Curtain Call: Alabama band at the heart of 'Dixie'

Curtain Call: Alabama band at the heart of 'Dixie'

September 6th, 2012 by Barry Courter in Life Entertainment

Joe "Dixie" Fuller is the talent and production coordinator for Friends of the Festival, which produces Riverbend and Riverfront Nights, among other events.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Joe 'Dixie' Fuller

Age: 55.

Wife: Shannon.

Hometown: Chattanooga.

Education: Tennessee Military Institute.

Vocation: Talent and production coordinator, Friends of the Festival. Co-owner/operator of Zarzour's Restaurant.

You learn a lot about Joe Fuller just by hearing how he got the nickname "Dixie."

Back in 1979, Fuller was working essentially for beer money for the band Overland Express. He tuned guitars and loaded equipment when the band went on the road. At some point, he saw Alabama perform at Memorial Auditorium and decided they were good, but that they needed someone to help with their guitars.

"They were struggling onstage, and it didn't sound right," he said.

A few days later, he heard a mutual friend discussing the band on the radio and called to find out where they would be next. He borrowed $20 from his mother and packed a small bag. Before heading out the door, he "borrowed" a red, white and blue ball cap with a Confederate flag from his roommate, Rick Williams.

Fuller rode a bus to Cartersville, Ga., then found a ride to Alabama's next show. He told the band's manager he could tune guitars, do stage lighting and drive a truck. He also fudged and said he could mix sound.

The fact that he could drive a truck got him a moment with band member Teddy Gentry. When Fuller told him he'd work for free for the first two weeks, "He looked at me and pointed to my hat and said, 'From now on, we're gonna call you Dixie.' "

From that moment until late in 1986, Fuller traveled the world doing just about everything for the biggest country music band of all time.

"I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't gotten that job," he said. "I didn't have a backup plan. It was a great time, and I saw and learned so much," he said. "I met so many people."

Fuller, who took guitar lessons from Norman Blake as an elementary school student, said one of the perks of working on a stage crew is that after the "million-dollar equipment is plugged in, we all get to play. All of us on the Alabama crew could play something."

During one of the impromptu jam sessions, band members Jeff Cook, Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry showed up early and were impressed enough to challenge the group to open that night's show.

"It was great," Fuller said. It went so well, Fuller spent the next three years playing percussion on the live shows. When a compilation album of live songs was released, it went double platinum and Fuller got credit on the cover.

"I got a check and a gold record. Pretty cool."

Fuller left Alabama in 1986 to work with Bandit Lighting. He worked shows for Ricky Skaggs, Patti Labelle, Neil Young and Quiet Riot, among others. He was fired twice by Anita Baker. The first time was because he made the mistake of making eye contact with her, something that was a no-no, and the second time was when he went back three weeks later thinking she'd have forgotten.

"She remembered me and sent me home," he said.

He was also arrested, along with the rest of the band and crew, at a 2LiveCrew show in Jackson, Tenn. The performers had been warned ahead of time about keeping their clothes on, so when front man Luther Campbell mooned the audience at the end, "everybody went to jail," Fuller said.

For nearly two decades, Fuller has drawn on the experiences and contacts he made on the road in his job presenting Riverbend. Friends of the Festival also produces a number of concerts such as Riverfront Nights. Fuller also works with a number of local groups securing artists for events and helping with production.

When "American Idol" wanted to bring Lauren Alaina home to shoot some video here, Fuller and crew had three days to find a space, find a crew, erect a stage and get everything together.

"And, it had to be done with zero dollars," he said. "We got it done. I love doing that stuff."

Fuller believes every job he's had, including continuing to operate his family's restaurant, Zarzour's, comes in to play in what he does.

"I can't imagine doing anything else," he said. "It's sound like a lie, but I really can't wait to get to work every day."