Gary James' Interview With Bobby Fuller's Drummer
It's been fifty years since Bobby Fuller's mysterious death. Dalton Powell knew Bobby Fuller. He played drums in the group The Embers which included Bobby Fuller. Dalton would go on to play drums in The Bobby Fuller Four. Dalton Powell talked to us about his time with Bobby Fuller, what he's doing today and the new book on Bobby, I Fought The Law by Miriam Linna and Randall Fuller.
Q - Dalton, you didn't start out as a drummer. You played piano. Bobby was the drummer in the Embers. How good of a drummer was he?
A - Oh, he was a great drummer. He studied drums at North Texas State. He had a Jazz band there. He was a hell of a drummer.
Q - And who said to Bobby, you ought to get out from behind the drums and come out front? Do you know?
A - No. I just think he figured it out for himself. He saw the guys up front getting all the girls and he was in the background. I don't think anybody had to point that out to him. (laughs)
Q - After The Embers put out this record, "You're In Love", it became a regional hit. Yet, you only played drums occasionally with the group. Did you have a full-time job at that point?
A - Yeah, most of the time.
Q - Was it musical? Were you in another band?
A - Hell, I don't know. It was over fifty years ago, you know? (laughs) I know when Bobby decided to put his own band together, I think he was still with The Embers, I played drums on that. So basically I was his first drummer and his last drummer. We had a thousand in-between. I had one brush and a snare drum on "You're In Love" and I thought it was under Bobby's name, but it might've said Embers on it. I don't remember.
Q - In 1964, when Bobby and the rest of the band tried their luck by moving to Hollywood, you stayed behind. Did you regret not being able to make that move with them?
A - Not at first. I had a wife and a new baby. He was born in '65. So many guys went to California and there was so much competition out there. I had a job and a wife and I just thought it would be better if I stayed here (Texas). He was out there for a year or so. He called me several times wanting me to come join him, he just liked the way I played drums. I don't know why. There a lot of great drummers. I had something that Bobby liked and he and DeWayne Quirico just didn't seem to fit. He finally called me. I think he called me in November or December '65 and I was working in the snow up in Santa Fe and I wanted to get out and go to Southern California for awhile.
Q - Were you playing in a band before he called you?
A - No, not at that time. I had a construction job.
Q - That's got to be tough. If anything happens to your hands you're in trouble.
A - Oh, yeah. But I didn't really think about it.
Q - After "I Fought The Law" became a hit, DeWayne Quirico was asked to leave. Do you know why? Was there a specific reason?
A - I don't know. I heard different stories, but I just think they didn't get along all that well.
Q - When Bobby asked you to come to Hollywood, what did you encounter? You were now part of a hit group. Did it live up to your expectations?
A - I just remember it was a whole lot of work, from morning to night. Before you just showed up at your gig at eight o'clock at night. This was a whole different thing. We were working all day, every day and every night. It was a different thing, but I didn't feel any different. I was playing with a good band, a bunch of guys I had been playing with for years, off and on anyways.
Q - When you say a lot of work, what do you mean? Were you asked to do interviews?
A - Interviews. You'd go to a record store opening, go to a parking lot, to a mall. Anyplace where you could get your name out there. You're doing promotion all day and playing all night.
Q - I take it Bobby Fuller was calling all the shots in The Bobby Fuller Four, right? He was the business guy?
A - Pretty much.
Q - Did anyone ever say to Bobby, the name of the group is The Bobby Fuller Four ad we're a band? Did anyone ever say we all want to be included in the business decisions?
A - I don't know whether anybody came right out and said it. I know Jim (Reese) and Randall both felt it. It never bothered me because I liked being the sideman. I liked hiding in the back.
Q - You were on Hullabaloo when the group played "I Fought The Law". What do you remember about that experience?
A - I just remember they had us in a jail cell and they had me sitting in the bottom bunk and I was kind of leaning, hunched over my drums and Randall was up on top and he kept falling on me. The bed would collapse and fall down on me. (laughs) Other than that I don't remember a whole lot. Most those things were lip-synched. Half the time we were trying to play with the music and half the time we couldn't even hear it. We'd just get up there and have fun. Most of the time you can tell we weren't even playing. Nobody did in those days.
Q - You were living down the street from Bobby on July 18th, 1966. Were you there when they found Bobby's body in the car?
A - Yeah, I was there when Mrs. Fuller found it. I was the first one there.
Q - Why was Bobby driving his mother's car? Couldn't he afford a car of his own?
A - I heard he was thinking about buying a Corvette. I think he had one before. I don't know what had happened to it. He just liked his mom's car. It was a big ol' Oldsmobile. It was mostly his. Him and his mom shared it. It was basically Bobby's car.
Q - When Bobby's body was pulled from the car, did he look like he'd been in a fight? How did he look to you?
A - I just looked in there for a second. Then I went back inside and that's when everybody else started showing up. I didn't hang around for all the gory details. He was dead and that's all I needed to know.
Q - Do you believe he committed suicide?
A - He didn't commit suicide.
Q - Do you believe he was murdered?
A - Either murdered or accidently killed. It was suicide.
Q - Is it true that after Bobby's death, three guys came to the apartment you shared with Jim Reese looking for I don't know who?
A - That whole story was blown totally out of proportion. I remember somebody came by there. I don't even remember who answered the door, but there were a couple of guys there looking for Bobby, I thought they said. I thought they were looking for Jim. I didn't pay any attention to it at all. I didn't see anything threatening about them. They didn't look dangerous. They were just some guys, probably somebody that Bobby knew. That thing was blown totally out of proportion. I never felt threatened at all by anybody.
Q - Could they have been members of the Press or the Police Department?
A - I don't remember. I don't even remember what they said. I don't remember it. Nancy, Bobby's girlfriend at the time, would've been down there with me. Somebody else answered the door and there were some guys who asked about somebody. Nope, not here. So they left. I never saw or heard anything that was at all threatening. And I don't even remember if I saw them or not. I just remember that somebody made a big deal out of nothing.
Q - After Bobby's death, you did what? Did you move back to Texas?
A - Yeah. I had a wife and a new baby. I couldn't really hang around out there and see what was gonna happen. We stayed around until the funeral and then Jim and I came home. We had bands we could play with here. Didn't really have any reason to stay in L.A. once Bobby was dead.
Q - Do you still play out?
A - Not anymore. I'm almost 75 years old. Things don't work like they used to.
Q - Ringo is your age and he's still performing!
A - Yeah, I know. He must be in better shape than I am. (laughs) We have a thing here called The Border Legends, and once a year, usually in late Fall, Rick Kern (organizer) he contacts guys that have been playing in El Paso forty, fifty years ago and they all come to town and put the bands back together. Some of 'em are great. Some of 'em suck. But we all get together. I usually play most of the set with some of the band when we do that, but other than that, I just quit hauling drums. It became a job instead of fun and I didn't have to do it. I just don't do it much anymore.
Q - When you were playing out, did you ever tell anyone you used to play in The Bobby Fuller Four or did anyone know you were part of that group?
A - From time to time, yeah. Nobody ever made a big deal. For me it was just a good band that I played with, I enjoyed it. We had some good times, but Bobby wasn't a god or anything. It was a good band having fun.
Q - Did you read this book, I Fought The Law by Miriam Linna and Randy (Fuller)?
A - Yeah, I did. It wasn't a well-written book. There were a lot of mistakes and screw-ups in it, but for the most part it just told a story. Some of it really happened. Some of it was just stories that spread over the years and got all built up. Most of it was just things people invented in their head. Rick Stone (Bobby Fuller Four road manager) was not good about that. He'd get a story in his head and it would just kind of build from there, like the guys that came to the apartment. I was in the apartment. I don't know where Rick was, if he was there or not, but he made that into a big thing and it wasn't.
Q - That's the thing about the whole Bobby Fuller Four story, nobody knows anything, but everybody's running around scared. What are people afraid of? I never understood that.
A - Well, I didn't either. Once I got home I figured it was all over, I'd go on to the next band.