Dozens of top-tier singers — from Barbra Streisand to Michael Jackson to Whitney Houston — have benefited from the platinum ears of songwriter-producer-arranger David Foster, who has won 16 Grammys from a total of 48 nominations.
He's found a second career for himself as a reality TV star — he was previously married to Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Yolanda Hadid (and played stepdad to her supermodel daughters, Bella and Gigi Hadid) — and is known for PBS's membership drives, whether alone or through his collaborations with popera star Andrea Bocelli.
The rarely touring Foster comes to the Keswick Theater on Sunday.
Well, I started off in bands when I was 16, and was even a one-hit-wonder [Skylark's "Wildflower," which cracked the Top Ten in 1973], but I never really struck gold with anything after that, maybe because I was a musical intellect, having come from classical training. I didn't fit into rock bands in the early '70s. Maybe I was a misfit and more open already to being the session man, writer, and arranger-producer that I became. Maybe I just wasn't meant for the road. I chose the path of least resistance.
What happened was I started playing at charity events — not to be a great citizen but mainly because I wanted to give back but didn't really have any money. I found through those performances a way to be a host to singers — because I can't hold a tune — and be funny and engaging. I really honed my skills starting with Andre Agassi charity events in the '90s, where people of the caliber of Tony Bennett and Celine Dion sang. I have done over 400 charity events by this point. I say this not to look great or sound overly charitable, but to point out how it honed what I do and allowed me to help other people sound good, which is what I do.
Chuck Berry hated me. I was so wrong for his music. It's a double-edge sword though, because I didn't know his music, didn't particularly like his music, and he didn't like the way I played his stuff because I probably did so horribly. Later, I learned just what his contribution was, but then it was just three chords over and over. I was a wannabe jazz guy who came from classical. Chuck and I: We didn't get each other.
The pop light went off when I heard the Beatles, but I did not know how to get there. As I became a session guy through drummer Jim Keltner, I learned slowly how to integrate myself into that world. Then I learned from the bad producers — the ones who did nothing and leaned on the musicians to figure it all out — about how to be a good producer. From there I met Henry Mancini and Johnny Mandell along the way and learned from them. The most important thing I learned from them was failure — my first three albums were duds because I thought its successes were down to musicians. No. It is about great songs. I missed that memo. Only then did I become a quality producer.
They have. Songwriting is now more linear. And there are great and horrible songs in every decade, so I'm not that badmouthing guy or that reminiscing guy. Pop music now is based around four chords. That's not new — so are songs such as Sam Cooke's "You Send Me." What many of those older songs had, though, was a bridge — which today's music typically doesn't have.
I didn't move away from it. It moved away from me. Trust me, no one who has a million hits just walks away from that unless they have to. The Swedish sound came in — Max Martin, Backstreet Boys — I loved that, but I don't know how to make it. I got lucky, though. You either roll over or go forward. That's when I found Josh Groban, Michael Buble, and Andrea Bocelli and started the whole classical-jazz-opera-standards thing that recalled the training of my youth. And I had another great 15-year run with that. Music changed and I couldn't change with it — but there were no hard feelings. I was lucky enough to figure it out and embrace the change.
You're absolutely right, and I'll stick with your summation as my quote. When writing musicals, you have to write a good song — not a hit song. I'm capable of being inspired and writing really good songs. I just can't write Ed Sheeran-style songs. In theater, you have to tell a story and feature music that can move an audience. I believe I can do this.
Anyone who knows my music can call it schmaltzy and schlocky, but they also know that I can provide arcs that move people — those big moments.