Born Robert Gaston Fuller, 22 October 1942, Baytown, Texas
Bobby Fuller’s national stardom lasted less than a year, due to an untimely and mysterious death, but by then he had already five years of recording behind him during which he released many fine tracks. He idolized fellow West Texan Buddy Holly and stuck to Holly’s style of classic rock n roll at a time when the US charts were dominated by the British Invasion and Motown.
Born in Baytown, Texas, Bobby lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, for several years, but his family moved back to Texas (El Paso) in 1956. That was the year of rock ’n' roll’s breakthrough and Bobby soon had visions of himself becoming a big rock n roll star. After mastering the piano and drums he became a solid guitarist by the early 1960s. While still in his teens, he built a rudimentary recording studio in the basement of his parents’ house. With his brother Randy on bass, Jim Reese as second guitarist and Dalton Powell on drums, Fuller started a group that went through various names before settling on The Bobby Fuller Four in early 1965.
In 1961 they made their first record, “Guess We’ll Fall In Love”, for the Yucca label out of New Mexico. It showed a heavy Holly/Crickets influence. A second, more polished Yucca 45, “My Heart Jumped”, was recorded at the Norman Petty studio and released in June 1962. Then Bobby formed his own label, Eastwood (named after his new residence, also in Texas), for which he cut only one single, covers of “Not Fade Away” and Eddie Cochran’s “Nervous Breakdown”. By this time the group played a mix of covers of 1950s R&R tunes, Bobby’s own songs and instrumentals. There followed a one-off single for the Todd label in 1963. “Saturday Night” was a bit too close to “Summertime Blues” for comfort, but the B-side, “The Stringer”, was a strong surf instrumental. The next three singles, all released in 1964, appeared on Exeter (again Bobby’s own label), including a first attempt at “I Fought the Law”. Then Bobby and his group (now with a new drummer, DeWayne Quirico) decided to move to Los Angeles to try their luck there. After meeting with indifference from several record labels, they were signed by Bob Keane, owner of the Del-Fi label, who had just introduced a new imprint, Mustang Records. A remake of “She’s My Girl” (one of the Exeter singles) was their first Mustang single and the first record under their new name, the Bobby Fuller Four. (All previous records had been credited to just "Bobby Fuller".)
The third Mustang release, “Let Her Dance", made the Top 20 in Los Angeles, but there was still no national chart action. All that changed with the re-recording of “I Fought the Law”, a Sonny Curtis composition first waxed by the post-Holly Crickets in 1959. Released in late 1965, the record reached # 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 was also popular in the UK (# 33). The Bobby Fuller Four had arrived. For the follow-up, Fuller turned again to the Buddy Holly / Crickets songbook and came up with “Love’s Made A Fool Of You”, which went to # 26, the group’s second and last chart entry. Their final single, “The Magic Touch”, deviated from the Buddy Holly path and was more in line with the sounds of the time.
On July 18, 1966, Bobby Fuller was found dead in his mother’s car, parked near his Hollywood apartment. His body had been saturated with gasoline. Investigators linked the cause of death to the inhalation of gasoline, but others testified that he appeared beaten and bruised. The police were inclined to dismiss the case as suicide, yet those close to him insisted that the 23-year old had no cause to take his own life. Rumours that Fuller was having an affair with the wife of a Mafia gangster supported the theory that he was murdered. But no arrest was ever made and the incident remains unsolved. In a book published in early 2015, Bobby’s brother Randy presents his side of the story ; he is sure it wasn’t suicide, but the book doesn’t have all the answers and reviews haven’t been too good (“rambling and vague”).
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Acknowledgements : Michael Jack Kirby, Nick Talevski, Wikipedia.
Dik, April 2015
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