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His folk songs are his life

(ran SP, NP editions)

Folk-song writer and singer Dave Foster compares his life to a motorcycle ride in the rain. He says no matter how tough it may get at times, you must keep on riding and soon the sun will shine again.

Like many people, the 61-year-old St. Petersburg resident has learned to make adjustments to health, death and financial struggles. He also has managed to make his own sunshine.

When his first wife died, Foster became a single father with three children to raise. He met and married a woman who also had three children.

Now, at an age when many people are getting ready to retire and relax, Foster is preparing to raise another teenager. And he is thrilled about it.

He finds his sunshine in spending time with his wife, Wanda, his 9-year-old daughter Katie Jo, writing and singing folk songs about his experiences, and riding two-wheel vehicles.

"My first wife died when I was only 39, while going through what I was told would be a routine gall bladder operation," Foster said. "I was left with three young sons and an emptiness inside. After a while, I met Wanda, who after a divorce was left with three young daughters. She was 14 years younger than I.

"We became good friends and eventually became a family with six children ranging from 3 to 12. It wasn't like the Brady Bunch though. It was quite an adjustment for each of us. I told Wanda that if she would stay home and raise the kids, somehow I would find a way to feed them."

Foster, an electronics technician for Honeywell, worked regular and overtime hours, plus second jobs when available to provide for his family.

Then when the youngest was a teenager and plans for retirement and grandchildren became the central topic of conversation, the Fosters were blessed with a surprise family addition they named Katie Jo.

Wanda was 37 and Dave was 51 when the newest Foster arrived July 22, 1987.

"I wanted to find a way to express my happiness to Wanda and the world," Foster said, "so I did something I had always wanted to do but never did. I wrote a song and I called it Darling Little Katie Jo."

That song was the first of 35 Foster has written. It became one of two he has had published.

His songs describe his life experiences. Remembering a personal battle he had with alcohol in his younger years, he wrote two songs telling of that experience. In The Whisky Bottle and Last Call For Alcohol, he sings of his struggle with alcohol. In Dawn To Night Fall, he recalls the long days and nights he lived after the death of his first wife, Mary.

Foster likens his style to his favorite country and western singer, Tom T. Hall.

Learning to play the guitar, however, was a difficult task.

"For many years I tried to play the guitar, but my fingers were too short to cover the bar or wrap around it, so I figured out a way to modify the instrument to meet my capabilities," he said. "I reduced the width of the bar so I could at least stretch my ring finger all the way across. I basically tune the guitar to a chord or key and bar it with my one finger using the help of a special glove I found."

He performs at coffee houses and benefits where an open mike is available for amateurs. Most Saturday evenings he shares his songs at the Beaux Arts Society Gallery, 2635 Central Ave., in St. Petersburg.

Since age 13, Foster has used a fast ride on a motorcycle to focus his thoughts on the road and away from troubles. Now his focus is on a slower pace in his life.

About a year ago, he traded in his big motorcycle for a less powerful Honda Helix motor scooter.

He says he is gearing down.

"I have been thinking about aging, so I wrote a song about that," he said. "I named it I'm Gonna Trade My Motorcycle for a Rock, Rock Rockin' Chair."