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David Foster--time To Change Hats Again?

January 19, 1986|DENNIS HUNT

His lone '70s triumph was producing Alice Cooper's 1978 single, "How You Gonna See Me Now," which made the Billboard magazine pop Top 15. But that didn't make him a hot producer. Even winning his first Grammy in 1980 for Earth, Wind and Fire's "After the Love Has Gone"--named best R&B song--didn't instantly change his career.

"I was very unhappy that year," he recalled. "I was putting my heart into albums and not having hits. But my situation wasn't bad because there was never a lack of studio work."

One of Foster's notable failures, Peter Allen's "Bicoastal," was one of his favorite producing efforts. Mention of that admirable, ignored album prompted him to muse about the elusive qualities of a successful album. Soon he came to a predictable conclusion:

"I don't know what makes a hit any more than anybody else. You just do something and it works."

Chicago's revival might have happened sooner if the band had hired Foster sooner. His request to produce the 'Chicago 14" album was denied. When that album didn't sell, Columbia Records finally gave up on the band.

Chicago didn't have a record deal when it relented and selected Foster to produce "Chicago 16." Eventually Warner Brothers signed the group and picked up the album, which has sold more than 1.5 million copies, spurred by the hit single, "Hard to Say I'm Sorry." "Chicago 17," an even bigger hit, has sold more than five million.

Foster is scheduled to begin "Chicago 18" this month. But things are different now. Pete Cetera, who co-wrote the bulk of Chicago's material with him, left for a solo career. Cetera wanted him to produce and co-write the solo album but Foster declined.

"I had make a choice between him and Chicago," Foster said. "I couldn't do both. So I just threw in with the group."

By Foster's admission, he and Cetera didn't get along. Their conflicts certainly were no secret to industry insiders. Still, Cetera wanted to work with Foster.

"We're a great writing team," Foster said. "He knows that. He's the best writing partner I've ever had. We don't get along but we write well together. He doesn't like me. He's badmouthing me all over the place. But it's not just me that doesn't get along with him. Some other guys in the group didn't get along with him either."

Cetera quit Chicago abruptly, in a way that rankled Foster. "He and I were writing together all week in Vancouver," Foster recalled. "Then he went back to L.A. and I turned on 'Entertainment Tonight' and found out he had quit the group. We were together all week and he had already made up his mind but he didn't tell me."

Even that didn't turn Foster against him. "I begged him to stay," Foster said. "I begged him to do one more album. It's hard to imagine Chicago without him. But it has to be that way. I'm going to try writing with some other guys in the band."

Working with Chicago offers one particular bonus to Foster, the aspiring artist: "They talked about taking me on the road to open some shows. I'd make a great opening act, don't you think?"

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