The Tale Behind The Tune

Texas In 1880 by Radney Foster

Texas In 1880 by Radney Foster

SOME SONGS ARE famously written in a matter of minutes but the subject of this tale behind the tune – Texas in 1880 by Foster & Lloyd – took seven years. The opening lines were written by Radney Foster, the ‘Foster’ half of the popular late 80s/early 90s duo, as he was driving from Del Rio, Texas to Nashville, Tennessee to pursue his dream of becoming a professional songwriter. The story of what the song stands for and how it was completed is a fascinating one.

As far as odes to the rodeo go, they don’t come much better than Foster & Lloyd’s Texas in 1880. But listen carefully to the lyrics and you get the feeling the song is about so much more than the rodeo, a fact I explored with Radney when I interviewed him back in 2020. 

ANDY: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me Radney. 

RADNEY: You’re welcome Andy.

ANDY: Now I’ve never been to the rodeo but your song – Texas in 1880 – paints a very good picture in my head. 

RADNEY: You’ve never been? Wow, you should come go to the rodeo, it’s awesome!

ANDY: We don’t get much opportunity here in the UK sadly but it sounds great. What’s the story behind the song? 

RADNEY: Well, when I was 20 years old I met a producer who’d heard 4 or 5 of my songs and said ‘you’re going to have to have a pretty serious talk with your mum and dad about doing this for a living’. So I convinced my mum and dad to let me take a year off college and move to Nashville. I was loading my Volkswagen full of everything I owned and my mom’s best friend, who was a ranchers’ daughter like my mom, said ‘Radney, you’ve got to be careful about the music business, it’s just like rodeoing – it’ll get in your blood and you can’t get it out’. I just laughed and said I’ll be careful but it kinda bugged me and I got about 90 miles down the 12,000 miles I had to drive and I pulled the car over and wrote the first verse to that song…”

I can hear the wind whisper my name
Tellin’ me it’s time to head out again
My horses are trailered and the lights are shut down
And I’m long overdue for headin’ outta town
Got a fever that they call rodeo
Just enough winnin’ to make the next show
Sometimes you make eight, sometimes you hit dirt
Go on, pin another number to the back of my shirt

Lyrics from Texas In 1880 by Radney Foster
© Universal Music Publishing Group

ANDY: They’re great lyrics.

RADNEY: I guess so but I was 20 years old and couldn’t write my way out of a wet paper bag. I mean I had no idea what I was doing but it stuck with me, it haunted me, and I tried to get lots of people to write the idea with me. I didn’t have the title, I just had the verse, but I knew it was a good verse yet most everyone I asked said ‘I don’t know anything about the rodeo, I don’t think I can help you’. And so finally right before the first Foster & Lloyd record I kinda figured out it needed to be about something a bit bigger than just the rodeo and it’s really about a dreamer, a guy whose got this dream and he wants to be a champion, he wants to go to Vegas and get the big belt buckle and the whole nine yards. If you’re involved in any kind of sport or in any kind of entertainment you start where everything is a struggle – how to get paid, do we have enough gas to get to the next gig, and that’s the how the song opens up. He won enough money that night that he was able to trailer his horses and instead of going home he could just move on and go to the next gig. 

ANDYWhere they would pin another number on the back of his shirt!

RADNEY: And they do, they literally print these paper numbers so they can tell which cowboy is which and they safety pin them to the backs of their shirts.

ANDY: So in some ways it was a little bit like you setting off to Nashville to follow your dreams.

RADNEY: Very much so. You know the internal story of me going: ‘sink or swim, here goes, who knows if this is going to work’.

ANDY: So how long after you wrote that first verse in your car going to Nashville was it before you turned it into the finished song that made it on to the album?

RADNEY: Seven years

ANDYReally?!

RADNEY: Seven years… the longest time it ever took me to write a song.

ME: So was the first Foster & Lloyd album released seven years after you moved to Nashville?

RADNEY: It was yeah. I struggled. I went there for a year, nothing happened and a deal’s a deal so I went home. Also at the end of that year I knew it was so hard I thought I probably ought to go back and finish college and get that degree just in case. And so I did and then I moved back to Nashville again and I waited tables and worked construction and did odd jobs until finally in 1985 I got signed to Mary Tyler Moore publishing. The famous movie and TV actress had started a publishing and record company, I got signed and then about a month and half later I got introduced to this guy called Bill Lloyd and by that Summer we were writing songs together. Maybe 14 or 15 months after that we had a record deal on RCA – on Elvis’ label no less – and we were off to the races! The single came out in the Summer of ‘86 and the album came out in ‘87.

ANDY: And you were on music television quite a lot back then too weren’t you, with your videos.

RADNEY: Oh yeah, that was really interesting. There was no MTV for country music at the time, just a couple of little stations. CMT didn’t exist so the record company didn’t want to make a third video. We had made one video for Crazy Over You and we had a video out for Sure Thing. We felt like we should do a video for Texas in 1880 but they didn’t want to pay for it so we kinda scratched our heads and talked to a couple of guys who were buddies, one of whom was a film maker, struggling just like we were, and he said if you can pay for the film and the processing and the editing, I can get my guys to do it if you can just feed us. We said we can do better than that, we can give the five guys you need 50 bucks each. So we made the video for about a 1000 bucks and had a really good time doing it. And then we took it to RCA and they said this is fantastic and we want to use it and we said if you want to use it you gotta pay for it so we gave them a bill…

ANDYDid you mark it up a bit?

RADNEY: Oh yeah, oh yeah! Everyone got paid handsomely.

And here is that video and the song…

Seven years after Texas in 1880 was first started, the song finally appeared on Foster & Lloyd’s self-titled debut album Foster & Lloyd. Two other albums followed (Faster and Llouder and Version of the Truth) and for five years Foster & Lloyd were lauded by the critics for their tasteful blend of country and rock n roll. The record buying public agreed and four of the duo’s singles made it into the Billboard Hot Country top 10.

I asked Radney how the partnership ended.

RADNEY: “It was a great duo and great fun. Bill and I made records together and toured for five years but eventually we went our separate ways because of record company politics. Our record company’s radio department felt we were too ‘out there’ and it was tough for them to get us played on country radio. After five years and half a dozen hits that was news to me. There was talk of us being moved from the Nashville division of the company to the New York division to try and make a pop record but I felt like I couldn’t go pop with a mouthful of firecrackers and I thought I might have more opportunities as a songwriter or singer by just letting it go.”

History now tells us that “letting it go” it was a wise move for Radney. His first solo album, Del Rio, TX 1959, released in September 1992 was a commercial success and, to my mind, it is a bona fide country classic with songs such as A Fine Line, Just Call Me Lonesome, Easier Said Than Done and Nobody Wins (songs you’ll be able to learn a lot more about when our tale behind the tune series continues). As for Foster & Lloyd, it wasn’t the end. Radney and Bill remain good friends and they reunited in 2011 for a one-off album entitled It’s Already Tomorrow.

For more information on Radney Foster and his music visit radneyfoster.com

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