Q&A: Blues Musician AJ Fullerton

Wayfinder sat down with Montrose native AJ Fullerton to find out what he has been up to for the last 12 months and to talk about what the future holds.

Photo by Will Woody

During the pandemic musicians were forced to cancel dates and separate themselves from their live audiences. For AJ Fullerton, who turned 26 this year, 2020 was a rollercoaster of a year. He released a new album “The Forgiver and The Runaway,” his second, to wide acclaim before the passing of his father David months later. Since then the album has been ranked at number 1 in Colorado on the Roots Music Report chart, as well as finding success on iTunes. During the pandemic, Fullerton left his home in Fort Collins to live on the road “where the work is.”


Q: You spent some time in Nashville earlier this year. What was that all about?


A: I spent a few months this spring in Tennessee working between Nashville and Memphis. I’ve been in the middle of a number of projects, recording, producing, writing and more.


Q: You have said working in the studio feels like home. What did you mean by that?


A: Working in the studio does feel like home. It is the opposite of being on stage, in many ways. It's more about the process and craft, than performing to anyone in the room at the moment. It’s one of the few times as a musical artist your work can be captured and reviewed. In a live setting, once you stop performing the “art” ceases to exist, but in the studio there is a lot more permanence, a lot more at stake. I sorta like that.


Q: During the pandemic, everyone was forced to stop touring. How did you make a living as a musician during these times?


A: Long story short, I was frugal. I picked up lessons or virtual session work where possible. I also released an acoustic blues duo album “Fullerton & Friel” with my longtime collaborator, harmonica virtuoso Jake Friel.


Recording and producing also became a much bigger part of my life. I released the first album I ever produced, “She Ain’t Here” by the Juke Joint Highball, which is a hill country blues tribute to the legendary R.L. Burnside.


Q: You said at the time of the release of “The Forgiver and The Runaway” that many of the songs were in your "back pocket." How did they turn from ideas into songs for the album?


A: I’ve had a backlog of “finished” songs for many years. I still have many that have not ever been played or recorded. I shared a couple dozen of them with my producer Steve Marriner when we started work on the record. He and I chose which made the cut, and then polished them to the finished products you hear today.


Q: You’ve said that your latest album is dedicated to your father, David. Naturally, he was your biggest fan, but where in your music is his influence and legacy?


A: The fact that I even play guitar is his legacy. He gave me my first guitar as a teenager, and convinced me to give it a shot. His record collection around the house, as well as his affinity towards fingerstyle blues, was one of the definitive tastemakers in my formative years. Growing up listening to him play around the house was, and always will be, one of the things I’m most grateful for. in terms of putting me on the path I’m on today.


Q: When you were playing bars and open mic nights, your father would come in beaming with pride to cheer you on, were you ever embarrassed as a teenager with him in the audience?


A: Never.

Q: His sudden loss must have been very tough with everything else going on at the time. When you reflect on him, what's the memory that always comforts you?


A: The last time we talked, he told me he was proud of me.


Q: So, you'll be supporting a few other musicians on the main stage at Blues and Brews this year. How'd that gig manifest itself?


A: Throughout my career, the Telluride Blues & Brews has been a really meaningful festival to me. I think I went for the first time in 2010 with my dad. I remember that it was the first time I ever heard slide guitar in person. I went to Telluride Music Company the very next day and bought a slide.


In many ways, that festival really flipped the switch in my brain that music was my calling. It started when I entered the acoustic blues competition back in 2014. I didn’t win, but it helped me form some great friendships with the folks at SBG productions who run the festival, and with some of the artists I still know in the scene today. I’m really looking forward to playing a solo set at the festival this year, as well as playing slide guitar in my friend Cary Morin’s band “Ghost Dog.”


Q: When you are playing to a live audience, how much of the performance is freestyling? How much is just you jamming and chasing notes in your head?


A: More often than not it’s improvised. There’s something so freeing about taking the song or the form, and just running with it. No rules, (other than don’t step on your band mates and don’t kill the jam.) I feel like that approach keeps it fresh and exciting for myself and the listener.


Q: There may be people reading this who do not know you or your music. How do you define yourself, A.J. Fullerton?


A: I’m a music lover at heart. Always have been, since before I started playing. Playing music for a living is just another outlet for that passion I picked up so many years ago. I suppose in a nutshell I’m a guitarist, a vocalist, a songwriter, and a producer from Montrose, Colorado.


Q: What's the next year look like for you? Is there new music you are working on? Any insights you'd like to tease?


A: I suspect the next year will be mostly about regaining my footing from 2020, and gaining momentum to get back in the swing of things. There are about half a dozen projects in the background. Some new A.J. Fullerton material, as well as projects that I’m producing, or are otherwise involved with.


To stay up to date with upcoming shows visit AJFullerton.com and follow Fullerton on Facebook and Instagram @AJFullertonMusic.