Update Posted February 9, 2010
I was Bobby Fuller's friend and roadmanger. Bobby Fuller (Robert Gaston Fuller) B: Oct. 22, 1942 (not 1943) ... Randy was Born January 1944! Bob Keane thought "if" Bobby reduced his age that the teeny boppers would like him younger longer!Ê It was a KEANE IDEA!Ê No body really gave a darn so Keane got to muddy up the waters again!Ê Bobby Fuller Died July 18,1966 and was buried July 22, 1966. I was one of the pall bearers. Look at my Facebook site for more info ... only 2 pages 99% Fuller. Rick Stone - firstname.lastname@example.org
Growing up in Bad Axe, Michigan, I remember that "I Fought The Law" sounded totally different from anything else you could hear on the AM airwaves in late 1965/early '66. This was, after all, the era of The Beatles and The Supremes - and when radios weren't blaring something that at least resembled that sweet Merseybeat pop sound, they were blasting those dance rhythms from Motown. Sure, one-shot garage-rock hits would be competing for air time within a few short months, but most of those were pretty much Stones-influenced in their "badness."
"I Fought The Law" sounded totally different. When I got older, I realized that the song was probably the grand culmination of all those '50s rebel-rockers coming to roost in one place - but at the time, I just knew that the song sounded "tough" ... Of course, rock 'n' roll already had a tradition of being good-bad but not evil - but, again, "I Fought The Law" was different. "Robbin' people with a " --- BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!! - "six gun ..." This was scary-sounding stuff to a 9 year old, and I probably reacted to, "I Fought The Law" in much the same way I later reacted to, say, The Doors' "Light My Fire" or Jeff Beck's space-age guitar sound on "Heart Full Of Soul" the first time I heard them on the radio. It was like nothing I'd ever heard before.
When the radio DJ announced that Bobby Fuller had died (later that same year), he mentioned something about Fuller dying from drinking gasoline. Even as a 10 year old, I thought it sounded pretty fishy. I figured he'd been murdered. Not really knowing anything more than the lyrics at the time. I figured he probably got what he deserved. Years went by, and I really never thought much about Bobby Fuller. There were moments of recollection, of course - The Clash covering "I Fought The Law" and John Mellencamp chanting Fuller's name at the end of his mid-80's hit "R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A." (even later reworking the theme of "I Fought The Law" into his own "The Authority Song.") And in 1978, just when you thought music like Bobby Fuller's was an anachronism, Lou Reed asked the musical question on "Dirt" from his classic Street Hassle LP: "Hey, you remember that song by this guy from Texas whose name was Bobby Fuller? I'll sing it for you, it went like this - 'I Fought The Law, and the Law won.'" But, again, those simply appeared to be tributes to a great song.
When I was working at CREEM Magazine in the early '80s, however, I got into a discussion with the publication's then New York Editor, Billy Altman, who told me that Buddy Holly was probably his all-time favorite rock 'n' roll star and that he adored Holly in much the same way that I worshipped Elvis Presley. I asked Billy if he'd heard The Hollies' import album of all Buddy Holly - and do him justice - was Bobby Fuller."
Bobby Fuller! Not the Beatles, who'd conceived their very name as a take-off on Holly's Crickets and later transformed his "Words Of Love" into a Merseybeat staple. Not that other badass super group of aging limeys, The Stones, who'd scored their first U.S. hit with a cover of Holly's "Not Fade Away," a full year after Bobby Fuller had recorded the same tune and released it as a single in El Paso. And, of course, not Bobby Vee who could do a near-perfect imitation of Holly and actually replaced him on the final tour after the plane went down in Iowa . . . No, Bobby Fuller was the only artist who could do Buddy Holly justice.
By the summer of 1998, the music scene struck me as being in a total shambles, and a lot of heavy soul-searching was going on as to why I'd ever been drawn to writing about pop (read: rock 'n' roll) music as a career in the first place. On top of that, I'd been living in this den of inequity that calls itself Hollywood for less than two years, and still hadn't grown remotely use to it. Suffice it to say that it was a long way from Bad Axe. And then one afternoon, I was going through the bins at a used record store when I came upon a Bobby Fuller album. At $4.70, it seemed a steal - but I didn't realize just how much of a steal it was until I got it home and on the turntable. I probably listened to that record more than any other that entire summer and - dare I say it? - it was damn near a religious experience.
The cover version of "Think It Over" (included in this set) proved that Billy Altman had been right - it was like Buddy Holly, but with more balls. "A New Shade Of Blue" was . . . well, just beautiful, and the guitar on this track has always struck me as sounding more advanced than any guitar should've sounded at the time. And "Only For You," on Del-Fi's previous box-set Shakedown!, was pure romantic magic. That summer, the long dead Bobby Fuller helped me get back in touch with that innocent spirit, the reason I'd fallen for this music in the first place. And he made me want to run out and fall in love with someone right away.
After that, I became almost obsessed with the Bobby Fuller Four, scooping up every album - bootleg, or whatnot - that I could get my hands on. I soon began visiting all the L.A. landmarks - the spot where P.J.'s (the club Forest Lawn gravesite; the Hollywood apartment where he'd lived with his mother and brother Randy . . . and the parking lot (now a park) where his body had been found, not far from Grauman's Chinese Theater. And as I viewed some of these (at least now) seedy spots - especially in relation to the music - I concluded that Bobby Fuller is probably the ultimate symbol or rock 'n' roll "innocence," dying (literally) amidst the decadence of Hollywood. After all, it was only a short time after his death that the Sunset Strip became a pyshelelic rock Mecca - and nothing, least of all rock 'n' roll "innocence," was ever the same again. What's more, it became crystal clear - at least to me - that Bobby Fuller was the actual missing link between Buddy Holly and the psychedelic swamp rock of Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Perhaps it was due to his untimely demise, or perhaps, because of his name, he was often lumped in with the other "Bobbys" (Rydell, Vinton, Vee, etc.) that were on the hit parade shortly before his burst of fame - but Bobby Fuller has never been given his due. Which is why this great collection, NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN: The Mustang Years is such a welcome treat.
As a musician who began his career as a drummer, Fuller was always interested in exploring both sound and rhythm. He experimented with sound throughout his short career - first in the studio he'd built in his parents' El Paso home, (where he even attempted to construct one of the world's first echo chambers in the back yard), and then taking it to new heights via his work with Del-Fi's Bob Keane here in Hollywood. He seemed more interested in echo effects and fuzz guitar much earlier than other artists of his generation. And, of course, he was a fool for melody as well as love.
Here was a Texan who could do surf music (not many oceans in El Paso!) with the best of 'em. Here was a kid who wrote some of his best songs with one of his friend's mom, for gosh sakes! And when you consider that the same man - the Crickets' Sonny Curtis who wrote both "I Fought The Law" and "Rock Around With Ollie Vee" (the latter for Holly) - would later write the theme song to The Mary Tyler Moore Show ("Love Is All Around"), you begin to get some idea of just how all-encapsulating this early generation of rockers' view of music must've been.
Other naysayers have argued that, with their matching suits and non-Beatle hiarcuts, the Bobby Fuller Four obviously weren't made for the future of rock. And yet, anyone who's studied the music can see that Fuller was constantly evolving (witness: the transformation of "Keep On Dancing" into "Let Her Dance"). Those who knew him well claim he was very extremely driven; some have speculated that the murder of his older half-brother Jack led him to believe that he had to live life to its fullest . . . and fast.
Whether it would ultimately matter or not, Fuller was experimenting with LSD (which altered many a pop group's artistic vision) just prior to his death. And, besides, the red suits and hair were mere style; anyone who was there will tell you that as good as the records were, the BF4 were a simply amazing live band (documented here via an entire live set from December '65, originally intended as the Celebrity Night at PJ's LP). And this fact was only driven home on October 22, 1996, when almost three-fourths of the Four - Randy Fuller, DeWayne Quirico, and Billy Webb - reunited for a Bobby Fuller Birthday tribute show at Jack's Sugar Shack in Hollywood and blew most of the young bucks who'd shown up clear out of the room. (And last but not least, Randy Fuller was musically "forward" enough to join drummer Dewey Martin in the last version of Buffalo Springfield in 1969.)
It's interesting to speculate what Might've been had Bobby Fuller lived. When you consider the types of artists - punk (The Clash), power-pop (Marshall Crenshaw, Phil Seymour), country (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), and mainstream "heartland" rockers (Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen) - who've covered his music, it only makes the speculation all the greater. Would he have finally gone solo (as was greatly rumored at the time of his death) and actually made that Album with Phil Spector as producer (another reliable rumor at the time)? Would he have followed the example of Rick Nelson and pursued country-rock? Or a more psychedelic roots-rock direction a la CCR or the Buffalo Springfield? Could he have been part of the country "outlaw" movement like fellow Texans Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson? Would he have just been an elder statesmen of rock 'n' roll a la Dick Dale? Or would future experimenting with LSD have produced a brilliant albeit damaged pop casualty like another musical Texan, Roky Erickson (who owes more than just a passing nod himself to Buddy Holly)?
One thing I can say with certainty: Bobby Fuller was truly one of rock 'n' roll's all-time greats.
NOTE: The last photo of Bobby (above right) was taken with Bobby's Pentax by RICK STONE (BF4 Roadmanager 7-15-66) on Rick's own roll of film at the Thousand Oaks Dance Kasey Casem held on a Friday Night, about 3-4 days after BF4 walked off a gig at The Chinese Dragon Club in China Town, SF, CA. He was found dead the following Monday PM. When Rick took the photo, he had an eeeeery feeling that it might be the last ... he'll never forget that moment.
Unofficial Bobby Fuller Webpage
Interesting Bobby Fuller Story posted April, 2010
DEL-FI RECORDS "Bobby Fuller SHAKEDOWN! The Texas Tapes Revisited." A 2-CD box set containing Bobby early rockin' music. The liner notes are a wonderful glimpse into Bobby's rockabilly roots. 50 great cuts! A must for rockabilly and early rock fans!
© Rockabilly Hall of Fame (R)