Fred Foster was born in Rutherford County, and became a legendary label owner when he formed Monument Records in 1958. The first release, “Gotta Travel On,” became a top five record in both the Billboard Hot 100 and Country charts in 1959. Foster and Monument went on to play pivotal roles in the careers of Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, Ray Stevens and Larry Gatlin.
Foster worked in a record store in Washington D.C. and then joined Schwartz Brothers, a wholesale distributor which led to a job in promotion for Mercury and then sales with ABC-Paramount. While working for J & F Distributors in Baltimore he was confronted and challenged by his boss, who told him he was doing a lousy job selling pop music. Foster countered that his boss was doing a lousy job as well, which led to the boss’s challenge to Foster: “If you think you can do better, then why don’t you?” Foster replied, “I will,” which led to the formation of Monument Records.
In 1960 Fred Foster moved to Nashville and produced the early hits of Roy Orbison, many of them recorded at RCA Studio B. Those hits include Orbison’s initial release, “Only the Lonely,” as well as “Dream Baby,” “Running Scared,” “Crying,” “It’s Over” and “Pretty Woman.”
Foster was the first label head to sign Dolly Parton to a recording contract and her first chart records, “Dumb Blonde” and “Something Fishy” were released on Monument. Fred Foster signed Kris Kristofferson as a songwriter and artist and produced his first albums for Monument. Foster’s publishing company, Combine, published Kristofferson’s hits “For the Good Times,” “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and “Why Me, Lord.” Foster suggested the title “Me and Bobby McGee” to Kristofferson and is credited as a co-writer of that song.
Fred Foster sold Combine in 1986 and Monument in 1987. He has continued to work as an independent producer, producing Willie Nelson’s Grammy winning album The Songs of Cindy Walker and the album Last of the Breed, which featured Nelson, Ray Price and Merle Haggard.