On Independence Day 1987, with a whirl of twang and jangle called “Crazy Over You,” the duo of Radney Foster and Bill Lloyd made its country radio debut.
Soon, Foster & Lloyd were the first country duo in history to ride a debut single to No. 1. Over the subsequent three years, they scored five Top 20 country hits and a Grammy nomination, made three albums of music that Rolling Stone called “the flowering of a generation,” played genre-melding shows with Roy Orbison, the Beach Boys and The Everly Brothers, inspired future hit-makers Keith Urban and Darius Rucker and became poster children for the hip, rock-informed, country-inflected music scene during what Steve Earle called the town’s “great credibility scare.”
And then, in 1990, while George W. Bush’s daddy was president and just before the Internet became publicly available, Foster & Lloyd disbanded. More than 20 years later, the duo is back with a new album, a press campaign, a website and a tour schedule that includes forthcoming shows at the CMA Music Festival, The Bluebird Cafe, Music City Roots at the Loveless Cafe and the Grand Ole Opry.
“It’s different now,” says Foster, who spent the past 21 years singing solo hits including “Just Call Me Lonesome” and “Nobody Wins” and penning songs recorded by Urban, Rucker, the Dixie Chicks and many others. “We were on RCA Records, and now we’re an independent act. I don’t think we’re in the music business anymore, I just think we’re making music. We’re in the Foster & Lloyd business. And we’ve been closed for renovation for quite some time.”
The post-renovation It’s Already Tomorrow album trades winningly on many of the duo’s original charms, including the unique, “third voice” vocal blend that occurs when Foster’s Texas drawl meets Lloyd’s Bowling Green-bred high harmonies and the happy collision of influences that a USA Today reviewer in the 1980s called “fresh, surprising and natural. … Listeners hear the Byrds, the Eagles, Neil Young, Waylon Jennings, Buck Owens and bluegrass and folk licks.”
In the yawning cavern of meantime between releases, though, Foster has become a more than able electric guitar player, and the new album finds him contributing punchy electric parts to a soundscape that was once exclusively Lloyd’s. He and Lloyd (the author of hit songs for Martina McBride, Sara Evans and others) sat in the sunshine at a Nashville Sounds game last week, talking about their duo’s rise, fall and rejuvenation.
“From the early ’80s, I had a local following in Nashville with my rock and pop thing,” says Lloyd, who was a Music City power pop figurehead prior to 1985, when he and Foster — both staff writers at MTM Music Publishing — began writing together. “Doing country was kind of a left turn for me, and people looked on with their heads turned. Once they saw us play, they realized it was a pop songwriter thing that wasn’t that much of a stretch.”
Perhaps it wasn’t a stretch for Lloyd’s fans, but it was something new for country music. Lloyd’s wry lyrics and chordal quirks were as unusual for the boot-wearing, checkered-shirt crowd as Foster’s earnest voice and shuffling, Buck Owens-inspired romps were for the campus kids who heard Foster & Lloyd on college stations along with R.E.M., Echo & The Bunnymen and other decidedly non-Nashville acts.
Part of the college radio success came from RCA Records brass who allowed the young duo to produce their own records rather than go with an established, conventional country producer. They arrived at the loudest drum sound heard in 1980s country and layered Lloyd’s amped-up guitar work over that.
The sound, fresh and present, attracted a diverse audience. It also tweaked the ears of Rucker — who used to attend beery Foster & Lloyd shows in South Carolina and who recorded the F&L-penned “Before the Heartache Rolls In” with Hootie & The Blowfish — and Urban, whose heavy-drums-plus-guitar-clinic approach owes to Foster & Lloyd and who later hit with Foster’s “Raining on Sunday.”
But diversity does not ensure mass success, and by 1990 Garth Brooks’ platinum ascent heralded a new era. Along Music Row, a “sell a million or leave the party” approach ruled, and the writing on Foster & Lloyd’s wall read “diminishing returns.” On the tour for their third album the duo was slated to play a Louisville gig with burgeoning star Clint Black opening. By the time the show happened, Black was the headliner.
“It was bittersweet to hang it up, but we remained friends,” Foster said. “I wanted to make a stone-cold country record, and Bill was doing his pop thing and producing, and I didn’t think it was going to be 20 years before we got back together.”
Foster & Lloyd reunited for several live gigs over the years, the most important of which was a 2010 Bluebird Cafe fundraiser for the Americana Music Association that sold out in 15 minutes. The response was energizing, and they began writing together again, and the songs seemed to demand a new record.
“Bill and I do something unique together that we don’t do apart,” Foster said. “We were working on ‘Can’t Make Love Make Sense’ and he came up with this line, ‘Let me help you out of that Freudian slip.’ Sometimes writing with young rock bands or country acts, it’d be like, ‘You can’t say that.’ They try to edit you down because they’re scared. Me, I just laughed my head off. And it’s on the album.”