Happy Birthday to Dalton...

 

September 7, 2017

Gary Collins/Pine Bluffs Post

Dalton Fuller, on the occasion of his Seventy-seventh birthday, performs for the folks at the Pine Bluffs Senior Center monthly dance and pot luck, served up by his wife, Gini Fuller.

The monthly dance at the Pine Bluffs Senior Center Sunday was as sparsely attended as Dean Willoughby and Ruth Tipsword can remember.

Present also were Richard Fornstrom, Gary Fisher and Greg Hoover, who came down from Cheyenne for the dance. Nick Hockersmith and Kathleen Lyon made it to the dance after attending the Ken and Angie Macy 50th Wedding Anniversary celebration in City Park. Becky Martinez was at her post as greeter for the dance.

Dalton Fuller was asked if he had ever performed before such a small crowd.

"When we were on the USO tour in Vietnam, I took my whole band and played for seven guys. They were in hospital beds, so we did a whole show for seven guys," Fuller said.

Fuller was performing at the Senior Center Sunday, his 77th birthday, as he does every month with his wife Gini doing all of the work as usual: the cooking, the serving, the cleaning. Behind every great man. . .

"We got married in 2000," Fuller said.

"We met in what, 1966?," Gini Fuller said.

"Oh, yeah," Fuller said. "She was basically living in Kimball and we'd get in and play in Kimball once in awhile but most of it was on the road."

Fuller graduated high school in Ogallala, Neb. and moved to California. Once there he got a job teaching dance for the Arthur Murray Dance Studios.

"Next door was a Navy recruiter and we'd get together every evening and have coffee. So he made me a deal and I went in the Navy," Fuller said. "Got a degree in electronics. Everyone of my guys went aboard destroyers, cruisers and stuff. I and one of my friends went to the desert in southern Calif. I spent all my time working in control towers, not as a radio man but as a repairman. I would repair for the planes and stuff that would come in, repair their radios and stuff like that."


Upon leaving the Navy, Fuller went into the television repair business.

"Back in the days you'd repair a tv instead just buying a new one. Back in the old tube world and fly-back transformers and high voltage," Fuller said.

Fuller started to play music. semi-professionally, on the weekends. He had always loved to play music, even before the Navy.

"When I first started out, the old rock-a-billy stuff, Carl Perkins, Bill Halley and the Comets, Elvis, that kind of stuff," Fuller said.

A mistake in the use of a surgical knife, which severed the tendon on his thumb, proved fortuitous to the young musician.

"When I was layin' on the table I said, 'You know what, if he fixes that and my thumb ever moves again, the guitar's going to be my world," Fuller said.

The year was 1967.

"So we started playin' little bars and stuff. Pretty soon we were travelin' all over. I mean there were bars everwhere. . .One of the guys that was mentor was a guy named Hadley Barrett. Hadley just passed away but not only did he have a Texas type swing band, he helped me when I got started with bookings," Fuller said.


From the beginning, Fuller longed to be a part of the UFO tours that entertained the troops.

"I just couldn't get 'em to talk to me because we were from hicksville, you understand. I'd applied for it a couple, three times, but when your out of Nebraska and Wyoming, understand, they don't pay much attention," Fuller said.

Then came the band's opportunity. The band The Grass Roots were performing in Omaha when one of their members got sick. Fuller and his band were tapped to step into the breech. The show had been set up by Jimmy Sheldon who also booked shows out of North Hollywood for the USO.

"We got a chance and we done an audition for 'em about the first of August and left the first of October on our first tour. . .," Fuller said. "and once I got it, when we were done with the first one, we applied for the second one. So once a year we'd go do these things. The last one, in 1975, we got to go to not only Vietnam and Thailand, we got to go to the Philippines, Okinawa, Guam, Hawaii, Japan and Korea."

All together the band and Fuller did five tours with the USO, paying for them with money put aside from their gigs.

"Of every dance tour, we were doing it full time, we'd put a few dollars away to pay our tour," Fuller said. "Did five. '69 through '75,"

He was asked the inevitable question as to whether he had met Bob Hope. He did but not on any of the tours.

"But we went to a party at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles there and got to set with Bob Hope and John Wayne and Sammy Davis, Jr. and their wives. Same table, just like this," Fuller said. "All of 'ems crazy. They just have a good time. Sammy Davis and Bob Hope had done some of the tours together and they'd both give John Wayne the devil, you know."

Over his 41 years of playing professionally, Fuller estimates he has played with 190 musicians.

"I've had a lot of guys working for me and work together. I had a kid started for me from Arthur, Neb. and he played for me off and on for 41 years and we're still good friends," Fuller said. "Had a young lady from Ainsworth, Francie Allen, and she worked for me about 17 years. She married a guy and they live up by Alliance and still sings in church up there."

She made every tour of the USO with Fuller.

From the beginning his band had followed a rule where there was no drinking in the bars they worked. There may have been a little bit of a party afterwards, but working six nights a week with maybe a travel day in between, the band kept the frivolity to a minimum. In fact, the only band member Fuller had to fire was one who he had learned was selling marijuana while on a tour in Canada.

The band divided their proceeds equally, with members getting the same share, with one share devoted to expenses.

While Fuller began playing rock-a-billy, the emergence of the Beatles, turned him more to country music.

"The Beatles had a big following, but those were younger kids that didn't go to the bars," Fuller said. "So immediately that became Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, you know and the old standards."

Then came Waylon, Willie and the boys.

"We did a couple three shows with Willie, grandstand stuff. Nice guy, you don't have to worry about him thinking something that he don't tell ya. If he likes ya, he does and if he don't he'll tell ya. Probably one of the most straight shooters," Fuller said.

Fuller still keeps in touch with many of his former bandmates.

"If I made a couple phone calls I'd have one here tomorrow. In fact, the steel guitar player, Randy, talked to him today. The drummer, he's in Columbus," Fuller said. "We talk all the time, but the old bars and stuff like it used to be isn't there anymore. We'd come and play like two weeks or a month, six nights a week in a bar in Kimball and those things are gone now.

"They would rather stand around and talk and drink and not dance," Gini said. "They would rather play a karaoke thing than pay a band. They'll pay somebody to play the music like a hundred bucks but they won't pay a band 150."

"The new country stuff is not as country like it used to be," Fuller said.

Fuller has put out three albums.

"The first one I put out is called, "The Golden Guitar," and there's a song called Golden Guitar and I done that," Fuller said.

He built a recording studio for a guy in David City, Neb. The guy had a big band similar to The Glenn Miller Orchestra. Fuller got together with some of those members, guys from his band and some studio musicians. The band was called Country with a Touch of Brass.

"For about five years, six years we did a lotta grandstand shows and stuff like that. But it was my guys, drummer, bass player, steel guitar, lead guitar, singers and then we added a saxophone, two trumpets, two trombones and a piano," Fuller said. "We done all the country stuff but is was done more like the Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass. Remember the old Danny Davis horn stuff?"

About three months ago Fuller was asked to perform at the Cheyenne VA when a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall was unveiled.

"So I got to go there and I do a song called Fifty Thousand Names. It's about all the names that's on the wall. So I got a chance to do it for them at that dedication there," Fuller said.

Looking back on his life on his seventy-seventh birthday, Fuller acknowledges that the musicians life offered opportunities to do what a more normal life did not, but that there was more to his life than just music.

"I basically live about three or four lives: our regular family life, you know, my musical life, I'm a service officer for our American Legion and all of the musicians still stay in touch. So you never know. When my phone rings, I never know where it's comin' from," Fuller said. "Awhile back I was working a Moose club in Cheyenne and a guy walked up and he said, 'I remember you. You came and did a show for us in Danang.' Now you understand, that's 40 years ago, but he remembered that. You know, of all of the times, when we carried our own equipment, in the heat and humidity and all of the stuff. . .if it was only one person that remembers. It was worth it and that's the way I look at it, you understand."

Gary Collins/Pine Bluffs Post

Ruth Tipsword takes a turn on the dance floor with Dean Willoughby.

 

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