Fred Foster—Producer, Exec & Songwriter—Dead

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Fred Foster, a music industry executive, songwriter and producer who was instrumental in the development of the careers of Roy Orbison, Kris Kristofferson and Dolly Parton, died February 20, 2019, in Nashville. A cause was not cited in reports of his death.

Foster was the founder of Monument Records, the label for which Orbison recorded most of his hits, and produced such timeless tracks as “Oh, Pretty Woman,” “Only the Lonely” and “Crying.” Foster, who was a 2016 Country Music Hall of Fame Inductee, was 87.

As the head of Combine Music, a song publishing firm, Foster is credited as the co-writer of Kristofferson’s classic song, “Me and Bobby McGee,” which became a #1 single for Janis Joplin.

Born July 26, 1931, in Rutherford County, N.C., Fred Luther Foster moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked for the Mercury and ABC-Paramount record labels. He founded Monument in 1958 with disc jockey Buddy Deane, but the following year Foster bought out Deane’s share, becoming the sole owner of the company. He signed Orbison away from the Memphis Sun label in 1960 and had a top 10 single the first time out with “Only the Lonely,” which Foster produced.

Orbison remained with Monument until 1965, scoring such major hits as “Running Scared,” “In Dreams,” “It’s Over” and “Blue Bayou” while working with Foster.

Fred Foster

Foster signed Parton to Monument in 1964, where she enjoyed her first hit, “Dumb Blonde,” before moving to RCA Records.

In a statement on her social media accounts, Parton wrote: “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.”

In addition to Orbison, Parton and Kristofferson, Foster produced music by Willie Nelson, Tony Joe White, Ray Stevens, Al Hirt, Larry Gatlin and others.

In 1963, Foster started the R&B label Sound Stage 7, which signed Ivory Joe Hunter, Arthur Alexander, Joe Simon and others.

In 1969, Foster co-wrote “Me and Bobby McGee,” which was recorded first by country star Roger Miller, before being covered by Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and many others, including Kristofferson himself.

Foster also produced two albums for Willie Nelson, You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker (2006) and Nelson’s collaboration with Merle Haggard and Ray Price, Last of the Breed (2007). Both were nominated for Grammys, with the latter winning Best Country Collaboration, for the track “Lost Highway.”

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