By Dale Boyd
Going from fan to band member is a dream likely shared by many music lovers — for John Fullerton that dream came true.
Fullerton now tours with the Sons of the Pioneers, the longest-running entity in the North American music industry born out of the roots of western music.
“I’ve been a Pioneer as long as I can remember,” Fullerton said, recalling the first Pioneer show he ever attended.
The band visited his hometown of Branson, MO, when Fullerton was in second grade.
“I very vividly remember my grandmother finding out about this and she was so excited she said ‘I got us tickets to the Sons of the Pioneers!’ Here I am this seven-year-old little boy, that meant nothing to me, I had no idea what I was getting into,” Fullerton said.
Of course, after that show everything had changed.
“I still very vividly remember things and certain aspects of seeing the guys that first time, I still remember it to this day,” Fullerton said.
The “prestige style” vocal harmonies struck young Fullerton and stuck in his memory.
His grandmother bought him an LP and Fullerton spent the next year memorizing every song front to back.
“I had my mind made up at a young age that I wanted to be a Pioneer some day, I worked at it. I spent all my years in high school really rehearsing,” Fullerton said.
Scavenging through used record stores and contacting collectors over the years, Fullerton went on a hunt for any and all Sons of the Pioneers material he could get his hands on — a tougher task in the pre-internet days. He started a garage band, playing some old Pioneer songs, and continued on with his musical career, touring with a Missouri-based bluegrass band for years. Eventually, Fullerton joined a band with Roy ‘Dusty’ Rogers Jr. who came out of retirement two years ago to help bring the Pioneers back on stage.
That’s when Fullerton was contacted to play rhythm guitar and sing baritone for the Pioneers.
“It was a phone call, and I actually teared up,” Fullerton said. “It hit me. I thought oh my gosh. There was some silence before I could even come up with the strength to say ‘yes.’ That’s how it all came down for me and and it has been an extreme honour.”
The late Bob Nolan founded the Pioneers along with Tim Spencer and the man most know as Roy Rogers in 1934. Since then they have had a hand in everything country western, including having the music from the band’s Cool Water album featured in films by legendary filmmakers, most recently the Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Clint Eastwood’s The Mule. The track Tumbling Tumbleweeds was also featured in a pop-culture touchstone The Big Lebowski.
The band currently hosts the lineup of Tommy Nallie on lead guitar and vocals, Roy ‘Dusty’ Rogers Jr., MC and vocals, Ken Lattimore, vocals and fiddle, Paul Elliott on fiddle as well, Chuck Ervin on bass and vocals and Fullerton.
For Fullerton, who plays rhythm guitar which substitutes for drums for the band, it is still surreal to get on stage and be part of such an expansive legacy.
“To me it’s really mind boggling, but at the same time there is such an amount of respect. This sound has been passed down member to member and continues to this day. There is no other group in the recording industry or in live entertainment history that has this kind of recognition with an 85-year span of longevity, it’s just unheard of and likely never to be matched again,” Fullerton said.
A brand-new CD is coming to Canada to celebrate the 85th anniversary, and the Sons of the Pioneers come to the Frank Venables Theatre on Oct. 9 at 7:30 p.m.
For tickets and more information visit www.venablestheatre.ca or www.sonsofthepioneers.org.