By Nick Patch
The Canadian Press
TORONTO – David Foster recently celebrated his 65th birthday and — given that the Victoria-reared producer-to-the-stars has more connections than a discount transcontinental flight — it’s tempting to imagine the guest list at his party.
But imagining is all we can do, given that the 16-time Grammy winner wouldn’t bite on a recent invitation for name-dropping.
“No,” he replied when asked to reveal a few of the names on hand for his celebration. A twinkle in his eye, he then added: “But if you can think it, they were there. How’s that?”
And having reached the age that many begin seriously pondering retirement, Foster is instead focused on further expanding his resume into every conceivable corner of the entertainment industry.
Now the chairman of Verve Music Group (with a roster that includes Andrea Bocelli, Smokey Robinson, Sarah McLachlan and Barry Manilow), Foster is juggling an ambitious slate of music, television, film and stage projects, including but not limited to: a just-released Starbucks compilation of Foster’s most memorable Christmas productions, from the likes of Michael Buble, Celine Dion and Mary J. Blige; a third instalment in his Emmy-winning “Hit Man” PBS specials to be taped in February, based not on his own music but music he loves; and, perhaps most improbably, a Broadway musical based on voluptuous cartoon pinup Betty Boop for which Foster has written 25 songs.
“It looks really promising — the music is almost done,” he said, before adding with characteristic directness: “We’re just 15 million short of being on Broadway.”
That is, of course, not all. Foster is best-known for writing or producing such titanic smashes as Toni Braxton’s “Un-Break My Heart,” Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me” and “The Prayer” and the immortal theme from “St. Elmo’s Fire,” but he’s seemingly eyeing a new generation of pop stars.
Consider, for instance, a recent selfie capturing the silver-haired hitmaker alongside of-the-moment pop powerhouse Ariana Grande.
“I’m working on a joint venture right now with Disney and Universal Music on a big project that has already been very successful in France,” Foster said by way of explanation, saying that he was still in the planning stages but that he’s already started meeting with artists.
“It’s going to be very exciting because everyone loves Disney. The biggest star in the world, young or old, country, rock, or pop has a Disney song somewhere in their brain, for their kids or their mom or for themselves that they remember fondly or are emotionally attached to in some way. Even the most out of the box artist has got a go-to Disney song hidden away somewhere and that is exactly what we are going to try to tap into.”
Foster also helmed “Wallflower,” the latest record from B.C. chanteuse Diana Krall. The record was originally slated for an October release before Krall, citing a severe bout with pneumonia, cancelled her fall dates and postponed the album’s release to Feb. 2.
Well, Foster assures, it’ll be worth the wait.
“I think she’s a Canadian treasure,” he said of the five-time Grammy winner, who has twin sons with legendary British pub-rocker Elvis Costello.
“She gave me the keys to the car and she just said: ‘You make the record that you think would be right for me.’ Of course she had input because she’s a genius that way — she can’t not have input. She’s an amazing piano player, and an amazing singer, but she really gave me carte blanche — enough rope to hang myself with.”
That level of creative control, certainly, suits Foster.
“I’m not going to lie, I do my best work when I’m given free reign,” he said. “Obviously it doesn’t work all the time. Sometimes I do hang myself and the album stiffs and I have to take the blame for it. But I do my best work when people let me be me.
“She was just a treat,” he added. “And Elvis, we had the full 100 per cent support of Elvis. He was just down at the studio going, ‘Yeah, fantastic, great.’ I will say that every single vocal that I’ve ever seen her do has been amazing but I think we even got some extra special vocals this time.
“She’s just singing incredibly.”
The formally clad Foster is, in fact, whisking through Toronto in support of the David Foster Foundation, which offers support to families with children in need of an organ transplant. A recent Calgary benefit drew in appearances from Kenneth (Babyface) Edmonds, comedian Sinbad and phenom vocalist Jackie Evancho.
Here, too, Foster is expanding his role instead of sitting back. He wants to see a shift toward presumed consent — where, essentially, you would become an organ donor when you die unless you had explicitly indicated otherwise.
He said his charity once felt the issue was too big to tackle until it recently became a priority again.
“It was part of our mandate, and then we kind of backed off because it’s such a huge job and it takes so much funding,” he said. “Now we’re back in the saddle again. … It’s an uphill battle. I’m not going to lie. It’s not going to be an easy one. I think we’re committed to getting back into the role full-time.”
Ultimately, he’s optimistic: “I can see a beautiful, federal, nation-wide opt out program where … you’re automatically an organ donor unless you say you don’t want to be one, which makes perfect sense to me.”
Those curious about Foster’s life will soon have multiple ways to pull back the curtain, in the form of two very different television shows.
Well, it remains to be seen how much will be gleaned from VH1’s “Barely Famous,” a scripted show from Foster’s daughters Sara and Erin that is intended to satirically mine reality tropes for laughs. Set to premiere in March, the show is “big budget” and “just hilarious,” Foster says, though he doesn’t appear.
“They did not ask me to be in it at all, but they pulled in some big guns — they pulled in their friends, of their age, who are really famous.”
Foster will be more visible in the fifth season of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” which just started airing its fifth season earlier in November.
His wife of three years, Yolanda, joined the cast in season 3 and “thrives on the show this year,” Foster said.
“The show’s really entertaining and (has) a lot more human interest stories,” he said. “I’m happy for my wife.”
Foster himself makes sporadic appearances on the show, and for all his multi-disciplinary longevity — it’s this that has recently stuck.
“It’s funny, man,” he said. “Truly, somebody will stop me and they’ll go: ‘You’re a husband on “The Housewives.”‘ And they have no clue about my music. None. You just want to smack ‘em and go: ‘By the way, I have 16 Grammys.’
“But of course, you don’t do that. It’s just funny.”