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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Fred Foster--An appreciation

Fred Foster

Fred Foster (Photo: Foster Family)

Country Music Hall of Fame member Fred Foster, a record producer who founded the independent label Monument Records and publishing company Combine Music and played a major part in the careers of such historic artists as Kris Kristofferson, Roy Oribson and Dolly Parton, died on Feb. 20 at 87.

Most of Orbison’s early 1960s classic hits were produced by Foster for Monument. Parton was a teenage songwriter for Combine before signing with Monument at 19 and having her first country hits. Kristofferson wrote some of his biggest songs for Combine including “Me and Bobby McGee,” which Foster co-wrote.

Via Monument, Foster also released recordings by the likes of Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Ray Stevens, Boots Randolph, Charlie McCoy, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Billy Swan and Jeannie Seely. Via Combine, he also published songs including Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” Orbison’s “Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream),” Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night in Georgia” and Tony Joe White’s “Polk Salad Annie.” He produced Parton’s and Jimmy Dean’s first singles and Kristofferson’s first album, as well as the 2007 album Last of the Breed, starring Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Ray Price.

“I revere Fred Foster, the legend who brought us the gritty genius of Kris Kristofferson, the enduring hits of Roy Orbison, and the abiding talent of Dolly Parton,” said Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young. “But today, I’m also mourning Fred Foster, the legend who brought me laughter, goodwill, and fried pies. ‘Foster’ was the only fitting surname for this man, who fostered artistry, individuality, and broad-minded decency.”

Tweeting, Dolly Parton said, “I am heartbroken that my friend Fred Foster has passed on. Fred was one of the very first people to believe in me and gave me chances no one else would or could. We’ve stayed friends through the years, and I will miss him. I will always love him.”

Matraca Berg tweeted, “Hero to my heroes and one of mine. Song man, wide open heart man, cry about a song man. You made so many of us feel we were doing something good.”

Foster founded Monument Records in 1958, naming it for the Washington Monument. The label’s first hit was Billy Grammer’s “Gotta Travel On.” In 1960 came Monument’s first Orbison hit, “Only the Lonely (Know the Way I Feel),” and was followed by Orbison’s “Running Scared,” “Crying,” “Blue Bayou,” and “Oh, Pretty Woman.”

In 1963, he started Nashville’s top soul label of the time, Sound Stage 7, which released Joe Simon’s hit “The Chokin’ Kind.” He continued with Monument into the 1980s, the label’s other hits including Gatlin’s “Broken Lady,” Seely’s “Don’t Touch Me” and Billy Swan’s “I Can Help.”

Foster also worked for Mercury Records, and ABC-Paramount, where he propelled George Hamilton IV’s career by acquiring the master to his recording of “A Rose and a Baby Ruth” from the small Colonial label and helping turn it into a No. 6 pop hit.

“While with ABC-Paramount Records in 1956, Fred Foster convinced the top brass to pick up George Hamilton IV’s recording of John D. Loudermilk’s ’A Rose and a Baby Ruth’--originally a regional hit for Colonial Records,” said George Hamilton V via Facebook post. “The ABC-Paramount release of ‘A Rose and A Baby Ruth’ went on to become a national hit and ABC-Paramount’s FIRST gold record--establishing the LEGENDARY music careers of George IV and John D.!!! MANY THANKS FRED!!!”

Apparently, Hamilton added in a Facebook message, ’Fred’s bosses at ABC-Paramount weren’t so sure about picking up George IV’s regional hit recording of ‘A Rose and a Baby Ruth,’ but Fred convinced them when he said something like, ‘If it flops, you can fire me!’”

Music archivist Greg Geller Geller, who has produced reissue album compilations of Foster’s Monument releases, summarized by email: “As if signing and recording giants of American music like Roy Orbison and Kris Kristofferson wasn’t enough, he was in early with Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson, too. And then there was Tony Joe White, which would have been enough for me. All of which made Fred Foster a major figure in his own right, one of the last, if not the last, of the great independent record men.”



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