There are a few unsolved mysteries in Rock And Roll History. The death of BOBBY FULLER certainly must rank up there as one of the strangest.
After kicking around El Paso, Texas and Los Angeles, California clubs for quite a few years, FULLER finally hit pay dirt with his version of I FOUGHT THE LAW, a #9 National Hit in 1966. The tune was written by SONNY CURTIS back in 1961 and appeared on an album that THE CRICKETS recorded shortly after BUDDY HOLLY's death.
FULLER was a HUGE BUDDY HOLLY fan ... in fact, SEVERAL people in the know consider him to be the BEST BUDDY HOLLY sound-alike to ever come along. He first cut I FOUGHT THE LAW for the small Exeter label in late 1964 and it topped the El Paso charts at the time. After his move to California, BOBBY was signed by Del-Fi Records (ironically the same label that was home to RITCHIE VALENS, who perished in the same plane crash that took BUDDY HOLLY) and re-recorded the song for release on their subsidiary Mustang label. The song took off in a flash and has pretty much never come out of radio airplay rotation since. Even in the 1980's, JOHN COUGAR MELLENCAMP was inspired enough to mention BOBBY FULLER's name in his R.O.C.K. IN THE U.S.A. hit (and you CAN'T tell me that another one of his hits, THE AUTHORITY SONG, isn't a loving homage to I FOUGHT THE LAW!!!)
BOBBY's next single was LOVE'S MADE A FOOL OF YOU, which was written by BUDDY HOLLY shortly before he died. (BUDDY got as far as cutting a demo of the track, but it was never released until many, many years after his death.) It was FULLER's only other appearance in The Top 40, yet today receives virtually NO airplay at all. In between these tracks, BOBBY cut a single called LET HER DANCE, and this is where some of the mystery begins.
According to reports, BOB KEANE, owner of Del-Fi Records, fell in with some mob-related partners at about this same time. All of a sudden, they were promising BOBBY BIG things ... "Listen to KRLA at 1:00 today and you'll hear your song on the radio" ... and there it was. Soon they had an album released, tied in with the radio station called KRLA KING OF THE WHEELS and, after that, the band was given a small part in the teen movie THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI. LET HER DANCE topped the local charts in L.A., yet only "bubbled under" on the Billboard Charts, stopping at #133! (PLEASE NOTE: Our original BOBBY FULLER piece was first published in 2002 ... in 2005, we did additional research which ended up disproving some of these local L.A. chart claims!!!)
What is known for certain is that BOBBY FULLER didn't like the material that Del-Fi Records was making him record, especially when it came to rearranging some of his own compositions. We also know that he had begun to experiment with LSD and had been keeping company with a known call girl (who, reportedly, was also tied to the mob figures in question). Most importantly, we know that these mob figures were named as beneficiaries on FULLER's reported $1,000,000 life insurance policy.
On July 18th, 1966, BOBBY FULLER's dead body was found parked inside of his vehicle. His entire body had been saturated with gasoline and he was lying face down in the front seat of the car with an open gas can beside him. The doors and windows were closed (but not locked). An autopsy report said there were bruises on his chest and shoulders and that full rigor mortis had already set in. In addition, his right index finger was broken. Despite this somewhat obvious scenario, the official police report stated that there was "no evidence of foul play" and the coroner recorded it as a suicide. FULLER's brother RANDY, (who was also one of THE BOBBY FULLER FOUR), went on record stating, "Now how can a man that's dead ... in rigor mortis ... drive a car and pour gas on himself?" In fact, he claims that the gas can was never even checked for fingerprints! (Some reports claim that the gas can was actually thrown away!)
Del-Fi's KEANE stated that in all his years in the music business, he had never met an artist more dedicated and committed to his music than BOBBY FULLER. "I feel, without a doubt, that BOBBY FULLER did not die of his own intention." (Before you start your "Three Cheers For BOB KEANE chant, it should ALSO be noted that KEANE himself was, at one time, considered a suspect in this case ... after all, Del-Fi Records made a TON of money on RITCHIE VALENS' record sales after the singer died so unexpectedly ... is it POSSIBLE that the death of a hot, young music star may have been the route to a quick "pay day" for the label???)
The case was closed and the findings were sealed (and, by California law, remain sealed to this day). Anyone asking questions at the time was sternly warned (or threatened) to let things lie. Remarkably, the life insurance policy was never paid ... and the mystery continues to this day as to what REALLY happened to BOBBY FULLER.
2008 UPDATE: A recent GOLDMINE MAGAZINE article addressed the circumstances surrounding BOBBY's mysterious death, proving again that this story just WON'T go away! It suggests that "the mystery is figure-out-able ... but to expose the truth would risk losing life or limb." It names BFF Guitarist JIM REESE as a potential suspect ... and even BOBBY's Brother RANDY, another member of the band. (It has been RANDY who has been MOST vocal these past 40+ years, demanding justice for his brother's death.) BOB KEANE and his financial backer LARRY NUNES are ALSO listed as possible suspects as are the USUAL suspects of organized crime. Odds are we will NEVER know the truth surrounding his death ... and the BOBBY FULLER Story will continue to rank right up there near the top of Unsolved Musical Mysteries.
Our original series sparked a number of COMMENTS from our readers ... some of these are shared below:
Fuller's version (of Love's Made A Fool Of You) sounds more like typical "Holly" than Holly's version. When Buddy did that song, he must have been wanting to stretch his boundaries somewhat like the Beatles during their time. Bobby brings the song back a ways. I read that Holly's posthumous release was really a demo and the song was meant for the Everly Brothers. I read that in a Goldmine magazine a few years ago (when the Never To Be Forgotten boxset was released). The interviewee (damn, if I could remember his name) talked about how Fuller did the best Buddy ... better than anyone else (Tommy Roe, Mike Berry, Bobby Vee, etc). Was there something in the Lubbock water? Brit
The amazing music he left behind despite being cut down at the age of 23 is the best argument for his legacy, but the circumstances surrounding that music's creation -- and, perhaps, its inevitable termination -- provide a puzzle with more twists and turns than any five Hollywood thrillers, and a mystery for the ages. I think he sounds a lot like Buddy Holly on "Love's Made A Fool Of You", which charted in the top forty in 1966, and was also done by Buddy Holly himself. Marshall Crenshaw covered a few songs of Bobby Fuller years later. Aquara1997
Thank you for your bringing attention to a great and tragic story. Interestingly, I have a great Marshall Crenshaw live CD in which he covers the Bobby Fuller Four's "Julie" (brilliantly, I might add) and refers to Bobby Fuller as "the greatest rocker to be killed by street punks". A great song and a great story. Phil (CaloToonz)
Who killed Bobby Fuller?
It was sometime during the hot late afternoon hours of Monday, July 18th, 1966, that Bobby Fuller's body was found. Loraine Fuller, Bobby's mother, discovered her son's bloodied and battered body sprawled stiffly across the front seat of her Oldsmobile. Mysteriously, the car - which had been missing since 3 a.m., when Bobby was last seen alive - had reappeared fourteen hours later, in a vacant lot beside Fuller's Hollywood apartment building at 1776 N. Sycamore Avenue, just a block up from Grauman's Chinese Theater, with Bobby's body in it.
In the official autopsy report, the L.A. County Coroner's Office noted: "Deceased was found lying face down in front seat of car - a gas can, 1/3 full, cover open - windows were all rolled up and doors shut, not locked - key's not in ignition." Bobby's clothes, skin and hair were drenched in the toxic fluid. According to one eye-witness, "his right hand was holding a rubber filler tube for the gas can." His body was in full rigor mortis, indicating that he'd been dead for more than three hours.
Various eye-witnesses testified that Fuller looked like he'd been in a fight. More than one witness claimed "his right index finger was broken, as if it had been bent back," and the Coroner's report mentions "excessive bruising about his chest and shoulders." Despite all this evidence to the contrary, the L.A. Coroner's office - never known for their excessive degree of competence in the Sixties - ascribed his death to "asphyxia due to inhalation of gasoline." Strangely, the report remained inconclusive, claiming it was either an 'accident' or 'suicide', remarking: "Deceased has been despondent over job situation recently ..." The official Hollywood division police crime report came to a similar, albeit unbelievable, conclusion: "There was no evidence of foul play."
"Now how can a man that's dead-in rigor mortis-drive a car and pour gas on himself?" Randy Fuller asked when he was interviewed for tv's Entertainment Tonight in 1984. Crime scene investigators rushed to judgment, claiming that Fuller had committed suicide, though no one believed it possible. Members of the radio and television press at the scene were told that it looked to be a clear case of suicide, despite much visual evidence to the contrary, and this off-hand remark was the first news of Fuller's death to be broadcasted to the world. Many people still believe what they first heard that day to be the truth. To make matters worse, evidence was destroyed during the investigation. An empty gas can, found in the back seat, was removed by a Hollywood division policeman (who apparently didn't consider it vital to the investigation) and thrown into a nearby dumpster. The Olds was not dusted for fingerprints, nor was it ever impounded and searched for further clues.
There were also rumors that Bobby had actually drank gasoline, though a Stanford University crime professor reported (in 1966) that "no one has ever successfully killed themselves by drinking gasoline. One could not be able to keep it down, if they could get it down. They would simply throw up before they could die from it." Another rumor was that Fuller had overdosed on LSD or some other kind of hallucinogenic drug at a Malibu Beach party the night before. The people at the parties were celebrities, and to avoid a scandal, they poured gasoline down his throat, saturated his hair and they planned to torch the car - to make it look like a "mob slaying" - yet no trace of drugs appear in the autopsy report, and no traces of gasoline had actually been swallowed.
Over thirty years later, the facts still don't add up to suicide. So what other possibilities are there? It has been reported that the autopsy report, released five months later, was inconclusive and provided few clues as to the actual cause of death. There were several numerous bruises on his face and upper torso; unmistakably, it was an act of extreme violence, and certainly not an "accidental death."
Bobby was buried on July 22nd, at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Burbank. Case closed.
There was some truth to the fact that Fuller had been depressed in the weeks just prior to his death, but never suicidal. He had decided to break up the band and try his hand at a solo career, a decision he had been struggling with for months, asking the advice of a few close friends (including his New York girlfriend, Nancy Norton.) Months of touring across the U.S., even with the success of a hit single carrying them into the Top Ten, had taken its cumulative toll on all of the band's members, and they were not on good speaking terms with Fuller at the time of his death.
The band was drifting apart. Jim Reese, guitarist in the BF4, came home from the last tourdate to learn he'd just been drafted into the Army and was due to report in a few weeks. He made arrangements to sell his Jaguar to Bobby, who had long admired the car, and Fuller was actually supposed to pick it up the day he was found. Dalton Powell, the band's drummer, was also quitting the group, expecting to tell Fuller at a scheduled band meeting that he never showed up for. Then there is the disintegrating relationship between Bobby and his brother Randy; the two had played together since they were teens, but now they could hardly stand to be around each other, and Bobby was looking for his own apartment.
Fuller was also disappointed that a planned European tour, where the band was immensely popular, had just been canceled less than a month before they were to leave. Recording sessions for the new album (planned to be their last) had been very difficult, and was often so wrought with personality conflicts that Fuller clearly didn't feel up to continuing and he let everyone know how he felt. Fuller also felt that he hadn't had time to write enough new songs for the next album, and was depressed that he would again have to record someone else's songs. According to more than one close friend, Bobby had begun playing one particular sad ballad on his stereo over and over while sitting alone in his bedroom with the lights off, which may lead some to conclude that he was experiencing some kind of inner turmoil (though this isn't evidence of suicidal behavior - and frankly, is something musicians often do when learning how to play a new song.) Clearly, he had his reasons for being depressed and fed up, but none of these would necessarily cause him to take his own life in such a vicious, and disturbing, manner.
At the time of his death, Fuller had been keeping company with a young woman named "Melody," whose ex-boyfriend was a jealous club owner reported to be tied to the local crime syndicate. After Fuller's death, she disappeared and has only recently surfaced to deny complicity in Bobby's death. Other mysterious circumstances took place in the days just after the discovery of Fuller's body. Dalton Powell had been confronted by "three real mean-looking dudes" who had come to the apartment he shared with Reese looking for the guitarist, telling Powell they would return, but Powell and Reese left town after Fuller's funeral and never returned to California. Randy Fuller and the band's road manager were nearly run off the road one evening by a car that had been following them. A private investigator, hired by Fuller's parents and Bob Keane, quit the case after a few days when he was shot at by a would-be assassin. The questions have remained unanswered. This is one mystery even Robert Stack couldn't solve ... Mark Q¿Q / ComputerDJ61
http://elvispelvis.com/fullerup.htm is a site of dead musicians, named after Bobby. Bobby's death happened because he was beaten up and forced to swallow and inhale gasoline. Nobody has claimed responsibility for his death nor has ever come forward.
After what you had wrote I just hadda look this one up and read about BOBBY FULLER. Very interesting and a fellow Texan at that. Here's what someone wrote ..... "Bobby Fuller was the actual missing link between Buddy Holly and the psychedelic swamp rock of Creedence Clearwater Revival" .... (that's interesting too!) ~DominoGal
Boy did I do a lot of reading tonight ... there are so many different stories on how Bobby Fuller died ... Was it suicide? Was it murder? I guess we will never know. You'll find some very good reading here: THE LEGENDARY BOBBY FULLER FOUR! The Strange Case of Bobby Fuller (part 1 and part 2) -- written by and copyright Aaron J. Po
I also came across this:
With his blatant reverence for Buddy Holly, fellow Texan Bobby Fuller was a bit of an anomaly in the mid-'60s. With his Stratocaster guitar and brash, full sound, at his best Fuller sounded like Holly might have had he survived into the '60s. Cracking the Top 30 in 1966 with a cover of Holly's "Love's Made a Fool of You" and the Top Ten with "I Fought the Law" (written by one-time Cricket Sonny Curtis), Fuller had just become a star when he died in mysterious circumstances in a parked car in Hollywood (the police thought it was a suicide, just about everyone who knew him disagreed). Fuller's relatively short period of national stardom actually crowned a good half-dozen years of recording, during which he released many outstanding tracks. After a few local singles in his hometown of El Paso in the early '60s, he moved to California with his combo in 1964, and briefly had aspirations of playing surf music before hooking up with producer Bob Keene. In the short time he recorded for Mustang in 1965 and 1966, he waxed quite a few tracks (most self-penned) in addition to his hits, including "Let Her Dance," "Another Sad and Lonely Night," "My True Love," "Never to Be Forgotten," "Fool of Love," and "The Magic Touch." Rocking, tuneful, and infectiously joyous, they showed Fuller to be a worthy inheritor of early rock & roll and rockabilly traditions without sounding self-consciously revivalist. While it's hard to imagine Fuller maintaining his success in the era of psychedelia, he no doubt would have gone on to produce interesting work. A talented and prolific songwriter and a studio whiz who drew from Eddie Cochran and (though only slightly) the full guitar sound of the British Invasion as well as Buddy Holly, he recorded a great deal of unreleased studio and live material that was issued in the '80s, when the depth of his loss began to be appreciated. - Richie Unterberger
At the age of 23, Bobby Fuller's body was found in an automobile parked outside of a Los Angeles apartment building in July, 1966, just five months after I Fought The Law had entered the charts. He was covered with gasoline and apparently there was also gasoline discovered in his lungs. The LA coroner ruled it a suicide. His family and friends suspected that he had been murdered, possibly at the hands of organized crime. What seem to be the facts in The Strange Case of Bobby Fuller (part 2) indicate murder and a foiled cover-up, as if someone didn't get the chance to strike the finishing match. The investigation was closed and the case was sealed. ~griff n*
THE LOCAL CHARTS:
In 2005, during one of our LOCAL CHARTS / SHOW ME YOUR HITS Series, the subject of BOBBY FULLER's L.A. Hits came up once again. Additional research at that time disproved some of the claims and myths surrounding BOBBY's chart success on the local L.A. scene.
As we've seen time and time again here in FORGOTTEN HITS, a lot of the hype surrounding many of the so-called "Local Hits" seem to have "escalated" and grown in stature over the past 40 years. Such ALSO seems to be the case with a few of THE BOBBY FULLER FOUR's biggest hits. (Over the years, FORGOTTEN HITS has debunked MANY such myths surrounding the "legends" of MONSTER Local Hits: for example, how about THE MERRY-GO-ROUND Hit LIVE, which, despite all the hoopla to the contrary, claiming that this was a HUGE #1 Hit in the Los Angeles area when, in fact, it never really hit #1 there at all! ... some of you on the list may also remember all of the propaganda that made THE CHOIR's hit IT'S COLD OUTSIDE #1 in Cleveland for eight weeks where, more accurately, it topped their local chart for four. Of course, we also encountered the same sort of thing right here in Chicago where we proved that THE CRYAN' SHAMES' smash IT COULD BE WE'RE IN LOVE ALSO only topped our chart for four weeks rather than eight!) Sadly, such has become the lot in life for many of the local hits that have grown in stature over the years ... with each passing memory repeating the legend, eventually making many of these tunes larger than life. That's why WE'VE always relied on bringing you THE MOST ACCURATE TRUTH possible whenever these instances rise up.
Apparently, this ALSO seems to be the case with a couple of THE BOBBY FULLER FOUR's biggest hits. According the liner notes to their GREATEST HITS CD, their single LET HER DANCE (which was actually, a remake of a song FULLER cut earlier while still based in Texas as KEEP ON DANCING) "promptly soared to #1 in BOBBY's new hometown of Los Angeles ... local station KRLA played the single so often, it was nearly impossible to be in L.A. in the summer of '65 and not hear the song blasting out of every car cruising down the Sunset Strip." Another song that supposedly saw quite a bit of L.A. action was FULLER's previous release, SHE'S MY GIRL ... in fact, it seems that once BOBBY relocated to Los Angeles, he was pretty much crowned the Prince Of L.A. by KRLA.
The truth is, KRLA DID get behind THE BOBBY FULLER FOUR in a very big way, even releasing a radio station promotional LP full of FULLER tunes (KRLA: KING OF THE WHEELS). By the Summer of '65, THE BOBBY FULLER FOUR were even captured on film, portraying a surf band in the teensploitation flick THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI ... all of this success happening several months before the band broke-out on a national level with their '60's rock classic I FOUGHT THE LAW.
So, we went to our Los Angeles bureau of FORGOTTEN HITS experts and asked them what THEY remembered about the BOBBY FULLER phenomena of 1965, only to find out that this (once again) appears to all be nothing more than 20/20 hindsight hype.
I moved to the LA area in 1967, after Bobby was already dead. To be honest, after listening to a clip of "She's My Girl" and "Let Her Dance", I can honestly state that I have never heard these songs before and they never appeared on KRTH and I dont believe they ever played on KRLA either in their heyday. Now who knows, it might have had some air time in 1965-66 prior to my moving here, but I came from central Cali before that and it was there that I heard I Fought the Law, the only BB4 song ever on the radio up there. Lurkyfoot
I don't really have any insight on this. I spent some time trying to find the info online, but really couldn't find anything. I don't have any books with this kind of info to use as reference, so i'm sorry i can't be of any help! spnnrn
I don't recall ever hearing "She's My Girl" by The Bobby Fuller Four back then. But I was only 8 and when I look through the radio hit lists from 1966, I don't remember quite a few of the songs. I thought if anything, KRLA would have more Fuller stuff since they released that LP, KRLA King Of The Wheels. But the only song I found was Love's Made A Fool Of You, that went up to #13 in April 23, 1966. Unfortunately, the site I was searching only has the first half of that year. Since Bobby was found dead in July of that year, I would think more of his stuff would have been played after that.
I checked KHJ and KFWB. I only found I Fought The Law. The name of the site I was looking at is called Oldiesloon. Perhaps other So Cal roomie will come up with more. Sorry. :(
For the record, SHE'S MY GIRL is a GREAT little surf-rocker from 1965 that (I think) shows FAR more hit potential than their so-called #1 LOCAL HIT LET HER DANCE. The BOBBY FULLER Story is one of the most interesting in The History Of Rock And Roll and would make for a GREAT Murder Mystery / Who-Done-It Bio Pic someday! However a further examination of the local L.A. Charts for this period shows the myth of his local success to be greatly exaggerated. After examining all of the KRLA radio station surveys, all we were able to do is prove what I had suspected all along ... THE BOBBY FULLER FOUR did NOT top the LA charts with LET HER DANCE. In fact, the song's chartlife is clearly documented in black and white for ALL to see. It debuted on the KRLA Chart on June 19th at #40. Over the next seven weeks, the song slowly climbed the charts, ultimately achieving a peak of #20 before descending down the charts again. (40 - 34 - 30 - 27 - 23 - 20 - 27 - 29) HARLDY the #1 Hit it's reported to have been. (LET HER DANCE was, in fact, issued as a single TWICE by MUSTANG RECORDS ... first as catalog number 3006 and then again a few months later as 3012. The positions noted, however, represent the record's ENTIRE chart-life on the KRLA Chart.) And, I can't find ANY chart listing for SHE'S MY GIRL at all!!!
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