Friday, August 4, 2023

Windham performer reflects on successful music career

By R.D. Frum

Con Fullam of Windham has been described as “Maine's musical maestro” because he combines lyrical genius and melodic magic to captivate your ears and win your heart. Fullam doesn't simply sing, he also orchestrates a symphony of passionate tales.

Musician Con Fullam of Windham has
performed with many bands and artists
such as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, 
Aztec Two-Step, Razzy Baily, Gram
Parsons and Emmylou Harris. He is
also known as the composer of 'The
Maine Christmas Song.'
Fullam’s talent has taken him to stages around America and performances with legendary musicians and bands, but it all started where he grew up in Sydney, Maine on a gentleman’s farm.

“It was lovely and lonely,” Fullam said. “My closest peer was about six miles away, so I spent a lot of time by myself, and that’s where imagination comes in. My father passed away when I was 5 and so I inherited his ukelele, and that’s how I began to play. It was a huge help to me to get through some very sad times.”

Fullam’s entire family played music, further fostering his interest.

“My father played ukelele, my mother was a pianist and a voice teacher, my brother played the banjo and guitar, and my sister played the guitar, so we were a musical family,” he said. “Back in those days, I went to a Catholic school. I was the only kid without a father. It was a defining point at some level, but I found that I had something they didn’t have. I was the guy that played the ukelele, and then a four-string guitar, and it sort of set me up as somebody who could stand his own ground.”

Fullam would play at church and civic events, and he and his brother played together as a duo on a radio show that his brother had in Waterville. When Fullam was 14, he started a band, and since then he hasn’t looked back. Music has transformed Fullam’s life because it is his life.

“Sometimes lyrics come to me, sometimes melodies come to me. There's no real set process that I go through,” Fullam said. “Writing a good lyric to me is hard and writing a good melody is hard because as far as I know there hasn’t been an original song written in many millennia. This is a 12-tone scale and there are 50 million songs written. It's then a matter of finding something that is as best you can do and unique to yourself.”

He said that he’s written a lot of songs and on any given day one particular song sticks in his head.

“But if I finish them then I generally think that they're pretty good,” Fullam said. “At some point you get to a certain level where you can sort of tell when something's going to actually breathe or not. So, if they breathe and I finish them, then generally speaking they go into the repertoire.”

Fullam has performed with many other artists like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Aztec Two-Step, Asleep at the Wheel, Richie Havens, Tim Harden, Razzy Bailey, and more. And he’s co-written a song with Rex from Aztec Two-Step, who is also from Maine.

One of Fullam’s favorite places to perform is Max’s Kansas City in New York. There were three up-and-coming clubs during the time Fullam played in New York: The Bitter End, Gaslight, and Max’s Kansas City.

“I got to play all of them,” Fullam said. “I just had some great shows at Max's Kansas City. There was a great audience, always. It was a small, 200-seat room, very intimate. I played there with Richie Havens, Gram Parsons, and Emmylou Harris. It was always a special moment.”

According to Fullam, if a musician goes into writing a song thinking that they want to write a hit, they should probably find another profession.

“A hit song is a rare and unusual accomplishment and I warn people that in this business if somebody comes to you and says that they know what a hit is, you want to run away because they don’t, no one does,” he said. “Why something is a hit and why something isn’t, nobody knows.”

Fullam said if you don't play for yourself and about yourself, then you're never really going to capture an audience.

“The audience needs to see that you're genuine, that the songs you play or you're playing are coming from your heart,” he said. “And if that happens then as a rule the audience will buy in, and you know there's nothing better than to have people come up afterwards and say this song touched them. I wrote ‘The Maine Christmas Song,’ which is obviously special to Maine, and 35 years later, I still get people coming out and saying how much it meant to them and that's a very wonderful feeling. I never would have written it without Bob Elliot, who was the muse for the song.”

He also wrote a picture book inspired by “The Maine Christmas Song.”

“The book came absolutely out of the blue. Bob passed away several years ago, and it was two years ago that I got a call from this young publisher who grew up with the song, and she and her mom were talking about it and her mom suggested she thought it would make a great children’s book,” Fullam said. “I would’ve never thought about that in a million years.”

During his career, Fullam has served as the executive producer of the PBS children’s series, “Ribert and Robert’s Wonderworld,” for which he co-wrote, and co-produced the music. His co-creation “The Wompkees” has also aired on PBS and is now distributed in more than 40 countries around the world.

In 2005, Fullam founded Pihcintu, a multi-national girls’ chorus.

“The obvious and most immediate challenge is you lose your voice, literally,” he said. “They are coming in speaking Arabic or Portuguese or French or whatever it may be. That's obviously immensely difficult, so I formed the chorus to give girls their voices back.”

Fullam has a new 2-set CD called “A Song, Paintings, and Portraits” coming out with 26 songs.

“All of the songs on there made it because they’re important to me,” he said. “Some of the songs go back 40 years and some of them are as recent as months ago just before I finished compiling the CD.”

That CD will be available at <

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