Bobby Fuller

Gary: “A young man born in 1943 and we lost him in 1966, what happened?  Although the very botched police investigation (in LA, where else) said it was suicide, most, if not all of the people who knew him did not and do not believe it.  Their conclusion, he was murdered, but you decide what happened to…

Robert Gaston “Bobby” Fuller

(October 22, 1942 – July 18, 1966)

The Bobby Fuller Four

Videos:
From Hullabaloo A-GO-GO/ Love’s made a fool of you/
.
From Shivaree/ Let Her Dance/
.
From Hollywood A-GO-GO/ I fought the Law/

.

If you note, his love or obsession of Buddy Holly went right down to the Fender Stratocaster!

1.   I Fought The Law (written by Sonny Curtis of the Crickets)/ Mustang 3014/2/12/66/ #9 Billboard

2.   Love’s Made A Fool Of You/ Mustang 3016/ 5/7/66/ #26

3.   Let Her Dance


First Release

4.   Think It Over

5.   Summertime Blues

6.   A New Shade Of Blue

Born in Baytown, Texas, Robert Gaston Fuller spent most of his youth in El Paso, Texas, where he idolized Buddy Holly, a fellow West Texan. He played in clubs, bars, and recorded on independent record labels in Texas, with a constantly-changing line-up, during the early 1960s.

The only constant band members were Bobby himself (on vocals and guitar), and his younger brother, Randy, on bass. Most of these independent releases (except two songs that were recorded at the studio of Norman Petty in Clovis, New Mexico), and an excursion to Yucca Records also in New Mexico, were recorded in the Fullers’ own home-cum-studio, with Bobby acting as the producer.

He even built a primitive echo chamber in the backyard. The quality of the recordings, using a couple of microphones and a mixing board purchased from a local radio station, was so impressive that he even offered the use of his ‘studio’ to local acts for free so he could hone his production skills.

Bobby moved to Los Angeles in 1964 with his band The Bobby Fuller Four and was signed to Mustang Records by producer Bob Keane, noted for discovering Ritchie Valens and producing many surf music groups.

At a time when the British invasion and folk rock were culturally dominant, Fuller stuck to Buddy Holly’s style of classic rock and roll with Tex Mex flourishes. His recordings reveal the influence of Eddie Cochran, the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Little Richard and the Everly Brothers in cover recordings and original compositions, as well as instrumental surf guitar.

Less well known was Fuller’s ability to emulate the reverb-laden surf guitar sounds of Dick Dale and the Ventures.

His first Top 40 hit was “Let Her Dance” written by Bobby Fuller. His second hit “I Fought the Law” hit #4 on Billboard and was written by Sonny Curtis, a former member of Holly’s group The Crickets, and recorded by the line-up of the Fuller brothers, James Reese on guitar and Dalton Powell on drums. His third Top 40 hit was the Buddy Holly cover song “Love’s Made a Fool of You”.

Just after “I Fought The Law” became a top ten hit, Bobby Fuller was found dead in a parked automobile near his Los Angeles home. The police considered the death an apparent suicide, however many people still believe Fuller was murdered.

He was found with multiple wounds all over his body and covered in gasoline leading many to speculate that the perpetrators fled before they could set the car on fire. He is buried in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills) in Los Angeles. Dead at age 23, Fuller barely outlived his idol, Holly, who died at 22.

Drummer Dwayne Quirico said the death remains a mystery and that the police have lost all the files on record about the death.

Fuller’s mother told Quirico she had visited Bobby at his home 30 minutes before police told her about her son. The police told her he had been dead for two hours in a car parked nearby. Dwayne Quirico is still confident it wasn’t a suicide.

The 2002 novel The Dead Circus, by John Kaye, includes the murder of Bobby Fuller as a major plot point. At the end of the book, the main character decides that Fuller had been killed by mafia henchmen trying to please Frank Sinatra.

The Rock*A*Teens refer to Fuller’s alleged murder in the song “Who Killed Bobby Fuller?”, on their 1995 self-titled debut. A different song with the same name was previously recorded by Irish rock band Black 47 in 1994.

After his brother’s death, Randy Fuller took over lead vocal duties and named the band after himself. As this did not work out at all, the band broke up only within months of Bobby’s death. Randy Fuller recorded a couple of solo singles and in spring 1969 joined Dewey Martin’s New Buffalo (Springfield), which evolved into Blue Mountain Eagle in July 1969.

He appeared on the band’s lone LP for Atco Records in early 1970 before briefly joining Dewey Martin and Medicine Ball.

The Clash (London Calling, Should I Stay or Should I Go?, Train in Vain) recorded the song “I Fought the Law.” The guitarists Joe Strummer (John/Woody Mellor) and Mick Jones found the song and started listening to it while recording in San Francisco, California in 1978. (lastfm)

I found this information about his death!

When the band arrived home from the tour, guitarist Jim Reese found his Vietnam draft notice waiting for him–another harbinger of changing times. Since the band seemed to be dissolving anyway and he figured snazzy transportation would be the least of his concerns in the military, Reese arranged to sell his Jaguar XKE to Bobby, who was busy lining up musicians for his next project. While on a visit to El Paso Bobby had run into some friends whose band was getting ready to play out in California, and he had mentioned to them that he might be looking for some people to play with him; when they made it out to Hollywood, Bobby contacted them and they spent the day having fun and relaxing. Bob Keane dropped by to talk to Bobby, and when he left Bobby told them that they were having a band meeting the next day–Monday, July 18, 1966–at the Del-Fi offices. But Bobby never showed up for the meeting, and never met with Jim Reese to finalize the car deal. At 5 PM, the El Paso musicians headed to Bobby’s apartment to see if he was there; when they arrived, they noticed his car wasn’t there (it had been missing since 3 AM that day, that last time Bobby was seen), but they decided to ring the bell anyway. There was no answer, as Bobby’s mother Loraine had just stepped out to check the mail. When she got to the parking lot area, she noticed the Texas plates on the musicians’ car and then noticed that the car–the family Olds she had driven out from El Paso–was back. She ran down to the car and opened the driver’s side door, and was immediately struck by overpowering gasoline fumes. “He was lying in the front seat,” Loraine said, “The keys were in the ignition, and his hand was on the keys, as if he had tried to start the car. I thought he was asleep. I called his name. When I looked closer, I could see he wasn’t sleeping…he was dead.”

The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office’s official autopsy report read: “Deceased was found lying face down in front seat of car–a gas can, 1/3 full, cover open–windows were all rolled up & doors shut, not locked–keys not in ignition” (seemingly contradicting Loraine Fuller’s account, unless she thought to retrieve the keys from the car before the police’s arrival). The report also noted excessive bruising on his chest and shoulders, and attributed the cause of death to asphyxiation “due to inhalation of gasoline”. Bobby had been drenched in the fuel, saturating his clothes and hair, and his body was found in a full state of rigor mortis, a clear indication that he’d been dead for over three hours. Eyewitnesses testified that Bobby looked battered, as though he’d been in a fight, and that “his right index finger was broken, as if it had been bent back.” Apparently disregarding all this evidence, the ever-incorruptible LAPD ruled Bobby’s death a suicide; the official police report notes “There was no evidence of foul play”. The case was closed (and remains sealed under California law), and Bobby’s corpse was buried July 20 at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Burbank. Even ignoring the blatant physical evidence ruling suicide out, there are plenty of factors making it an unlikely conclusion–the most obvious pointed out by Randy, who asked “Now how can a man that’s dead–in rigor mortis–drive a car and pour gas on himself?” Keane stated at the time “In my ten years in the industry I have never met a more singly purposed, ambitious young man completely devoted to his career of music. I feel without a doubt that Bobby Fuller did not die of his own intention.” A close friend of Bobby’s, Charlene Nowak, said that she “talked to Bobby on Sunday the 17th and I wanted to come visit him the next day, and he said he was going to be in the studio all day recording, and that he wouldn’t have much time to hang out. So he said to come by on Tuesday. That doesn’t sound like someone who is thinking about killing himself, does it?” Perhaps BF4 drummer Dalton Powell summed it up best when he said, “Anyone who can write it off as a suicide is either totally incompetent or totally scared to death.”

Exactly what happened that night may always remain a mystery, but Bobby was definitely in the apartment in the early morning hours of July 18th: both his mother and the band’s roadie (who was crashing there) confirm that between midnight and one Bobby was still there, watching TV and talking on the phone. Randy says, “Somewhere around one or two in the morning, he got a call and left, and then he didn’t come back. He still had on his lounging clothes”, indicating that he wasn’t going out to a party or meeting a girl–Keane has ventured the unlikely scenario that Bobby went to an ‘LSD party’ that night, freaked out and died in a fall, and then the party goers tried to make it look like suicide. Besides the fact that this is an idiotic idea, it’s contradicted both by the autopsy (the bruises don’t seem to have been the cause of death) and his brother’s assertion that Bobby would never have gone out without sprucing up: “He was always clean [slang for well-dressed, as in the phrase ‘cleaner than a broke-dick dog’]”

In the autopsy report, Lloyd Esinger, the manager of Bobby’s apartment building, said Bobby stopped by his apartment about 3 AM and they had a few beers; he recalled that Bobby “was in good spirit”. It was the last time anyone can confirm seeing Bobby alive.

Four days after Bobby’s death, three armed men showed up at the apartment BF4 guitarist Jim Reese shared with drummer Dalton Powell, two doors down from the building housing the Fuller apartment. Reese said “When I got home about midnight…Dalton was standing there with a gun in his hand. He told me about the three men who came by looking for me. We had already decided to go back to El Paso the next day…the only difference was that I had a loaded pistol in my seat all the way back.”

Reese suspected it had something to do with an insurance policy taken out on his life: “I had that insurance policy canceled because I was worth a lot more dead to certain people, and I was taking no chances.”

Randy recalls that there was a life insurance policy on Bobby for between $800,000 and $1 million, payable to the aforementioned investor in Del-Fi who was rumored to have underworld connections.

Dalton noted that “We worked off and on for some real ugly people…I think there were probably some people behind the scenes that just considered us an investment.

Maybe they saw it as their $1 million investment about to fly out the window and they wanted to make sure they got something out of it.”

It also seems that strings were pulled at the LAPD: besides the premature ruling of suicide, Randy claims they never checked the gas can found with Bobby for prints, and when one of his uncles went down to the police station begging for an investigation, “They told him if he knew what was good for him, he’d better keep his mouth shut.”

Randy also says the coroner back then “was crooked as a three-dollar bill. And hell, how many other people in office were like that? Everybody in Hollywood was crooked back then.” Melody, the call girl paid to act as an intermediary between Bobby and Keane’s shady partner, claims she “had 100% no mob connections, and neither did Bobby…The most illegal thing might have been what was called payola, but no one ever talked about it. And no one ever paid out on that insurance policy either–the insurance company screwed [Keane’s] partner out of his money.” She also adds the important detail that the night Bobby was killed, “there were reports from three neighbors on his street…about a white sports car, like a Mustang or something, that was seen speeding around at four in the morning”–could these have been Bobby’s abductors? Another interesting detail is the fact that Keane and Del-Fi profited handsomely nine years before when Ritchie Valens’ death created an unnaturally high demand for his recordings; while it seems exceedingly unlikely Keane himself had anything to do with Bobby’s death (although one might be tempted to wonder when he proffers wacky theories like the acid party one), his partner might have thought the same thing would happen again with Bobby and used his connections to bring about a similar tragedy.

–o–

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8 responses to “Bobby Fuller

  1. Adrian Owlett

    This is a very interesting story, and one of which I had no previous knowledge. It sounds like a very suspicious death, and an unsophisticated and insulting subsequent cover up. I doubt if the true will ever come out so, as you say, we have to make up our own minds. I know where I stand on it. Thanks for the article guys.

  2. Yes, it sounds very fishy to me too. We really appreciate your interest, Adrian. Thanks for the comment. Gary works hard on preparing these things.

  3. Great story. Another mysterious rock & roll death. Brings to mind the death of the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, which most knowledgeable sources consider a murder.

  4. Email from Marilyn, Washington State, USA

    I so didn’t realize what had happened to Bobby Fuller. How tragic and the speculation about LSD seemed absurd. Somebody got paid or warned off in order for that death not to have been investigated.

    The Buddy Holly influence is so evident in his style and sound. Yes, the LA police department was about as crooked as they get. I think they must have modeled themselves after the New Orleans police department, also a notorious group.
    – Marilyn

  5. Jørgen Poulsen

    Sad Story, but Bobby Fuller was an very great Rock’n’Roller. I have many
    of his records and The C.D. Box “Shakedown” from Del Fi . I play his
    records every day. Texas Rock’n’Roll when it is best.
    The Eddie Cochran Fan Club of Denmark
    V / Jørgen Poulsen
    Rønnebæevej 10 – Mejdal
    7500 Holstebro
    Denmark

  6. Wow, Jørgen – you play Bobby Fuller records every day! You should have been in his band.

  7. It does not make sense as to why the insurance policy would be invoked into Bobby Fullers murder. The reason is that most life insurance policies do not pay if the cause of death is a suicide.

    Am I right?

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