David Foster’s Versatility Make Him A Top Session Musician
To most people, the credit typically associated with David Foster is “Produced by.” But even before taking a seat behind the console in the control room, Foster was having an impact on artists as a session musician.
Growing up in Victoria, B.C., in the 1950s, Foster studied classical piano from ages 5 to 13. “Then the Beatles came along and changed my life,” he recalls — not realizing at that age that 12 years later, he would be playing behind one of them. Coincidentally, a good friend also introduced him to great jazz piano players, such as Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson and Chick Corea.
In 1966, at age 16, he quit school and moved to England, and got a job playing piano in Chuck Berry’s touring band. “At the time, I didn’t really understand what an incredible contribution Chuck had made to music. I was a classical snob. I just thought, ‘All the songs are the same three chords.’ He didn’t like me, and I didn’t like him. At that age, I wasn’t gonna get it.”
What he did get, though, was training from a master, something he carried with him, along with his appreciation of the other genres. “By the time I was 16, I had a great base of classical, jazz and rock. I was pretty fluent in all of them. And that’s guided me my whole life, musically.”
In 1972, Valiant Records founder Barry De Vorzon spotted Foster and his band, Skylark, playing in Vancouver and brought them to Los Angeles, where the group was signed to Capitol Records by producer Dino Airali, who would shortly be running George Harrison’s Dark Horse Records label. The group released two albums, “Skylark” in 1972 and “2″ two years later.
Skylark broke up in 1974, by which time Foster had gotten a job playing keyboards in the pit band of Lou Adler’s original production of “The Rocky Horror Show” at L.A.’s Roxy Theater. He eventually played on Adler’s cast album — Foster’s first session job. “That was a huge breakthrough for me,” Foster says.
His talent, even then, wasn’t lost on musicians who were beginning to get familiar with him. “I drove him to work several times,” recalls session guitarist Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar (James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt), whose wife was in the show. “One night while driving him there, I told him, ‘Listen, a year from now, you’re gonna have to hire someone to answer the phone, it’s gonna be ringing so much.’ He said, ‘Really? You think so?’ He was obviously phenomenally talented — everyone knew it.”
After playing on a Skylark session in June 1974, session drummer Jim Keltner (George Harrison, John Lennon) invited him to play at the fabled weekly Sunday-night jam sessions at the Record Plant on 3rd Street in L.A., famously known as the Jim Keltner Fan Club. The sessions attracted members of rock royalty, from Lennon to Mick Jagger, Ron Wood, Stevie Wonder and countless others. “Everybody loved playing with David,” says Kortchmar, a regular visitor to the jams. “He just had a mad groove.”
Keltner eventually became enamored enough of Foster’s playing that he began helping the young keyboardist find session work among his famous friends. “I would always recommend David,” the drummer tells Variety. “Fossie was a monster player. He could do anything, for anybody. Any style, anything.”