It was there, in 1964, that the bright-eyed Texan and his group signed with Del-Fi Records, the label that had brought forth Ritchie Valens. The record company took a special interest in Bobby and changed the band's name to The Bobby Fuller Four, much to the regret of the rest of the group. The boys hit the club circuit and by 1965 they had become the darlings of the discotheque set, performing their high-powered rock 'n' roll night after night before packed audiences.
When the British Invasion hit, England's rockers re-educated Americans who had long neglected their musical heritage. But while most American bands were happy to learn about Carl Perkins, The Crickets and other home-grown heroes via the Beatles, Fuller went straight to the source. Fuller was playing plain and simple Rock 'n' Roll while fellow Texan Buddy Holly was alive and stuck with it even after the music died. By the time the Brits brought back the beat, Fuller and his band were ready to show America that a group didn't need pointy boots to play kick-ass rock and roll.
The Bobby Fuller Four's first few Del-Fi singles failed. Although Fuller would later prove himself an excellent songwriter, at that point the group had yet to find its own sound, instead, taking cues from contemporaries like Dick Dale, The Four Seasons and even The Beatles. After hearing those early 45s, disc jockeys must have been totally unprepared for what was to follow. "Let Her Dance" was an exuberant rocker, containing elements of practically every dance-floor classic to date, from Valens' "La Bamba" to Bobby Freeman's "Do You Wanna Dance" and the Beach Boys' "Dance, Dance, Dance". It promptly topped the L.A. charts, making the group stars in the land of stars.
The band followed with the superb "Never to Be Forgotten", packed with twangy guitars and enough reverb to fill the Carlsbad Caverns. But it was their next release that would put them over the top. "I Fought the Law" originally appeared on a post-Holly Crickets album and was penned by the group's guitarist, Sonny Curtis, who would later write "Love Is All Around", the immortal theme from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Released in October 1965, the Bobby Fuller Four's version, with its tight production and unrelenting beat, took their fame far beyond the West Coast. Come January, the group found itself sharing Billboard's Top 10 with the likes of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
Although the Bobby Fuller Four managed a minor follow-up hit with another cover, Holly's "Love's Made a Fool of You" (#26), most of the American public remained unaware of Fuller's own songwriting talent. By then, his compositions had evolved from emulations of his '50s idols to more sophisticated tunes. However, Del-Fi did not believe in Fuller's originals, so the group's next single was a bona fide Brill Building tune, "The Magic Touch". When it missed the charts entirely, things began to fall apart. In July 1966, Fuller returned home to L.A. after a long and stressful tour. His band was on the verge of mutiny and Bobby ended up firing drummer DeWayne Quirico over a personal squabble and replaced him with Dalton Powell, an old friend from Texas. The West Coast music scene was changing rapidly, with stirrings of psychedelia. Fuller was uncertain of his next move. No one foresaw the tragedy that would come next.
On July 18th, just five months after "I Fought The Law" had entered the charts, Bobby's lifeless body was found on the front seat of his mother's Oldsmobile, parked outside of a Los Angeles apartment building. His body was badly beaten and a gasoline soaked rag was stuffed in his mouth. According to some media sources, he had died in an automobile accident. The LAPD ruled Fuller's death a suicide, citing "no evidence of foul play." His brother Randy claims that the police never even checked the car for fingerprints. Those closest to Bobby suspected that he had been murdered. Fuller had been dating a young woman named Melanie, whose reportedly jealous club-owner ex-boyfriend was rumored to be tied to organized crime. After Fuller's death, she disappeared and was not heard from for many years. When she finally surfaced, she denied any knowledge of Fuller's death. A private investigator hired by Fuller's parents and the group's manager Bob Keane was shot at and quit the case after a few days.
Bobby Fuller was just 23 years old at the time of his death. In later years, a book titled Never to Be Forgotten included details of six different theories about the still-unsolved case. After they lost Bobby, his brother Randy tried to keep the group going, but it didn't last long. Royalty checks also stopped, despite the fact that the band's material kept showing up on Rock 'n' Roll hit collections issued by Norton Records, Del-Fi Records, Rhino Records and Munster Records for many years. The Bobby Fuller Drive reunion group was formed in 1999. In 2003 they released a CD called "Breakin Rocks" which includes updated versions of original BF4 songs, including "I Fought The Law", "Let Her Dance", "New Shade Of Blue" and "Never To Be Forgotten".
Even though the short life of Bobby Fuller ended in a mysterious tragedy, he will long be remembered for a classic Rock 'n' Roll song that could double as his epitaph. I fought the law and the law won.
For an insider's look at the life and death of Bobby Fuller, be sure to read Gary James' interviews with band members Randy Fuller, DeWayne Quirico and Dalton Powell