Record producerFred Foster

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After leaving home for the Big City — Washington D.C. — to be a songwriter, Foster also worked in a record store, and started recording local acts. That led to a job at Mercury Records, and in 1955, he tried to get his boss to sign a new act Foster thought had great potential. His boss didn’t offer enough money, so Elvis Presley signed with RCA instead. In 1958, Foster used all of his savings to found a new record company of his own: Monument, named for the Washington Monument, and in 1960 he moved the company to Nashville.

The first record I ever bought was a Monument: Ray Stevens’ “Gitarzan” (1969) — back in the days when pop stars still wore a coat and tie (but rarely had such a cheesy grin!)

In 1960, Foster signed a singer he thought also had great potential, but wasn’t doing very well: Roy Orbison. With Foster as Orbison’s producer, the singer finally hit the top of the charts with “Running Scared”, “Oh, Pretty Woman”, “Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel),” “In Dreams”, and “Blue Bayou”, all issued, of course, by Monument Records. “I tried to do something time would not be critical of,” Foster said much later. “It’s like Orbison said to me one time, ‘What’s the most important thing we’re going to do?’ I said, ‘We’re going to eliminate every gimmick you come up with. They don’t endure.’” Orbison’s agent moved him to MGM, so Foster took a chance on a young country singer, a pretty blonde named Dolly Parton. Foster also produced recordings by Willie Nelson, Ray Stevens, Kris Kristofferson, Larry Gatlin, Charlie McCoy, Al Hirt, Boots Randolph (“Yakety Sax”), Tony Joe White (“Polk Salad Annie”), and many more. After Foster’s investments in banking in the 1980s went bad, he sold Monument to CBS in 1990, and then Sony absorbed CBS — and decided to relaunch Monument as a label in 2017. Foster continued producing recordings, and was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2009, and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016. At the latter ceremony, Parton paid tribute to Foster: “You saw things in me that nobody else did,” she said. “Sometimes you just know,” he replied, “and that makes up for all the times you had to guess.” After suffering a stroke, he died in Nashville on February 20, at 87.

From This is True for 24 February 2019