Music celebrating the life and legacy
of Leon Fullerton -
cowboy, poet, troubadour, hobo, mystic, bum
A good time had!
This was the Fullerton's third year playing at Konbit Sante's annual Maine Walks for Haiti fundraiser at Back Cove Park in Portland on May 13.
We thank and give a hearty tip of Leon's ten-gallon to the good people at Konbit Sante for their hard work getting medical aid and supplies to the people of Haiti.
Leon's love child makes tracks
We've put in new vocal and bass tracks to all the mp3s on this website, thanks to singer and bassist Jasper Leon "Jazz" Jones, the son Leon Fullerton never knew he had.
Get the full Jazz Jones story (plus a fourteen-song sampler of the trio's tunes compiled by Leon's granddaughter Mave) here.
The Neon Leon story:
Missing and presumed immortal:
"Neon" Leon Fullerton wore (and, we enjoy believing, continues to wear) many stove-in hats: poet, mystic, DJ, minstrel, dreamer, Digger, ranch hand, composer, band leader, prospector, smuggler, train-hopper, hitch-hiker, Mercury-jacker, zen redneck, agitator, striker, day laborer, rodeo wrangler, beat guru, corn pone commie, prairie pinko, mountain madman, freeloader, purveyor of fine peyote, amphetamine enthusiast, alcohol aficionado, and founding arch-shaman of the First Church of Latter Day Cowboys.
Throughout his life, Fullerton has been known to drop out of sight frequently and for extended periods. Born in the Oklahoma dustbowl during the depths of the Depression and carried westward as an infant in the great California migration, he came by his nomadic leanings honestly. His last known address was a Detroit rehab facility, from which, in 2003, he issued himself a midnight discharge via the agency of a second story window, a 28-foot aluminum Werner extension ladder, and a nurse’s aide with a soft spot for rickety coots practiced in the art of spinning a tragic yarn.
As of this writing, he is, in the generous words of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, “missing and presumed immortal.”
Over a dozen albums and a handful of singles comprise Fullerton’s catalog of recordings. All are out of print, and a knotty tangle of estate disputes (the fallout of claims and counter-claims stemming from several messy divorces), probably preclude their reissue in the foreseeable.
Spanning more than fifty years, Fullerton's body of work draws together the wide range of folk, blues, country, cowboy, R&B, swing, and jazz styles that permeated the countess smoky crannies of popular American music of the twentieth century. That music is currently being revisited in Free Altercations: The Boxed Set, a knock-out collection of compact disks planned for production by Fenderbender Records and Maine-based tribute band the Fullertons, which has been granted exclusive permission to undertake this project.
About these recordings:
The virtual albums posted on this site are the templates the Fullertons have been instructed by counsel to work from in order to sidestep possible legal ramifications of directly referencing materials currently enjoined by a potpourri of court decrees, enjoinders, and anonymous threats of automobile defacement and pet disappearance. Originally recorded by Leon's nephews Delmont Fullerton and Rafael Gunn (a.k.a. The Del-Rays) and regrooved with the help of Fullerton's son Jasper Leon "Jazz" Jones, they cover a sprawling array of roots-American genres:
Cowgirl's Lullaby and Ugly Roomer are down-home, laid-back, pull-up-a-rocker country, mountain, and Western swing. Division Street is folk and mid-tempo rock. Tunnel Vision and Americanarama are Americana - that ill-defined term frequently bandied by Fullerton and evenually appropriated for commercial (and therefore, to Fullerton's lights, nefarious) purposes by many acts with us today. Blame It On Memphis and Doublewide! are gut-buckets of electric blues and country rock. Tales of the Enchanted Mesa is a genre-bending meditation none of us has been able to pigeon-hole (lucky for those pigeons). Mercury is micro-minimalist acoustic jazz and blues.
We've also created a Song sampler tab for people who know what they like. (For instance, the Just Folkin' Around page is for listeners who would be hard-pressed to choose between an electric guitar solo and a midnight mugging. For the uninitiated fun-seeker, Lucky 13 (A song sampler) presents selections from other pages that give a glimpse of Fullerton's range of styles. )
A different kind of tribute band:
Album production has not begun yet, but a number of demos, of quality ranging from decent to indecent, can be found in the Virtual albums menu. Fullerton’s wide-ranging musical interests tended to lead to albums too eclectic for most sensibilities — one possible reason for his lack of commercial eminence. So to introduce to a wider audience the man and his music, the Fullertons have chosen to present his material thematically and stylistically, ignoring chronology altogether.
That's not unusual for tribute bands, Where the Fullertons depart from custom is that they're not a clone band. The group has been clear from the outset that, breaking from the traditional tribute model, their interpretations of Fullerton’s music will reflect only incidentally (if at all) the sound of Leon Fullerton. The songs may be Leon Fullerton's, but the Fulletons' sound is the band's alone.
Fullertons guitarist Al Fresco (formerly of lounge act Cafe Society) calls it going AWOL: “We’re not magpies. We’re not a Wullitzer. We're not Mr. Peabody's Wayback machine. If you're after the original Neon sound, you can dig up most of his old LPs and singles if you’re willing to cruise enough used vinyl shops. If you can find one of those old jukeboxes that spins 45s, there's a good chance you can find him there, too. We’re not imitators. We're not reenactors. We’re rejuvinators. He’s our Jolly Roger, and we’re hoisting him high.”
Keyboardist and singer Frank “Flinch” Lynch pushes it a notch further: “We’re artists. Fullerton is our paintbox. See this keyboard? It’s my paintbrush. We're not coloring by number. Whether what goes on the canvas is a Picasso or a Rockwell or a Haring or a Kincaid is up to us.”
We remind purists who expect slavish imitation that the band's approach is faithful to Fullerton's own sensibilities. Note-for-note duplication and elaborate production would both fly in the face of the Fullerton Way, summed up succinctly in the last line of his anthemic “Guitar Highway”: Lay it down and play it all around. Beyond having a broad framework for each song, Fullerton took enormous latitude with how he presented his music. Years before the term jam band entered the vernacular, he was known (if not always respected) for extended digressions, both instrumental and verbal.
Says Fullertons bassist and singer Naomi “Bad-ass” Berkowitz, “The dude was straight-up awesome, totally. Definitely a guitar guy first, but a multi-instrumentalist, for sure. Proficient on electric organ, piano - he rocked awesome on open-front upright - harmonica, button box, bongos, whatever. Dude might, like, play a song on his old D-18 [Martin guitar] one night and on his Farfisa [electric organ] the next. Sampling? Overdubs? Midi? Rhythm tracks? Looping? Forget it. He wasn’t programming music. He was living it, right in the moment. A real-time dude, dude. Musically, that's where we're all coming from, too.”
There are five decades of material to mine, so please do return to this site occasionally to pull up a stump and see what's been added since your last visit. Drummer Pete “The Beat” Mauss says, "Neon Leon wrote over a thousand songs. Some are long gone, and a lot are better left forgotten — the bad stuff he had to write through to get to the good stuff. But that leaves a hard core of deeply cool tunes, and we’re looking forward to having fun with them for however long we can.”
Bottom line: The Fullertons are keeping their versions simple, determined simply to put them out there and get on with subsequent virtual albums — Neon Leon's lay-it-down-and-play-it-all-around philosophy.
Booking, permissions, and swag:
In "Next Time I'm In LA," Fullerton gave a collegial nod to Frank Sinatra and Sid Vicious: "Up in heaven, Frank and Sid are singing 'My Way.'" Artists who care to cover any Fullerton tunes that appear on this website (or that don't) are invited, encouraged, and expected to do it their way.
Ray, Del, and the Fullertons call it the Fullerton Way.
(We hope. The Fullertons' fiddle and sax player, Gus West, gets the last word in, as usual: “We could be out on a termite-riddled limb here. What if he’s still alive? And hears us? And thinks we suck? The dude’s old, but he’s tenacious. Not someone I'd want to go a round with.”)
Anyhow, to book the band or get permission to record a song you found on this site, contact us at info at thefullertons dot net. We'll fix you right up.
Left to right: Lionel Fullerton, Leon Fullerton, and Queen Mab, Cupertino, California, 1940.
"It don't mean a thang
if it ain't got that twang."