The first time I ever saw Fred Foster's name was on the back of a Dolly Parton album:
Dolly was new. I possessed next-to-no knowledge of country music, but my new best friend Alice had her finger on the pulse and I was a fast learner. Album covers were treasures one held in their hands while the music played. They had heft -- they weren't tiny squares like CD jewel cases; they certainly weren't impossible-to-read like cassette cases. No, album covers were like giant books; books we studied. We read the names of the studio musicians, we learned who wrote each song, and we saw the name of the producer; in this case, Fred Foster.
I, of course, didn't know what a producer did. He was most certainly the man in charge of the whole outfit, but what he did? In my twelve-year-old mind, he was the one who put the magic together. Ironically, all these years later, I find I was right.
Did you ever sit and listen as a songwriter strummed his newest song on an acoustic guitar and sang? You might think, well, that song has potential -- it could be something with some good sounds surrounding it. As is, though, it's nice but forgettable. I've been there and I've been her. I've written songs I think possess a certain spark, but if one was to listen to me plunk them out on my guitar, they would say, that's the worst thing I've ever heard. I've said that when I listened to a playback of me and my out-of-tune guitar busting out the song. Then my producer sprinkles something akin to fairy dust on it and suddenly it's damn good (it's also not necessarily my song anymore, but I'm so enamored with the final product that I feel righteous claiming credit for it).
That's what a producer does.
Fred Foster was that.
Here's what he did for Dolly:
Little did I know, or maybe I just forgot, that Fred Foster produced the most glorious tracks of all time. I might be a bit biased, but I don't think so. In the pantheon of "voices", this voice, and this sound, is exquisite:
And Fred Foster produced the penultimate rock and roll song:
For a country producer, Fred did rock just right.
If Roy Orbison was alive, he would be inducting Fred Foster into the hall of fame. I hope Dolly does it. I hope Dolly and Ray Stevens and Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson show up that night to do it right.
Fred Foster made magic, like great producers do; music that will live forever.
God bless you, Fred Foster. Thank you for the sounds of heaven.