Friday, December 10, 2021

Windham composer of 'The Maine Christmas Song' proud 35 years later

Classic holiday tune 'The Maine Christmas Song' by Windham
composer Con Fullam has been turned into a new children's
book. Fullam wrote the popular song in 1986 and it has become
an annual tradition in Maine every holiday season since.
By Ed Pierce

Like everything associated with the Christmas season, many holiday traditions have an unusual story behind them and the one of “The Maine Christmas Song” is no exception and in fact has a unique Windham connection.

Musician Con Fullam of Windham composed the tune in 1986 and says he never imagined that it would go on to sell more than 100,000 copies and become the cornerstone of any serious discussion about Christmas music set in the Pine Tree State. It’s been a holiday favorite of schoolchildren and adults since it first hit the airwaves on WPOR as sung by Malinda Liberty more than three decades ago and shows no sign of slowing down in popularity.

Fullam grew up on a farm in Sidney and when Con’s father passed away when he was just 5, he left him his ukulele and he quickly learned to play it. Within a year he was playing a guitar at church and school functions and by the time he turned 10, Fullam was regularly performing on a Saturday evening radio program in Waterville.

His love for performing, producing and songwriting  carried Fullam to unprecedented heights in the music industry and five different Emmy Award nominations. He’s appeared on stage with such renowned artists as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Emmy Lou Harris, Razzy Bailey, Joan Armatrading, John Sebastian, Asleep At The Wheel, Willie Nelson, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Earl Scruggs Review;,Richie Havens, Tammy Wynette and many others.

As a songwriter, Fullam’s music has drawn favorable reviews from a bevy of industry publications including Billboard, Cashbox Magazine, Music Row, Village Voice and the Nashville Music City News. Fullam’s songs have been published by MCA Universal, Opryland, Sony/BMG, Acuff Rose, Chrysalis Music, and Warner Chappell and recorded by some of the best-selling artists in American music. He is also responsible for creating The Wompkees, an animated television series for children on PBS.

But for many Mainers, Fullam will forever be known for composing a classic song played every Christmas that evokes traditional values associated with residents of the state such as kindness, visiting and sharing with neighbors and the unmatched beauty of Maine’s great outdoors.

Fullam says he is humbled by the success of “The Maine Christmas Song” and never tires of being asked about it or performing the song in public.

“I like that it touches other people,” Fullam said. “It’s the greatest compliment a songwriter can receive. A lot of people tell me how much it means to them.”

In what may prove to be his legacy in Maine, Fullam’s Christmas tune surprisingly took little time to put together.

“Reporter Bob Elliott of Channel 6 was working on a story about Christmas music in 1986 and I had just moved back to Maine from New York,” Fullam said. “He asked me to write a song about Christmas and I agreed. It sounded like fun. I figured I would work on it over the next year, but I was wrong. Bob told me he needed it now and that changed my original plans.”

Sitting down to compose, it all happened quickly for Fullam.

“Sometimes things just magically happen in songwriting,” he said. “I didn’t have time to think about it. The melody and words came gushing out and in 20 minutes it was done.”

He said the inspiration for his lyrics came from recalling his upbringing in Sidney and Christmases of the past spent with his family there growing up.

Maine actor Gary Merrill, a former husband of actress Bette Davis, recorded the opening narration for “The Maine Christmas Song” and Fullam lined up his friend, singer Malina Liberty to record the tune in Portland. When it released in November 1987, the song became an instant sensation with proceeds from sales donated to Maine Credit Union League’s “End Hunger” initiative.

Through the years, Fullam’s song has taken on a life of its own and this year has been turned into a children’s book illustrated by Maine artist Cynthia Baker.

Stephanie Mulligan, the owner and publisher of McSea Books, specializing in books for children written by Maine authors, said turning Fullam’s lyrics into a children’s book was a great idea.

“Like so many, I grew up with the song and always thought it could be a wonderful book with an important message, given the deep divide that we are experiencing today,” Mulligan said.

The book is available for gift-giving at Sherman’s Books in Windham and the public can meet Fullam, during a special book signing event at Sherman’s on Saturday, Dec. 18.

The classic song is also included every year during the annual “American Family Holiday” concert performed by the Windham Chamber Singers.

Dr. Richard Nickerson, the director of chorale music for Windham High School, said “The Maine Christmas Song” is a timeless treasure that everyone enjoys and that’s why it’s performed year after year by the Chamber Singers.

"The Maine Christmas Song reminds us of a time when life was simple, when the focus was not on things, but on time spent together with family and friends,” Nickerson said. “As we grow, we come to realize what is truly important, sharing and caring, and that's what makes this song so appealing to so many."

Fullam himself says that he’s performed the song countless times for audiences young and old.

“I’ll admit to hundreds but it’s probably into the thousands,” he said. “In fact, Malinda and I are going to play it live on WPOR radio this coming Monday. They were the first radio station to play it and I’m told it’s still their most requested Christmas song.”

According to Fullam, he’s happy to be known for this song after all these years lengthy career in music.

“It only comes around once a year,” he said. “I’m shocked it’s had the longevity it’s had. As a songwriter nobody thinks their work is relevant, but for me, it’s been wonderful to know so many like this song. It’s been a great surprise.” <  

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