Jeff Foster In the Right Place
by Bill Weaver
photo by Geoff Thompson
You know you’ve lucked out when your career is the thing you most enjoyed doing as a kid. “My earliest memories include banging around on a little ukulele my folks had gotten me,” says Jeff Foster while sitting in his second floor studio on Old School Way in downtown Nashville. “I started lessons at ten and just had a knack for it, got the bug, and decided I was going to be a musician. For a time I was playing all styles of guitar, banjo, mandolin, pedal-steel, bass. Anything with strings, I’d try it.”
Growing up in Muncie, Jeff migrated to Bloomington in 1975. While there he studied ethnomusicology as well as jazz improvisation with world-renowned Professor David Baker. “I got my first job teaching at Indiana University,” he says. “I started with Beginning Guitar and ended creating, and writing the manual for, my own advanced level class called Sight Reading and Ear Training for the Guitar.”
Foster hit the road in 1990, ending up in Bakersfield, California where he taught classical guitar at California State University. “I was out there ten years to the weekend. It was a very productive period for me. I did a lot of gigging in that area. I even played guitar at Buck Owens’s last wedding,” he adds, laughing.
After his mother passed away, Jeff returned to Muncie where he fixed up the old homestead. One weekend he was visiting Bloomington with his wife Rhonda. “I showed her around some of the old haunts and she just fell in love with the place,” he remembers. “We rented the house in Muncie and came down.”
One day while visiting Nashville he ran into his old pal Frank Jones. “We hadn’t seen each other in thirty years but when we started playing guitars it was just like falling off a log. It sounded like,” Jeff pauses, then laughs, “like we knew what we were doing.” Soon after, they formed the Foster Jones Band, the self-proclaimed “Architects of Acoustic Mayhem!”
“Even though I was living outside Bloomington, it seemed like all of the activities that I wanted to get into were happening in Brown County,” he remembers. “I knocked on a lot of doors but it was the doors in Brown County that were open for me.”
He and Rhonda sold their home in Bloomington, buying “a little fixer-upper about five minutes out of Nashville. “I just got done installing a hardwood floor in the living room. I’ve two grandkids now. It’s a full life. I joke to people, ‘For a guy with no steady job I manage to stay busy all the time.'”
Busy hardly describes Foster’s days. Besides playing solo and with Foster Jones Band, he’s teaching banjo, guitar, and music theory at his studio and through Ivy Tech Bloomington at the Career Resource Center in Nashville. “I’ve taught guitar ever since I was in high school,” he says. “I enjoy sharing the nuts and bolts of making music and teaching people of all ages—from five to ninety. It’s something I find very gratifying.”
He’s also setting up Brown County Music Studio. “I like recording where you don’t have the big overhead and I like to work with people. I guesstimate what a job is going to cost and then get it done at that price.” He hates watching the clock. “There’s nothing worse than getting down to the end of your recording project with work to do but, darn, you’re out of money. I hate that feeling. I don’t like it as an artist and I don’t like it as a studio producer. I always end up putting in more time than I should but it makes for a much better working environment.”
Jeff has produced the Brown County Hour (broadcast on WFHB 100.7 FM, 91.3 in Bloomington) since its first broadcast in 2010. “I was up all night working on the episode that’s coming up,” he says. “In August we’re going to try our darndest to take it to a monthly show. We’ve got a great crew and Pam Raider is the perfect partner. We always seem to be on the same page.”
For the first time, Jeff is doing exactly what he wants to do. “I’m a country boy at heart. “Probably the book that influenced me the most, I’d have to say, was Walden by Thoreau. Those ideas of self-sufficiency, simplicity, love of Nature—these things are really important to me. I’m just a dumb old guitar player but it’s not hard to figure out when you’re in the right place. I honestly believe that I’ve finally come home. Since I moved here I have not had a bad day.”
Jeff Foster can be found on the web at <www.stringdancer.com>; the Foster Jones Band’s schedule of upcoming performances and examples of their music are at <www.fosterjones.net>; music lessons can be scheduled through Ivy Tech Bloomington or through The String Dancer website. The entire archive of the Brown County Hour is at <www.browncountyhour.com>.