David Foster is godfather of schmaltz

Music producer David Foster has worked with singers such as Madonna, Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion.
Music producer David Foster has worked with singers such as Madonna, Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion.PHOTO: NYTIMES

SAN DIEGO • David Foster has not seen the inside of a lift in more than 30 years because he is afraid - of hearing his own music.

While millennials may know him as the former stepfather to models Gigi and Bella Hadid, he is more established as a producer, though his music has not always been critically acclaimed.

Still, he has won 16 Grammys and worked with singers such as Michael Jackson, Madonna, Neil Diamond, Natalie Cole, Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion, often on songs that topped charts and divided critics.

Now, he is touring in theatres across North America.

You have produced Whitney Houston's biggest hit, I Will Always Love You (1992). Do great pop songs share a secret?

I can say only that I gravitate towards schmaltz. I am a commoner, not an elitist.

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 (1984)?

No. I would say it was Earth, Wind And Fire's After The Love Has Gone (1979).

Tell us about Celine Dion. When she walks into the studio, does that voice just come soaring out?

Celine is the person every singer should study. How she has raised her children. How she has been in her marriage... 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.

You have also been quoted saying that you love her because she does what she is told.

For a guy like me who wants to get his licks in, it is great. She can interpret exactly what I want at all times. She is so amenable. I think that it is to her credit.

When I asked Whitney for something, she would give me something different.

Who was the most difficult superstar to work with?

I am not answering that, but it is none of the obvious people. It is not Whitney. It is not Natalie. It is not Madonna.

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.

She was right. I was uncool. Madonna was also a great co-producer.

Is Barbra Streisand ever not exacting?

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 is a really true friend and she usually ends up being right.

You are probably one of the rare people who has succeeded in the music business without ever doing drugs.

That is basically true. 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... I never took part.

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.

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.

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...

I wanted to be supportive. But your question seems to be implying something. What do you think?

I would imagine there is an upside to these shows or you would not be on them.

No. There is no upside. Besides maybe more Instagram followers.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2018, with the headline 'David Foster is godfather of schmaltz'. Print Edition | Subscribe