Country Music Hall Of Fame Member Fred Foster Dies

Fred Foster

[Updated, March 14, 10:28 a.m. CT] 

Visitation and celebration of life services were held on Friday, March 22, 2019 from 4 – 8 p.m. at Phillips Robinson Funeral Home (2707 Gallatin Road, Nashville, TN). A celebration of life service was held on Saturday, March 23, 2019 at First Presbyterian Church of Nashville (4815 Franklin Pike, Nashville).

[Previous story, Feb. 21, 2019]

By Robert K. Oermann

Record producer, label owner and Nashville pop-music pioneer Fred Foster has passed away at age 87.

A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Foster was involved in the careers of such greats as Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, Tony Joe White, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Jeannie Seely, Ray Stevens, Connie Smith, Larry Gatlin, Boots Randolph, Grandpa Jones and Charlie McCoy.

He was a North Carolina native born in 1931 who began his career as a songwriter in Washington, D.C. During his early years in the music business, he went to work for Mercury Records and ABC-Paramount Records, as well as for a record-distribution firm in Baltimore.

In 1958, he founded Monument Records. The company had its first hit with the Nashville-recorded “Gotta Travel On” by Billy Grammer the following year. The single was a smash on both the country and pop charts, foretelling the label’s future fortunes.

With the help of songwriter Boudleaux Bryant, Foster moved to Music City in 1960. Bryant recorded for Monument, but Foster’s more lucrative signing was Roy Orbison.
Orbison wrote and recorded his first Monument hit in 1960, “Only the Lonely.” He subsequently became a huge international pop star with “Running Scared” (1961), “Crying” (1961), “Dream Baby” (1962), “In Dreams” (1963), “Blue Bayou” (1963), “Pretty Paper” (1963), “It’s Over” (1964), “Oh Pretty Woman” (1964) and other hits with Foster in the producer’s chair.

Fred Foster and Dolly Parton at Fred Foster’s 50th Birthday Roast, in 1981. Parton was signed to both Monument and Combine.

Bob Moore and His Orchestra had a pop instrumental hit on Monument with “Mexico” in 1961, and Boots Randolph scored with the 1963 pop instrumental “Yakety Sax.”
In 1962, Monument made minor music history by releasing “Jealous Heart” by Leona Douglas, believed to be the first country recording by an African-American female.
In 1963, Foster founded Sound Stage 7 Records, one of Nashville’s most important r&b labels. It was home to Joe Simon, Arthur Alexander, The Dixie Belles and Ivory Joe Hunter. Foster also released records by Lloyd Price, Gene Allison, Percy Sledge and Robert Knight (“Everlasting Love”).

On the country charts, Jeannie Seely hit paydirt on Monument with the Grammy-winning “Don’t Touch Me” in 1966. She followed it with “It’s Only Love,” “A Wanderin’ Man,” “I’ll Love You More” and other country successes.

Her fellow Opry star Billy Walker also had a string of country hits on Monument in 1966-68. Movie star Robert Mitchum had a Monument country hit with “Little Ole Wine Drinker Me” in 1967. Grandpa Jones had the biggest chart hit of his career with 1963’s “T for Texas” on the label.

Henson Cargill had a No. 1 country smash with the socially conscious “Skip a Rope” in 1968. Charlie McCoy spent more than a decade on the label charting such instrumental hits as “I Started Loving You Again” ‘Orange Blossom Special” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” in 1972-83..

Dolly Parton began her hit-making career with the Foster-produced “Dumb Blonde” and “Something Fishy” on Monument in 1967. Foster also recorded her singing pop tunes.
In addition to Boudeaux Bryant, Foster also recorded such top country tunesmiths as Harlan Howard, Cindy Walker, Willie Nelson, Norro Wilson, Bobby Russell, Don Robertson, Wayne Carson, Billy Joe Shaver, Bob Morrison and Hank Cochran.

Back on the pop hit parade, Ray Stevens had hits with such Monument singles as “Mr. Businessman” (1968) and “Gitarzan” (1969). Tony Joe White was introduced with the 1969 international smash “Polk Salad Annie” in 1969.

Fred Foster also founded the song-publishing firm Combine Music, which was run by the late Bob Beckham. It was through this connection that he began to produce White, as well as Kris Kristofferson.

Pictured (L-R): 2016 Country Music Hall of Fame inductees Fred Foster, Charlie Daniels and Randy Travis at the Country Music Hall of Fame inductee’s announcement on Tuesday, March 29 at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. Photo: John Russell/CMA

The latter’s big country hit was 1973’s “Why Me.” Foster also suggested the title for Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee.”

Larry Gatlin was signed to Monument in 1973. Between 1976 and 1978, he had seven top-10 hits on the label, including the No. 1 hit “I Just Wish You Were Someone I Loved” (1977) and the Grammy winning “Broken Lady” (1976).

One of the label’s last pop successes was Billy Swan’s “I Can Help” in 1974. It also tried with the Southern-rock band Barefoot Jerry. Connie Smith’s string of Monument singles in 1977-78 were among the company’s last on the country charts.

Due to poor investments, Fred Foster filed for bankruptcy in 1983. He attempted to save his company with an album titled The Winning Hand, starring Nelson, Parton, Kristofferson and Brenda Lee.

Foster sold Combine in 1986 and Monument the following year. In succeeding years, he worked as an independent record producer.

He produced the Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Ray Price album Last of the Breed (2007). This featured Price and Nelson’s Grammy-winning duet “Lost Highway.” Foster was behind the board for Nelson’s You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker album of 2006, and he produced Price’s final recordings to create the 2014 collection Beauty Is.

He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016. His Monument imprint has been revived twice more, but without his involvement.

Fred Foster had been in ill health for a number of months. He passed away on Wednesday, Feb. 20.

He is survived by his son Vance Foster, and daughters Micki Foster (Greg) Koenig, Leah Foster (Dillon) Alderman, Brit Foster (Judd) Rothstein, and Kristen Foster and grandchildren Rachel DiGregorio, Rhys and Tess Rothstein, and Penelope Kirschner. He is also survived by many beloved nieces and nephews.

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About the Author

Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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