Radney Foster Explores Cowriting

To know what’s going on in Radney Foster’s world, all you need do is listen to his songs. It’s there you’ll find the Texas singer-songwriter’s imprint indelibly stamped, mirroring whatever sea he’s been sailing. The current glimpse comes from Foster’s latest release, This World We Live In [Dualtone Records].

With one exception, Foster cowrote all the songs on the album. “‘Half of My Mistakes’—a song I wrote with Bobby Houck—is a great example of the give-and-take that’s key to the cowriting process,” Foster details. “Bobby and I began collaborating when we wrote a song for his band, the Blue Dogs. One night he gave me a lyric idea from something his dad had always said, so I told Bobby, ‘That’s good. Let’s work on it tomorrow.’ But that night, the lyrics just hit me, and I got three-quarters of the way into the song. I had to call him the next morning and say, ‘Man, I hope you like what I’ve got, because I’m way down the road.’ He did, and we finished the song together that morning.”

Though Foster has had many fruitful collaborations, there are still some writers he hopes to connect with. “I’d like to write with Jimmy Webb. I mean, ‘Wichita Lineman’ is about as good as a song gets. And I’ve never written with [fellow Texan] Rodney Crowell. That would be a treat and a delight.”

Foster’s writing style has evolved since he first gained notoriety in an Everly Brothers-inspired duo that scored three Top Ten hits with their 1987 eponymous debut, Foster & Lloyd. “The change started about 15 years ago,” he says, “when I met Mary Chapin Carpenter. She inspired me with her music and how she worked with all these different tunings. She taught me a couple of them, and that set me on a path that has completely changed a lot of my songwriting. I rarely write a song in standard tuning anymore. Which can be a problem, because now I have to figure out how to perform all my songs without carrying eight guitars on the road with me. To get around this, I relearn some of my songs in standard tuning or DADGAD, often reworking them with capos.”

Foster’s favorite alternative tunings are DADGAD and an open-G banjo tuning, with a C rather than D as the lowest note. “At the end of the night,” he adds, “I’ll tune one of my guitars to open D [D, A, D, F#, A, D], so I can play ‘Godspeed,’ a lullaby I wrote.”

For songwriting, Foster relies on his sunburst jumbo Gibson. “It’s an early version of the J-100. It has a teardrop pickguard and a straight bridge, rather than the moustache bridge found on the later version. This guitar has a big sound, and I’ve played it on a ton of my records.”