David Foster, the Godfather of Schmaltz
Posted April 14, 2018 1:07 a.m. EDT
David Foster, the Jerry Bruckheimer of power ballads, likes to say that he hasn’t seen the inside of an elevator in more than 30 years because he’s afraid of hearing his own music.
Millennials know him as the former stepfather to Gigi and Bella Hadid and as a background player on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” Before that, he produced Whitney Houston’s rendition of “I Will Always Love You.” He won 16 Grammys and worked with Michael Jackson, Madonna, Neil Diamond, Natalie Cole, Toni Braxton, Barbra Streisand and Lionel Richie, often on songs that topped charts and divided critics.
You can even see him perform some of the ballads he produced, including Celine Dion’s “The Power of Love,” along with Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart” and Houston’s “I Have Nothing,” while he’s on tour, at theaters across the country starting Tuesday in Washington. The following interview has been edited and condensed.
Q: You’ve written disco classics for Cheryl Lynn and produced Whitney Houston’s biggest hit. Do great pop songs share a secret?
A: I can only say that I gravitate toward schmaltz. I’m a commoner, not an elitist. Rolling Stone said I plunged the dagger into Boz Scaggs’ white suit, but I thought we did a good album together.
Q: Rolling Stone magazine also called you the master of “bombastic pop kitsch.” What was the song that cemented that? Was it Chicago’s “You’re the Inspiration”?
A: No. I would say it was Earth, Wind and Fire’s “After the Love Is Gone.”
Q: You’ve said that Maurice White, of Earth, Wind and Fire, is the singer you learned the most from. Why?
A: Because he did jazz, pop, R&B, country. Because you name the genre and he could do it.
Q: Tell me about Celine Dion. When she walks into the studio, does that voice just come soaring out?
A: Celine is the person every singer should study. How she’s raised her children. How she’s been in her marriage. How she’s been in her shows. How she takes care of her voice. How she treats people. And yes, when she opens her mouth that voice just comes out.
Q: You’ve also been quoted saying that you love her because she does what she’s told.
A: For a guy like me who wants to get his licks in, it’s great. She can interpret exactly what I want at all times. She’s so amenable. I think that’s to her credit. When I asked Whitney for something, she would give me something different.
Q: Who was the most difficult superstar to work with?
A: I’m not answering that, but it’s none of the obvious people. It’s not Whitney. It’s not Natalie. It’s not Madonna.
Q: Although Madonna was not always nice to you when you collaborated on her ballads collection in 1995. She was constantly telling you how uncool you were.
A: She was right. I was uncool. Madonna was also a great co-producer.
Q: Is Barbra Streisand ever not exacting?
A: I could say to Barbra, “If you come to this party tonight, and just shake a few hands and take a few pictures, your album will come out at No. 1. These people can help you.” “I don’t care. I don’t want to go.” You say, “But Barbra, for sure. It’ll make your album come out.” “I don’t care. I don’t want to.” But she’s a really true friend and she usually ends up being right.
Q: You are probably one of the rare people who’s succeeded in the music business without ever doing drugs.
A: That’s basically true.
Q: Sometime in David Foster’s distant past there was a puff of a joint.
A: A few times; that’s all. I was raised to not disappoint my parents. I was in Chuck Berry’s band at 16. There was nothing but sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, and I never took part.
Q: Although you made up a little for being such a good boy by appearing on reality TV. And you got a tattoo on your hand.
A: Ten years ago, my stepson started carrying a camera around saying, “We’re going to get a TV show going.” I said, “If you can get that TV show on a network, whatever it is you’re trying to do, I will get the same tattoo you have and I will be on your show.” And sure as hell, they sold a reality show about our family to Fox and I wound up with this tattoo.
Q: The show was called “The Princes of Malibu” and your wife then was Linda Thompson, a singer and actress, whose other ex is Caitlyn Jenner. After that, you married Yolanda Hadid, who became a cast member on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” A show you appeared on with some regularity.
A: I wanted to be supportive. And I think about it like this: I’m currently working with Michael Bublé. Would he really say, “I was going to call him to do my new album, but then I saw ‘The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ and thought, not that guy. Never again.” I doubt it. But your question seems to be implying something. What do you think?
Q: I would imagine there’s an upside to these shows or you wouldn’t be on them.
A: No. There is no upside. Besides maybe more Instagram followers.
Q: Now you’re in the tabloids dating Katharine McPhee.
A: Well, that we won’t talk about.
Q: Why? It’s not a secret.
A: I did learn one thing over the last five years: Never talk about your personal life.