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And then there's Radney Foster

By Dan MacIntosh, January 2005

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But even with all of his success as a songwriter and a performer, he never relies solely on his own opinion when it comes to selecting songs for any new album.

"I throw them all into the same pile and let whoever's either co-producing with me (help judge them). Even if I'm producing a record myself, I've always sort of had someone to run these songs by. You gotta run that stuff by somebody else. You have to run it up someone else's flagpole a couple of times and get another perspective. More often than not, the things that I've written on my own have been the things that I've gotten excited about."

Songwriters are oftentimes pleased with how other artists have interpreted their songs, and Foster is especially jazzed with way the Dixie Chicks recorded his "Godspeed."

Oddly enough, this wonderful song was never a big priority with Foster when it came to pitching his songs to other artists.

"I never thought I would ever record it," he states matter-of-factly. "The first time I recorded it, I made a cassette with it five times in a row in my basement. It was kind of like the version that you heard on this ("And Then There's Me") record."

He sent this cassette to his young son who was living in Europe with his ex-wife as something to remember his daddy by.

"And then I never ever thought I'd record the song after that - ever. I don't even think I turned it in to my publisher until like six or eight months after that."

But parenthood spurred on the life of this song, in ways that few other motivators can. "So, my manager was going to be a new daddy, so I said, 'Well here, I'll put this on a cassette for you guys.' So I played it for him, and he's like, 'Oh my god, Rad, that's maybe one of the strongest things you've ever written in your life. You've got to put that thing out.' So I put it on the "See What You Wanna See" record, and Emmylou Harris came by and sang. That was a real sort special sort of moment for me because I realized this thing had a power sort of beyond anything I had ever expected."

The Dixie Chicks also recognized the special power of this one song.

"They had called me and asked me to send them some songs for this 'Home' record because they were in the middle of a lawsuit with Sony, and they were like, 'We're making a bluegrass-based record out of our house with Natalie's dad down in Austin. And we don't even know where it's going to end up or anything, but could you please send us some songs?' So I'm like, 'Oh my God, yes I'll send you some songs.' "

"So, I sent them like five things. They gave me all their addresses, so I sent one package to each address. And Natalie had just had a baby boy. But I didn't think to put that ("Godspeed") on there. But I put a separate CD in there for her, and a little card and a plushy toy. Just a little teddy bear or something - I forget - my wife and I bought it. And I wrote a little note that said, 'This song has put my boys asleep for a long time now, and congratulations. I hope this keeps your little boy asleep, too.' Just thinking that she would enjoy it. The other things I sent them I thought, 'Ah, this will be a hit for them!' But they didn't do that. They went and cut the lullaby, instead."

This just goes to show you that, even though we may try and control our destinies, sometimes fate has other plans. Also, some of the actions we take that may seem like mistakes at first end up benefiting us in the long run.

In fact, one of the many fine new songs on this latest release is called "Half My Mistakes." Written with Bobby Houck, its lyric takes a closer look at the mistakes we all make in life.

And what are, since we're on the subject, some of Foster's best mistakes?

"Well, let me see. Getting married to my wife. If I look back on it - of that actually happening in any sort of logical manner - it probably never should have happened. The first verse of 'Fools That Dream' (also one of the new album's songs) sort of talks about that. And I think everybody told us, 'Oh my God, this is a disaster.' But it hasn't been. We're incredibly happy. It's worked out really well."

Other memorable Foster mistakes, if you want to call them that, are related to a few of his failed business ventures.

"A lot of times, you don't know whether something's a mistake until you get a lot further down the road," Foster muses. "We lost a tremendous amount of money when, sort of at the beginning of the dot com boom, I was starting my own record label and (my first wife) Elaine was trying to see if there wasn't the ability to do both a record label and an on-line magazine. And it didn't work. But I learned so much about the way the business works because of that."

Many of the most poignant mistakes a human can make occur when he or she is parenting children.

"Some of the best things that happen with my kids are where at some point - especially when you catch yourself - you go, 'You know, I was too hard on that kid. He's just a kid.'"

For Foster, a few of his parenting situations have been quite trying, to say the least.

"Having a child halfway around the world was not my doing," says Foster of the son that inspired "Godspeed." "Certainly, it could be looked at as the product of being a divorced dad, which is a big mistake. But he's a great kid, and I wouldn't trade him for anything in the world. And we've made a lot of lemonade out of a lot of lemons with him living as far away as he does, and I'm probably a better father for it."

Life teaches us that we can sometimes learn things the easy way, whereas other times we're forced - and sometimes even choose - to learn things the hard way. But if mistakes cause us to make a lot of lemonade out of a barrel of lemons, are they really even mistakes at all? Who knows?

But it doesn't take a trained student of human nature to determine that Radney Foster has made some of the best music of his career with "And Then There's Me (The Back Porch Sessions)." And nope, there's not a single lemon in the whole bunch.

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