DOUG THOMPSON: CONFESSIONS OF A PROFESSIONAL ROCK AND ROLL INTERVIEWER – ONE NIGHT WITH DAVID FOSTER MADE MY DAY.

Doug Thompson headshotOver the past 40 years, I’ve been fortunate to interview well over a thousand rock stars, pop stars, musicians, songwriters, session players, engineers and producers.  The stars usually have a pat answer (although not always), but I’ve always enjoyed interviewing behind-the-scenes people as they have the best stories and usually don’t get to tell them that often.

Producer David Foster is one of my all time faves, both as an interview and as a person.

David FosterI’ve interviewed David many times.  I’ve been to three of his homes, including his incredible 22 acre Malibu mansion.  I’ve sat in with him on a Celine Dion vocal editing session (Celine wasn’t there), but David was selecting the takes he intended to use in the final mix.  I’d tell you more about that, but David said if I ever told anyone about his method of working, he’d have to kill me.  And I really like David, so I’d never betray a confidence.  Besides, I’d like to stay alive for at least a couple more years.  David’s also been kind enough to invite Celine Dion - Peabo Brysonme to a Celine Dion/Peabo Bryson background vocal session with a group of session singers (once again, neither Celine or Peabo were in attendance).  That one was slightly strange because even though the singers (and there were about a dozen of them), were directly behind David and the engineer, they communicated and watched them on a TV monitor directly in front of the console.  I guess they didn’t want to keep craning their necks.  Ah modern technology.  Kind of like friends who are sitting together at a coffee shop, yet texting each other rather than actually talking to each other (saw that twice today).  The technology has been in place for many years where you could be in an entirely different country from the backup singers or lead guitarist or piccolo player and still communicate with, and record them in real time.Warren

But this was my very first interview with David…and of course, you NEVER forget your first.  The year was 1983 and I was working on “The Producers” radio series for Telemedia Radio Network with my then producing partner Warren Cosford.  In the early part of that year, I was in LA recording interviews.

David Foster wasn’t super famous yet – I’d pushed for him to be included in our series because I thought he soon would be.

Turns out, I was right.

If I were to list all the artists 16 time Grammy winner David Foster has produced along with his awards, accomplishments and hit records, it would easily fill this column as well as my next.

So I won’t.  You can look them up for yourself at his official website: davidfoster.com.

yolanda-hadid-fosterSome (relatively) current history on David:  Since December of 2011, David’s been the Chairman of Verve Music, which is a division of the Universal Music Group.  His fourth wife, Yolanda Hadid, whom David married on 11/11/11, was recently added to the cast of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”.  This is one of the hottest ‘reality’ shows on TV today, so I know it’ll turn out better than David’s 2005 adventures in the FOX ‘reality’ TV show “The Princes of Malibu”, with step sons Brandon and Brody Jenner (the Linda Thompson Jenner Fosteroffspring of double Olympic Gold medal winner and “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” husband/father figure Bruce Jenner and David’s wife Linda Thompson Jenner Foster, a former long time girlfriend of Elvis Presley).  David didn’t fare too well in that one.  FOX pretty much portrayed him as the ’bad guy’, always trying to stop ‘the boys’ from having their fun.  It was not fun to watch.  “The Princes of Malibu” aired only a couple of episodes before being cancelled by FOX (probably due to the fact that Linda Thompson Jenner Foster filed for divorce the day the premiere episode aired).  Consequently, the network spun off the remaining episodes that had already been taped, to the FOX Reality channel and then assigned them forever to TV hell.  To me, David just didn’t make it as a bad guy.  It’s pretty hard when you’re actually a really good guy.

Now, a brief bit of background:  David Foster was born in Victoria, British Columbia and was a child prodigy due to his ability to hear a piece of music one time and then instantly play it.  David studied music for eight years at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.  He joined the ranks of professional musicians three years later when he went to England and backed up rock legends Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley.  He was also a member of Ronnie Hawkins back up band, but Hawkins fired him for “playin’ too many notes in those 3 chord rock’n’roll songs.”  David co-founded the group SkylarkSkylark with his first wife, B. J. Cook, Donny Gerrard, Carl Graves and drummer Duris Maxwell and after signing a deal with Capitol Records, the band moved to Los Angeles in 1971.  As David told me in that first interview, their first day in Hollywood did NOT go as planned.  “B. J. and I arrived in Los Angeles my very first time here.  We stayed at a hotel in Hollywood where we could see the Capitol Records building and we were driving down the freeway going, ‘that’s where we’re going to make our record and here’s where we’re gonna stay’, and we pulled in and parked our Volkswagen van that was packed full of seven suitcases, a sewing machine, television, records, stereo – every single thing she and I owned together and we walked to Capitol Records for lunch and when we walked back, every single thing we owned was gone.  That was in the first hour of being in Los Angeles – Welcome to Los Angeles.  That was so devastating, but it was not a deterrent.”

Two years after that disastrous first day in LA, Skylark had the number nine song on Billboards’ Hot 100 chart with their 1973 hit, “Wildflower”.

After a second unsuccessful album, Skylark broke up and most of the rest of the band returned to Canada, David remained in LA and became an in-demand session player working with such luminaries as George Harrison, Quincy Jones, Barbra Streisand, Rod Stewart, Dolly Parton, Ringo Starr, Tom Jones, Helen Reddy, Mac Davis, Oliva Newton-John and many others.

He took the next logical step and became a full blown record producer working with such artists as Daryl Hall & John Oates, Earth Wind & Fire, Alice Cooper, Boz Scaggs, Average White Band, Chicago and The Tubes Capitol Records debut album, “The Completion Backwards Principle”.

Ed. Note…You MUST watch this to appreciate just a small part of David Foster’s contribution to contemporary music.

David Foster, Earth, Wind, and Fire, Philip Bailey, and Maurice White

Of course, Foster went on to much greater success a few years later with Whitney Houston (“The Bodyguard”), Celine Dion, The Corrs, Natalie Cole and Michael Buble as well as his own solo career.

Our interview was set for four o’clock at David’s home in the San Fernando Valley.  Greeting me at the door, David introduced me to his wife Rebecca, The Tubesthen we headed for his office/demo studio.  We had a great time and it one of the best interviews I’d done to that point.  David was very forthcoming with great stories and we wrapped up just over an hour later.  As I was packing up my Nagra, David asked me if I’d like to come with him to a session with The Tubes that night.

Would I?

Hell yes.  Absolutely.  Da.  You betcha (Minnesota speak for ‘yes’).  Mais oui.  Si.  Ja.  Balli (Farsi).

David then invited me to stay for dinner.  I don’t think his wife was expecting company, but she quickly grabbed another plate and I joined the Foster family for a feast.  After dinner, David and I headed to the recording studio (I Fee Waybill as Quay Ludeleft my car at David’s house and we went in his). Once at the studio, and after glad handing and hugs all ‘round between David and the band members present, he introduced me to lead singer Fee Waybill and guitarist Vince Welnick.  They were recording vocals that night for a couple of songs whose titles I no longer remember.   It went on for a few hours while I sat behind the console in the control room, soaking it all in.  I’d been to dozens of recording sessions before and sometimes, they can become boring unless you’re actively involved, but this one was fascinating to watch David at work, cajoling a great vocal out of Fee and seemingly effortlessly, making musical suggestions way beyond my understanding.  During one of the break, he had the engineer rack up a tape of this incredible Earth Wind & Fire song he’d produced and I believe, co-wrote…and no, it wasn’t “After The Love Has Gone”, a song David DID co-write with pal Jay Graydon (more with Jay later) and Chicago band member Bill Champlin.  That I’d remember.  “After The Love Has Gone”, by the way, won a Grammy Award for ‘Best R&B Song’ in 1980 as well as ‘Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Group, Duo or Chorus’ for Earth, Wind & Fire.

After the Tubes session wrapped, David and I drove over to his pal producer Jay Graydon’s (see I told you he’d be back) Garden Rake Studios in Studio City.  Jay was there with Al Jarreau, the singer he was producing at the time.  Jay played a couple of tracks that they’d laid down that night, then the four of us went for a drink (I had my usual gingerale) to a bar not far from Jay’s house/studio (and one of the few bars still open at that late hour).

Jay, Al and David were SCTV fans and we got to talking about the various actors and I mentioned that I’d worked with most of them on commercials back in Toronto and that John Candy was a good friend of mine.  So they immediately ganged up on me and started requesting me to talk ‘hoser’, like Bob & Doug McKenzie (aka Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas).  I tried to deflect their requests, saying I didn’t do voices, but they kept insisting, so I gave in and did about a minute of my best Bob and Doug ‘hoser’ accent and got a good laugh out of them.  Not long after, we all said our good nights and went our separate ways.

Donut World

…and 46 SCTV Clips with Rick, Dave, and Others.

Ah, but my adventure wasn’t quite over yet.

Highland ExitIt was close to 3AM as I manoeuvred my Hertz rent-a-car along the Hollywood freeway.  Since I was staying at the Hollywood Holiday Inn, my exit was Highland Avenue (that’s the one you take for the Hollywood Bowl – just a little geographical reference for those of you who’ve never been to LA).   As I made my turn from the off ramp (and you need to slow down for this as it’s a fairly sharp curve and there’s a mountain directly ahead of you and to your right as you make that turn), this black Volkswagen came screaming past me at break neck speed headed for the turn.  I knew in an instant he wasn’t going to make it.

He didn’t.

The Volkswagen slammed into the side of the mountain, briefly went up on two wheels, careened a few feet forward, then thudded to a stop.  I’d never actually seen an accident happen before, so I was mesmerized.  There was no other traffic on the off ramp, so I pulled over to the side in front of the VW bug and got out.  I was expecting to see my first dead body (that wasn’t an aged relative at a funeral parlour).  To my amazement, as I got closer to the car, a man began to crawl out the drivers’ side window.  He was alive!  Alive!  He clumsily fell to the ground, got up, brushed himself off and just stood there for a second or two, like he’d just completed a spectacular magic trick and was waiting for the applause from the audience.  Or maybe he was just in shock.  I quickly walked over to him and asked if he was alright.  He claimed he was.  I then asked if he’d like me to drive him to the hospital.  He declined, requesting instead that if I could drive him home, he’d be most grateful as he only lived a few blocks away.  He said he’d come back for his car in the morning.  I suspect he may have been on something (he didn’t Franklin Avenueseem drunk and definitely didn’t smell of alcohol) and probably didn’t want blood or any other tests taken, lest he be arrested.  So I drove a couple of blocks to Franklin Avenue (it was on my way to the hotel anyway) and dropped him at his apartment building.  He thanked me profusely and disappeared through the glass front doors.  I never saw him again, and when I drove by the accident location the next day, his car was no longer there.

And that was just one night in Hollywood.  Crazy events like that hardly ever happened to me when I actually lived there (except when I worked for John Candy).

Thanks to David Foster, I had one of the most memorable nights of my life.

=DT=

Doug’s column appears here every 4th Friday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com.

DBAWIS ButtonDoug Thompson has spent his entire adult life in broadcasting, both in Canada and the U.S. and has won 152 awards for his work.  He worked with Canadian actor John Candy for 17 years, writing and producing commercials, specials and several weekly radio programs.

Currently, he’s writing and producing the second season of a television program for the Hi Fi channel in Canada called “Hi Fi Salutes”, a series of short biographical documentaries on Canadian musicians, producers and record industry pioneers.  One of those programs recently won a Platinum Award at the World Film Festival in Houston.

2 Responses to “DOUG THOMPSON: CONFESSIONS OF A PROFESSIONAL ROCK AND ROLL INTERVIEWER – ONE NIGHT WITH DAVID FOSTER MADE MY DAY.”

  1. vic phillips Says:

    Great piece Doug. You are probably the last informative reminder of Canadas international showbiz connections. Keep it going.

  2. […] of my first adventure with David Foster (it was a wild night), you’re welcome to check out “Confessions of a Professional Rock and Roll Interviewer: One Night With David Foster Made My Day” […]

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