who had one music class in all of his 84 years.

Fred Foster, who grew up on a farm off N.C. Highway 108 outside Rutherfordton took one music class while at R-S Central High School and made a “D.”

“The reason I made a ‘D’ was the teacher told us we had to wear knickers and dance the Old Time Waltz and I said, ‘I’m not doing that’,” Foster said Friday morning from his home in Nashville, Tennessee.

Foster said years later after becoming somewhat of a success, he came back to Rutherford County to visit relatives and friends. “I went to see my old teacher. She told me, ‘Well I never thought you would amount to anything’,” Foster said.

He wasn’t able to finish high school because he had to take over the family farm after the unexpected death of his father.

Just days after being selected as a 2016 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, Foster talked about his life in Rutherford County before he moved to Washington, D.C., when he was 18.

Foster, who refers to be called “Fred” when being interviewed, is still working at producing music. “I just finished an album with Willie Nelson, a tribute to Ray Price,” he said.

Foster’s nephew, Luther Lewis of Rutherfordton, said Foster has always told family and friends to put him at the control mixing music and if he dies there, just push him aside and keep working.

Foster was 15 years old when his father died. “He was an incredible man and she (his mother) was an incredible woman. I was blessed to have great parents,” Foster said.

He said the farm where he was raised “grew the best watermelons you’ve ever tasted. We fished and swam in the Broad River. In those days, somebody had actually taken a sample of the water and it tested 100 percent pure. You could drink the water. You wouldn’t dare drink the water now.”

Foster’s father played the harmonica and that could be why Foster grew to love music. “He could have played any other kind of musical instrument, but couldn’t afford it,” Foster said.

Foster said he heard his parents disagree once, when his father came home with an old Victrola and a box of records after selling some crops. “She wanted to know what on earth was he doing,” he said. “Dad told her he had to have his music.”

Where the family lived on N.C. Highway 108, Foster said he could pick up radio stations from Asheville and Charlotte, along with some in Spartanburg and Columbia, South Carolina. Arthur Smith was on the Charlotte station and he loved listening to him.

When Foster was 10 years old, Smith came to play at the Rutherford County Courthouse. “I asked Dad if we could go,” Foster said.

They did and after the show there was a downpour of rain that flooded the streets. “There were no curbs back then so no one could leave,” Foster said.

Smith left the stage and came down to the audience and introduced himself to the crowd. Foster said. “‘Hello, I’m Arthur Smith,’” he told my dad. “He then wanted to know ‘who is this fine looking young man’ and he was pointing to me.”

Later while in the music business, Foster said he ran into Smith again while Smith was doing a Ray Stevens record. “He walked by the control room where I was and said, “you’re Fred Foster. I haven’t seen you since you were a little boy.”

“He had a great influence on me,” Foster said.

Although he never had a music lesson, Foster listened to music all of his life. “Instead of dancing, I’d be listening to the band and I could figure out what they were doing. By the time I left Rutherford County, I knew what every instrument in the symphony was,” he said.

When he got to Washington, D.C., it was supposed to be just for a visit with his sister, but he loved it. His first job was as a car hop at a Marriott Hotel. “I made $12 per week plus tips. I did pretty well,” he said.

But it was a trip to the Washington National Library one day that changed his life, Foster said.

“It was a new world (that) opened up to me. The head librarian took me under his wing and he educated me. I had homework to do and everything,” Foster said. After finishing his studies with the librarian, Foster was offered a full scholarship at the University of Maryland, but he wanted to go somewhere to learn more about music.

He stayed in Washington, D.C., for a while where he worked for Mercury and ABC-Paramount before co-founding Monument Records.

He later relocated in Nashville, Tennessee, and the rest of his story has been told by newspapers, magazines and across social media for years.

Among Foster’s most significant recordings - described by some as a man who took long-shot gambles that paid off - were Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Robert Mitchum, Bob Moore, Chris Gantry, Charlie McCoy, Boots Randolph, Billy Grammar, Henson Cargil, Jeanie Sealy, Ray Stevens, Kris Kristofferson, Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers, Billy Swan, Grandpa Jones, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Ray Price.

Foster said he comes to Rutherford County once in a while to visit friends, such as Boyce Grindstaff of Forest City, and others.

“I loved Rutherford County,” he added, and invited folks from home to attend his induction ceremony in October.


Information from: The Daily Courier, https://thedigitalcourier.com

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