Writing and playing progressive roots blues music that is at once spirited and sincere, 22-year-old A.J. Fullerton is busy making his mark on the Colorado music scene. In 2016, he was nominated by Westword Music Awards for the Best Colorado Blues Artist and won the Colorado Blues Society Members’ Choice Awards for Best Solo/Duo International Blues Challenge Winner, Best Young Performer, Best Acoustic Act and Best Slide Guitarist.
When he’s not making music in the Rockies, Fullerton tours the U.S. full time with his guitar and homemade stomp box, living on whatever he makes at his shows. He’s quickly earned a reputation for his compelling vocals and lively fingerpicking and is known by many for his “authentic, do-it-yourself” technique for learning the blues on the road. Event organizers for the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival (where he’ll be performing live for the fourth time later this year) aptly dubbed Fullerton “The Future of the Blues.”
Fullerton recently announced the recording of his first studio album, set for release in fall of 2017. Unlike his past solo self-produced demos, the new album will feature a full band sound as well as musicians from within and outside Colorado.
Raised in western Colorado, Fullerton picked up the guitar at age 14 and never put it down. His father described Fullerton as a “great kid” who took to the guitar with passion after he brought the instrument home one day because his son “needed a hobby.” Fullerton remembers as a teenager not wanting to play the guitar at first because it seemed cliché and he wanted to be unique. But after a day of strumming, he was hooked.
Of his connection to the blues as an acoustic artist, Fullerton said he was looking for “the one thing that just felt right” musically. Initially he played more Americana and classic rock covers, but eventually the aesthetics and the sound of the blues (frequently played on albums by his father at home) captured him, and it clicked. Leaning more toward playing by ear, Fullerton credits a short stint in formal music education with taking him back to the “nuts and bolts” of music theory. In 2014 he entered an amateur blues competition in Telluride at the suggestion of a friend and ended up as one of three national solo finalists. He eventually realized he needed to be out on the road full time, making a living doing what he loves.
Clearly humble and noticeably uncomfortable talking about what many would label his musical aptitude and a rapid rise toward fame, discussions on the subject tend to find him steering the conversation toward other musicians he admires, such as Marcus King and Warren Haynes. When asked if growing up as a white man in Montrose, Colo., made it difficult to forge a connection to the blues, Fullerton remarked: “If you are making music that is true to you, music that really shows respect to the people that came before you – to the artists that you admire – people get that.”
When asked if he aims to continue on, musically and professionally, with the blues, Fullerton replied in the affirmative. “From an optimistic standpoint, most definitely… but I don’t want to slack off. I want to keep my determination and be true to the music. Be true and be humble about it. I’m not doing it because it’s the right thing, or the hard thing. I’m just doing it because it’s the true thing for me. It’s the only choice.”
Check out his free live show at The Lariat in Buena Vista on Friday, April 28, from 5 to 8 p.m. For a real treat and a solid taste of the blues, listen to his music online at ajfullerton.com. A podcast of his conversation with Ark Magazine President Jamie Wolkenbreit in December 2016 is available here.