Gary James' Interview With Bobby Fuller's Friend
Bobby Fuller - The Early Days: The Rod Crosby Interview
Rod Crosby knew Bobby Fuller (of "I Fought The Law" fame) in the earliest of days. His band, Rod Crosby And The Intruders were playing around El Paso, Texas at the same time The Bobby Fuller Four were out and about. Before The Bobby Fuller Four relocated to Los Angeles and before Jim Resse joined the band, Bobby Fuller asked Rod Crosby to join his band. Rod Crosby turned Bobby down.
After the mysterious death of Bobby Fuller, Bobby Fuller Four members Jim Reese and Dalton Powell returned to El Paso and eventually joined Rod's group. These days you'll still find Rod Crosby in El Paso. He is the owner and operator of Crosby Sound - Lighting - Video, Crosby Backline Services and Rosewood Studio. He still occasionally plays as Rod Crosby And The Intruders and with other bands in El Paso.
Rod Crosby spoke with us about the early years of The Bobby Fuller Four and his friendship with Bobby Fuller.
Q - What kind of material were you playing in Rod Crosby And The Intruders in El Paso in the mid-60s?
A - I basically had learned how to play and sing from memorizing an entire Buddy Holly album. It was "Buddy Holly And The Crickets". I knew all of 'em. We played I'd say three-fourths of the songs on that album. That was our song list in the beginning and then the piano player, Bob Wilson was big on Jerry Lee Lewis. So, we played a lot of his songs. Then we had another singer that played "Meet Me At Midnight Mary". We did a couple of songs that were fairly current. We did mostly stuff that was already old and dated. (laughs) This started in 1959, 1960. We were playing old Jerry Lee Lewis tunes and Johnny Cash and Buddy Holly. I knew of Bobby Fuller, but I was not connected to him or any of the musicians he played with. I wasn't officially in the scene until much later down the line.
Q - Where was this group of yours playing?
A - We were playing the Fort Bliss Teen Club. Then there was Johnny Fairchild's Golden Key Club. We were playing fraternity parties. Our first gig was a fraternity party for $40, 'cause there was four of us. We made $10 a guy at the first Hilton high-rise that Conrad built here in El Paso. It's called The Plaza Hotel now, but at the time it was the Hilton Hotel. It was back in 1960. It really wasn't my band then, it was our band. My name started being bantered around because I was doing all the lead, singing 80% of the songs. So, everybody started calling it Rod Crosby And The Intruders. It really got to the rest of the band. Same scenario as with Fuller. It also set me apart to have to operate alone after the original members left. I was already a loner. I didn't grow up here in El Paso. I ended up here in the summer 1959. That was actually my first exposure to my and Fuller's type of Rock, built around Rock-A-Billy. My step-dad was stationed at Fort Bliss. We lived out on Dyer street. It's a less affluent part of El Paso. Since I didn't know anybody, I was walking the streets looking for something to do. I wasn't within walking distance of any teen clubs or movie houses. Completely isolated. I was just walking around. Bored as hell. I walked by this big building and this door opened up. It was a bowling alley. It was called Skylanes Bowling Alley. This door opened up and I heard all of this music come out of it. I thought, well, it's just music. I didn't think anything of it. I kept on walking. It was about two blocks from where I lived. At that time I was visiting my mother actually. I was supposed to go back to California on a round-trip bus ticket. Somehow that just never happened. I've been here in El Paso ever since. So anyway, I was walking back by the bowling alley and it happened again. I was curious. I walked into the door. It was the biggest bowling alley probably in the Southwest at that time. Just lane after lane, as far as the eye could see. It was huge. But, I kept hearing this music. So, I walked towards it and it was coming from the left side. Then I realized there was a window. It's coming out of that window which happened to be a beer-serving port for the waitresses to serve the legal patrons out in the bowling alley. On the other side of the window was The Little Dipper lounge. In front of this window was a partition, three or four feet from the window, about five or six feet wide to not only block the view, but part of the sound. I got between the window and this partition and I looked in and I could see all these tables and chairs. I kept hearing this music. The only way I could see was to get directly in front of the window in the middle of that partition. You have to understand, back in Corona, California, I was playing specials in an Assembly Of God Church on Sunday. I played Hawaiian lap steel guitar. I had learned C, F and G on my step-mother's F-hole guitar. I can't remember the name of that guitar. It was a pretty nice old guitar. It would probably be worth a lot of money today. I remember her being very irritated with me because I didn't want to play my steel...that and other things. I just wanted to mess around on that guitar. She was pretty mean at times, whipping me and kicked me a couple of times. I already learned how to play Johnny Cash's "I Walk The Line" and after I ended up in El Paso, I started working on all these Buddy Holly songs. But, I had never seen a Rock band perform. I saw Jerry Lee Lewis jumping up and down on the piano with his foot. I saw Chuck Berry on TV doing a duck walk. It never registered with me as something to do or that I ever would be in a Rock band. When I saw Bobby, he was so far ahead of his time, in terms of 1960, but I didn't relate that 'til much later. He was doing what The Ramones, on a smaller scale, were doing, what...thirty years later. He was jumping up and down and lurching and darting back and forth and moving his guitar neck real fast...performing. This guy was a natural. That's not an exaggeration. I'll tell you why. I was a little embarrassed for him. I thought "that's goofy. What the hell is he doing?" Well, it became obvious later. He was destined for the big time and would be around today if fate had allowed.
Q - What was the audience doing while Bobby was jumping up and down?
A - They were dancing. The place was small but packed. People were sitting there drinking. It was a beer bar. I was 15 at the time and I think he was probably 16½ going on 17. I think the age was 21 back then, for any kind of drinking in Texas. I heard much later that he probably had to have an authorized note from his parents to give him permission to be in there. He couldn't drink of course, but he could be in there to perform. It wasn't The Bobby Fuller Four then. It was The Fanatics. They were the four original Bobby Fuller Four band members. Bobby and Randy, Larry Thompson, drums and Billy Webb, guitar. Jim Reese, guitar and Dalton Powell, drummer, came later. That was when Bobby asked me to be in his band. De Wayne was not in the picture yet. He came in later. Anyway, the drummer and the guitar player quit. Obviously Randall (Fuller) didn't. By the time that occurred, I owned a car and a trailer and was the leader of my group and playing often. I finished a job up at this country club and Bobby tracked me down and drove out to my gig. He was driving up this hill to the Coronado country club where I had played. I was coming down and I saw this car pass me, turn around, speed up and literally pulled in front of me and forced me off to the side. Needless to say, it was Bobby. He said "I need to talk to you now. It's really important." I said "Well, we can't talk here." At the bottom of the hill, down on Mesa Street, there was a coffee shop. It's not there anymore. So, we went down there and he asked me to join his band. Well, since I didn't grow up here, I didn't have any real close friends. So the band was about it. I didn't have the heart to do that to the guys, so I declined to join Fuller. The guy that actually formed the band that became Rod Crosby And The Intruders was Bob Wilson, the younger brother of drummer Bill Wilson, one of the Rock 'n' Roll pioneers in El Paso. He played in a band with Rudy Montoya called The Rock Kings. They were a knock down, Rock 'n' Roll band. They were like one of the first real, authentic professional Rock bands in El Paso. Bob Wilson was the one who actually got The Intruders started because of his passion to play piano. He had learned drums from his brother, but he wanted to pursue the piano. So, he was desperate to put a band together and when he heard about me, this guy who played Buddy Holly songs and could play lead, he looked me up and literally talked my mother into talking me into doing this. He was probably about the same age as Fuller. He had a driver's permit and was already married. He was a junior. But, he had a damn car. He had an old Studebaker and he was a character. But, he didn't like me all that much. He didn't care for me in the beginning 'cause I was too laid back. Then, when I got better at it and stood out more, people started calling the band Rod Crosby And The Intruders and it caused nothing but dissension. Finally, they got fed up and quit, Bob and the other guys. So, they walked out on me, the same as they did on Fuller, except I didn't have a brother. (laughs) So, I just kept it going. I had bookings. So, I officially started calling it Rod Crosby And The Intruders. With all the dissension that was going on, Bob Wilson had a problem with Bobby Fuller. He disliked Bobby because him and another guy pulled a stunt on us at Johnny Fairchild's Golden Key Club. It's kind of hard to explain. Had I been a little more musically sophisticated at that time, I would've been pissed off about it. But I was innocently just playing and getting paid to do something I really liked doing. At the time, it was music and not much ego. I sort of backed into music sideways and was different. But, I was never like anybody else anyway. So anyway, what Bobby and this guy pulled didn't get to me very much. I was more impressed with how authentic the song sounded when I was singing "That'll Be The Day". Tex Reed and Bobby Fuller had walked up behind me without me knowing it on this little tiny stage. It was a little riser against the wall, real small. You gotta picture this, directly in the middle of this riser there were four pieces of ½" electrical conduit joined together coming straight up from the riser about three feet with some switches on top. Now this riser wasn't big enough for everybody. It was big enough for the drummer and me and another guitar player, but Bob Wilson, the piano player who also played bass on the lower keys, was on the floor. Wilson wasn't real thrilled about that already as all the rest of us were up on this little, tiny platform. So now there's these four pieces of conduit joining up, coming up like a spine in the middle of the riser, sitting on top are four light switches. Above these were colored bulbs hanging from the ceiling, and you could turn on those...red, blue, green and yellow bulbs, and that was the lighting for the stage. I was standing in front of the switches singing "That'll Be The Day" and I swear out of the heavens came the back-up vocals. We had only one microphone. No bass guitar. A little, tiny PA. The guitar player would come over to sing in my microphone 'cause we were so gear poor. We were like a skiffle band. So anyway, out of the heavens comes all the back-up and harmonies to "That'll Be The Day", and the overhead lights are going on and off. So I'm hearing all these back-up parts and harmonies from these two guys singing behind me. I didn't even know who the hell they were. Wilson was by now beating on the piano. He was pissed. We got done with the song and Wilson stormed off. It's hard to say whose idea it was, Fuller's, or Tex Reed's, but the damage was done. I personally think it was Tex Reed. (Tex, if you read this, let me know). Wilson wasn't pissed so much because they sang the back-ups and harmonies. It was the way they did it. What would happen is, when I would sing, they would turn the lights off, and then when they would sing back-up, they'd turn the lights back on. Isn't that cute? That really got to Bob Wilson. When Bobby died, I saw Wilson and I'm not going to repeat what he said. No love lost there because of that stunt, but that's show business. It was just the way it was back then. Everybody was very sensitive. I had not gotten that sophisticated yet, but as time went on, I started getting more competitive. People were critical 'cause I didn't record and express a burning desire to go big time. I didn't write originals and I didn't play originals. I had the quintessential cover band from hell. We wore uniforms. We were on time. We didn't curse. We didn't drink. I played "Proud Mary" when it came out. At the officers club in Fort Bliss, if I played that song any less than six times a night, there was something wrong. At that time, we were the highest paid band in El Paso. We made more money consistently than any other band in the history of that era. The guys who played with me were forced to wear uniforms. They always complained when they were in the band. They made fun of the deal, but they never made the money they made with me. A lot of them admitted later, I ruined them because I was so disciplined and such a hard ass, that then they started getting on everybody else's butt. So, I created a real controversy way back then because I was so different than everybody else. I took it real serious. I couldn't believe you could get paid doing that instead of pumping gas in the wind, the snow and the rain. I put myself through college with that band. I did relatively well, from the standpoint of being a full-time musician for twenty years. I did OK. Bobby always intrigued me. I didn't get offended by what he or his band did because the music, guitar playing, singing and harmonies were so accurate and it was exactly the way it was supposed to be. How can you get mad at or be jealous of a guy for that? I wanted the back-ups. I wanted all of that. I never wanted to be in that great of a band until Fuller and Tex Reed stuck their nose in it, and Bobby Wilson got so pissed off about it. So, Bobby's biggest influence actually occurred first by virtue of that act.
Q - At that point, Bobby approached you about joining his band...
A - It was a little later on I turned him down.
Q - Was that before "I Fought The Law" became a hit?
A - Yes. He ended up with Dewayne Quirico on drums and Jim Reese on guitar. Then came Dalton Powell on drums. A girl who was close to Bobby for many years told me something about two months ago that stunned me. She had declined to tell me for years for fear I wouldn't like what I heard. Quite the opposite. It was the third greatest compliment I ever received, the first two coming from Bobby. Before he asked me to play in the band, he was interviewed by a paper here, right before his first trip, I think to California. He was asked "who's your competition in El Paso?" He said "I have no competition." Mr. Modest. He was exactly right. He didn't. He was untouchable. But he said there's this guy Rod Crosby...but he doesn't say The Intruders. He said Rod Crosby. "He's really good. Same influences as me, Buddy Holly, etc." So, that was the first greatest compliment I ever received as a musician. My second compliment was when he asked me to play in his band, even though I declined out of fear of my band mates thinking bad of me. I thought you gotta be true to your school, to your friends, even though we don't get along all that well. Bobby Wilson loved the band, as he had started it. I figured we all had put too much time into it and it was doing well. So, I declined. All of these years, up until a few months ago, if I said it once, I've said it fifty times, I wonder what would've happened had I said yes, and joined Bobby's band. I'm talking to my friend, this real sharp girl from El Paso, and she said "I wanted to tell you this for years, but I was afraid it would hurt your feelings." I said "OK, shoot." "On the basis of you being one of the few people who knew how close I was to Bobby... I just hope you believe me." Now, Bobby was a ladies man and she had dated Bobby as a teenager. She said "he kissed me and we made out, but he wouldn't go all the way." He said "I'd like to, but you're too young." She said her respect for him was great as a person and as an artist, and that's why she loved him. She wanted him to, but she was too young and she admired him for his respect and self control. So she said they became friends and remained so until his death. So anyway, she said "I have to tell you that Bobby would always question me about the band. He wanted to know what the girls thought, how the original songs were, how the band sounded, what turned 'em on, what the guys were thinking. We'd talk about things. When there was a personnel change, he would discuss it with me. I couldn't be as close to him when I got married, but we were still in touch. So Rod, you wondered what would've happened if you were in the band? I know the answer to that question. Bobby was talking to me about the band break-up, and I suggested you. So Bobby asked you to play in the band. I told Bobby that's great. Rod's a really a great singer. Bobby said, Yeah, I know, but I want to be the only real singer in the band. I said so, you don't really want someone that good in the band. Bobby said you know what? I want it to be me. I said then you need to do what's best for Bobby. Also I said don't use Rod then, if that's what you want to do." Well, I started laughing hysterically. She said "What's the matter?" I thought you might be upset that I agreed with Bobby." I said "That's the third greatest compliment I've ever received. Thank you for telling me. What you're telling me is, if I would've said yes, he still would've said no." She said "that's what I always wanted you to know." I always thought if I had joined the band, maybe he would've still been alive, but that's the end of that mystery. What a compliment. To be excluded 'cause Bobby thought I was that good, even before I did.
Q - I've heard it said that right before Bobby Fuller died, the band The Bobby Fuller Four was considered the American answer to The Beatles. Have you heard that? How can that be? The group only had one hit..."I Fought The Law".
A - That's interesting, what you said. Great things would have happened if not for two things. The band had got along better and Bobby lived. Jim Reese told me about an article in Billboard Magazine. He said there was an interview given by George Harrison. Prior to this, The Beatles had come over to the U.S. together several times. Then they started breaking off into their own worlds and they would come over individually and hang out with musicians in well known places. One time when George Harrison came over, he'd been out on The Strip in L.A. prior to that interview with Billboard. Fuller and the guys were playing at Hullabaloo or PJ's. Billboard asked George "What do you think of the bands on the strip?" He mentioned he heard three bands. He didn't remember their names but two of them were already really huge and well known acts. He alluded to the fact that he was really intrigued by The Bobby Fuller Four because of their structure and how clean and how pure... He began comparing them to The Beatles. He mentioned that it's not that the music is exactly the same. It was about the structure and the discipline, and playing exactly the same way every time they perform, which is how The Beatles played their songs. He mentioned the guitarist in The Four had a role in the band similar to his. Apparently he keyed in on them because of how much music four guys could make. That's what got his attention. So, they did get recognition from The Beatles. To my understanding they were very aware of what happened to Fuller and were very upset. It bothered them. In "Give Peace A Chance", John was thought to sing "everybody's talkin' about Bobby Dylan." No. If you listen closely, many people swear it's "everybody's talkin' about Bobby Fuller." I swear that's what I think he's singing and many people would agree.
Q - After Bobby died, Jim Reese and Dalton Powell came back to El Paso and you played in a band with them?
A - Yes. They came back immediately. They hooked up with another band here called Murphy's Law. They played a while in that band. My band was intact at that time. Later it broke up. Somebody said to me...Murphy's Law broke up. I don't know who notified who. I can't remember, but all I know is I don't have a guitar player or a drummer. I called 'em up and I'll be damned...they joined my group. I was elated! They became The Intruders. (laughs) So, it was now like Bobby Fuller's band, many years later, joined me. Wow! I guess you could say that would be the fourth greatest compliment I ever received, now that I think about it.