Nov 1, 2017–“I like being a storyteller.”
Honestly, I didn’t know much about singer/songwriter Radney Foster before interviewing him. But when those were the first words out of his mouth, I knew I was meeting a kindred spirit.
Foster–who will be doing an acoustic show in Luckenbach on Nov 10–is best known for his early 90s hits Just Call Me Lonesome and Nobody Wins. But he is a multi-talented artist, with storytelling the common thread.
“I tell stories with guitar; I tell them when I’m singing; I tell them as an actor; and now I’m trying to tell them as an author of short fiction,” he said. “I like the solitude of banging them out on a computer or handwritten on a piece of paper in the privacy of home. I like doing it on stage with other people around. I think it really boils down to that–my love of storytelling.”
His latest project is a departure from the typical singer/songwriter perched on a stool in a noisy bar. He has written a book to accompany his new CD, called For You To See The Stars. The book features an original short story to accompany each song.
His desire to create something beyond the three-minute minstrel tune was forced on him. During a bout of pneumonia two and a half years ago, he got laryngitis so bad his doctors would not allow him to speak at all for six weeks, followed with another six weeks of vocal therapy before he could sing.
“That was an existential crisis for me,” he said with a laugh. But a fortuitous one, it turned out. “It made me think how can I tell stories differently?”
His theory was that there is a short story inside every song. While the song hits the highlights of the story, he wondered what was going on in the characters’ lives that lead up to that moment? About two weeks into his enforced silence he wrote a note to his wife outlining the idea, using one of his songs called Sycamore Creek.
“I think I want to write this into a short story,” he remembers thinking,” just to keep from going crazy. My wife said, you should, because you are driving me crazy!”
So Foster sweated several weeks writing it out. His wife, who was a journalist and magazine editor, and his “toughest critic,” actually liked it.
“She said you should continue to do this even once your voice comes back,” Foster said.
Pen in hand, he spent the next year writing stories inspired by his songs. After compiling five he deemed worthy, he began to see a vision of creating a record with a companion book of stories about each song. He sent his idea to a leading literary agent. The agent, Shari Smith, was impressed enough to help him work up the material, something that surprised and pleased Foster.
“She really put me through my paces,” he said. “She had me read a paragraph from my story, and told me that’s as fine of writing as I’ve read off any page by anybody. But if you can write a paragraph that pretty and make it sing, you’ve got to write them all that way.”
Suddenly he felt intimidated.
“I was like, ugh, that’s a much bigger job than I thought,” he said.
Still, he worked 10 days rewriting them all, and then got an even bigger surprise. Smith’s company had given her the green light to start her own imprint, and they decided to make Foster’s project the premier offering.
So now that first story he wrote while mute is the final one in For You To See The Stars. Foster’s fresh approach to the creative process–coupling song to story–seems to be catching on with his fans.
“Astoundingly,” Foster said of how fans are responding. “At my shows I’ll have the guitar playing underneath while I pull a paragraph or two from the story. You can hear their reactions! I hope people fall in love with it and buy the record, because I’ve got a college education to pay for.”
The Del Rio native is no stranger to the Luckenbach scene, where he’ll be performing Nov 10. He embraces the vibe left by Hondo Crouch.
“I was raised where playing for high brows and honky-tonks were never mutually exclusive,” he said. “I believe that songwriting has a sense of place. You can smell West Texas in Guy Clark songs, you can feel it in your bones. The writing is so connected to place, even when it’s not about that place. I always thought the best of whatever I did captured those Texas roots and the brokenness of Southern heritage that went with it. I think that is the uniqueness of Luckenbach. It’s always been less about selling records and more about commanding a piece of your soul. That’s the essence of it to me. Luckenbach embodies that.”
While Foster is attracting new interest with his project, he guarantees old fans won’t be disappointed.
“I am going to play the hits and the chestnuts. They will hear stuff they’ll recognize and fan favorites. I promise it will be a fun evening.”
Radney Foster will perform an acoustic set at Luckenbach Dance Hall at Luckenbach, TX, on November 10, 2017. Doors open at 7 / Show at 8. Tickets and information at www.luckenbachtexas.com.
Information on his book/CD and music at www.radneyfoster.com