Since his initial solo style favored funky vamps instead of risky improvisation, organist Ronnie Foster was frequently dismissed by jazz purists during the peak of his career in the first half of the '70s. However, he was a talented mainstream funk and soul-jazz keyboardist who managed to cultivate a successful career as a sideman (working frequently with George Benson, in particular) and producer during the late '70s, '80s, and '90s. Furthermore, his '70s records for Blue Note became cult items among a new generation of listeners raised on acid jazz. Even if he rarely led a session after 1979, Foster wound up playing some sort of a role in mainstream and funk-jazz during the '80s and '90s.
A native of Buffalo, New York, Foster learned to play piano as a child, being taught in the traditional classical style. However, jazz intrigued him more, and when he was a teenager he began to pursue that direction. Eventually, he attended a jam session where there was an organ in addition to a piano. After playing the organ, he decided to concentrate on the instrument. He listened to Jimmy Smith, gradually making his way to more adventurous players like Larry Young. A local Buffalo organist, Joe Madison, gave him advice, and Foster practiced regularly at a studio where he would rent a room with an organ for 60 cents an hour.
Eventually, Foster began playing local and New York clubs. He slowly built a following, playing with such musicians as Stanley Turrentine, Grant Green, and George Benson. By the early '70s, he had formed a group called Energy II. Grant Green had Foster play on his Alive album, and the organist's performance impressed the label's Dr. George Butler, who offered Foster a contract.