In a town like Nashville, ambition and connections are key, but talent rises to the top. Such is the case of singer/songwriter Radney Foster. Since the mid-1980s Mr. Foster has put his stamp on a highly competitive town — blending rock and Mexican elements with country as part of the duo Foster & Lloyd.
As a solo artist in the ‘90s he scored a slew of top 40 country hits including “Nobody Wins,” “Easier Said Than Done” and “Everyday Angel.” And as a songwriter, Mr. Foster has penned hits for the biggest names in country, be it Keith Urban, Sara Evans or the Dixie Chicks.
Mr. Foster has a new CD out, “For You to See the Stars,” as well as his first ever book. Mr Foster is touring the new disc, which will bring him to the District’s Hamilton venue Wednesday evening. He spoke about Nashville, writing songs for other people and stories in song.
Question: Do you still live in Nashville?
Answer: Part of the time there, part of the time in San Antonio, Texas.
Q: Has Nashville gotten too crowded?
A: It’s growing so dang fast, it’s crazy. But then again, so is Austin. Both have the biggest influence on my work.
There has always been a great scene here in Nashville. It has been my home away from home for the past 30-something years. It’s been a great town to me.
Q: Is it more than just country music?
A: Yeah, there has always been an underground and alternative scene — really productive and encouraging. That was always flying under the radar of the big country music scene. In the last several years that has come out of the shadows.
People are starting to realize how many great studios are here and what the level of musicianship is here. You have people like Jack White and Sheryl Crow and others moving here and calling it home even though they have nothing to do with the country music world.
Q: Is it still a supportive community?
A: There is no question that there is a real supportive atmosphere here. That goes back in history.
The day I first met Steve Earle, he bought me lunch. We were both broke songwriters, but he had just gotten a publishing deal. This was almost 30 years ago. We were standing in line in a Chinese food place and both had on cowboy boots. He said, “You gotta be from Texas.” I said, “Yeah, I am.”
It’s always been that way. Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt were happy to take me under their wing. And a host of others that nobody has ever heard of.
Q: What drew you to country music?
A: Stories. And the melodies too.
I grew up in a little tiny town right on the Mexican border. That influence was always there. I remember driving around with my mom’s dad, and driving around, there was nothing but country music on the radio in his truck. It was something I really grew up with and loved.
Q: What do you consider your career highlights?
A: I consider one of the biggest accomplishments of my career is that I got to sing a duet with Flaco Jimenez, arguably the greatest accordion player on the planet.
And having other artists outside the genre cut my songs. I had George Benson cut my song the other day. One of the best jazz guitarists ever just cut one of my songs. That’s a cool thing.
Q: Is it hard to hand over your song to another artist to record?
A: Not really. My entrance to that was because I got signed as a staff writer to a publishing company, and that was the only game in town back then. [It was] the only way I was going to get noticed enough to get a record deal.
Back then you had to have a record deal to put out a record. It was too expensive. There was no DIY in 1985. Steve Earle got signed to a publishing deal with the hope somebody might sign that boy to a record deal. Or he might get a song cut. Steve had a song on hold by Elvis when Elvis died.
Selling songs was the normal path back then. Because of those publishing deals, we went on to have careers. Today you don’t need a label really.
Q: Tell us a bit about the new record and book.
A: I’m putting out a book and a record. I don’t know anything about the book side of the business other than I’ve written one. I have a great publisher. The title of the new album is “For You to See the Stars” and the book has the same title.
The book is a book of short fiction. There is a short story to go with each song on the record. In essence the stories are all fiction, but I certainly draw on my own past. You write what you know.
There is a song on the album called “The Greatest Show on Earth,” and it is about my dad and his buddies playing on the back porch when I was a little boy. The short story that ties to that is called “Bridge Club,” and it is about one day in the life of a boy in 1963. You can see the connection.
Q: Do you have anything special planned for The Hamilton show on Wednesday?
A: I’m kind of working that out now. That is going to be a CD and book release show. It is literally five days after the things [have been] released.
I’ll be doing plenty of my songs from records in the past. But I’ll probably do five or six of the new songs as well. Then I’ll probably read a couple of excerpts from the book so people get a little slice of what the book is like.
I’m trying to pick the best minute-and-a-half that would intrigue you before playing the new song. So they will see the connection.
Radney Foster plays The Hamilton Wednesday. Tickets are available at Ticketfly.com.