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The Death of Bobby Fuller

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The bizarre death of Bobby Fuller at age 22 – 38 years ago on July 18 – remains one of the strangest in showbiz history.

Bobby Fuller was a Buddy Holly fanatic from El Paso who came to Bob Keane’s Del-Fi label in ’63 with some good material but no single that Keane could hear. Fuller came back over a year later with “Keep On Dancing,” which Keane helped transform into “Let Her Dance” (with Keane himself tapping his way into percussive history on a coke bottle) wherein they married the “La Bamba” beat to Fuller’s (Hollyesque) West Texas tenor drawl and somehow made the hybrid work.

Fuller’s next hit was one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest recordings, “I Fought the Law.”

“Law” announces its arrival with a classic drum breakdown, followed by monumental hand claps and the best-recorded rhythm guitar (played by Fuller) of the ’60s. Fuller’s clean, clear vocals find the perfect balance between defiance and resignation on (Holly guitarist) Sonny Curtis’ story of desperate action, retribution and lost love.

Unfortunately, the real world was again crueler than fiction; Fuller was found dead from asphyxiation, covered in gasoline, bruises and blood in his mother’s car in Hollywood in July of ’66.

Fuller’s death was at first ruled a suicide, then changed to “accidental,” which is almost as preposterous as the suicide ruling: how does one beat oneself about the face and head then “accidentally” inhale enough gasoline to die?

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 until recently when she denied any knowledge of Fuller’s death. A private investigator, hired by Fuller’s parents and Bob Keane, was shot at and quit the case after a few days. Someone killed Bobby Fuller – the case is unsolved.

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About Eric Olsen

  • Brian

    Rest in peace, Bobby.

    Black 47 turned the case into a song about a man who covers his anger over being dumped by studying the case. “Who Killed Bobby Fuller?” on “Home of the Brave.” Great saxophone solo near the end.

  • Eric Olsen

    thanks Brian, I didn’t know about the Black 47 song.

  • http://www.jimspot.net Jim S

    Damn…. Brian beat me to it. That’s the first thing I thought of when I saw the title of this post…

    “Who Killed Bobby Fuller??” – great tune.

  • http://www.resonation.ca Jim Carruthers

    While he didn’t make any records, the inventor of the Orbusform backrest was murdered in the parking lot of his business early one morning. It is suspected he was having an affair with a gangster’s mistress.

    I really prever The Clash version (though not its use by Pepsi).

  • Eric Olsen

    I would say “I Fought the Law” is one of the few songs where I like two versions almost exactly equally well – they both have excellence to recommend them.

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Interesting to see this here — I had the house to myself for an hour this morning and played one of my favorite the LPs: Lou Reed’s Street Hassle; the Bobby Fuller classic is referenced in the song “Dirt”:

    Hey, you remember that song about this guy from Texas
    Whose name was — Bobby Fuller
    I’ll sing it for you, it went like this:
    I fought the law and the law won
    I fought the law and the law won

  • gil

    I an from el paso and I live close to Burges High school it would be nice if they put a plaque for him in the school, it seems he is just a big mystery

  • GoHah

    The movie “Eddie and the Cruisers” was inspired by the life and death of Bobby Fuller.

    I was lucky enough to see him in person at an in-store appearance (at Zody’s, which doesn’t exist any more–I bought my electric guitar there). “Let Her Dance” is a great song, as well as “I Fought the Law,” of course. Thanks for the flood of memories.

  • Tierney Kent O

    On October 22, 1942 in Baytown, Texas little did the world know of his vocal charms,,,
    Was the day when GOD placed a Beautifully Talented Angel into Lorraine Fuller’s arms…
    Mr. Robert “Bobby” Gaston Fuller you shall “Never Be Forgotten”…I’ve Always Loved You …

    I will Forever Be “BOBBY’S’GIRL”…
    GOD BLESS & REST YOUR ANGELIC SOUL BOBBY GASTON FULLER… Love Ya, Tierney Kent O’Kelley

  • Tierney Kent O

    Bobby Fuller has a beautiful voice and musical talent. My FAVE PERFORMED BY THE GREATLY TALENTED BOBBY FULLER: “You Kiss Me” “A New Shade Of Blue” “I Fought The Law” “Love’s Made A Fool Of You” “The Magic Touch” “Baby My Heart” “Keep On Dancing” “Don’t Ever Let Me Know” “Shakedown” “Nervous Breakdown””Stringer” “The Chase” “Medley (LIVE): “Louie Louie” / “Farmer John” / “Jennie Lee-(Do The Jerk With Me)” “Shanghai’d – (LIVE)” “Wine Wine Wine” “Miserlou – (live)” “It’s Love Come What May – (live)” “Lonely Sea / Lolita – (live)” ” Pipeline – (live)” “Birthday Cake (Keep Your Hands Off Of It) – (live)” “2,000 Lb. Bee – (live)” “Fool Of Love” “Linda Lu” “Things We Said Today – (live)” “El Paso Rock – (live)” Thank you Bobby Fuller for your beautiful voice, incredible talent, and your perfect movie star handsome looks that will be forever etched in time. Love Ya So Much, Tierney Kent O’Kelley

  • David

    Today,is the 40th anniversery of This great artist’s murder,& I doubt very much, a single mention will be made on radio or tv. Not just another ” one hit wonder” but a tallent who put out stuff,such as “new shade of blue” to send shivers down your spine. I discovered that song,in the 1992 film,”deadbeats” Based on a true story,by the way. The loss of Fuller,is every bit as great,as that of Holly.His product puts everything put out today to shame.Given a few more years, & he would have toppled elvis.

  • JJ

    Another Sad And Lonely Night- for sure. Great Talent- stepped on toes- paid the price. Too bad for him. Too bad for us!!!

  • JJ

    Hey- Let’s hear from all you BFF fans. Not Elvis- Not Buddy- Not Jerry Lee. Tremendous talent not even realized by 22 years of age. A great talent none the less.

  • Mike Kontarakis

    I had the song, “I fought the law”, in my heart, from when I first heard it. I knew the artist was a great talent, and remembering hearing something about the artist, but did not know the truth about what really happened. What I do know is that, there is pain in my heart and tears in my eyes, and I did not know you, bobby fuller. I am not afraid to say that, your greatness, voice, talent music, looks. An angel is missing from earth, does anyone know where they are?. I Love you bobby fuller, that must explain the pain I feel, we have your music, and can sing along. Thank you for bring happiness to my heart when your singing and playing your music. God Bless you your family and your Mom. Sincerly, Mike Kontarakis

  • Jawbone

    I was a policeman in El Paso from 1960-70 and Sgt. In Charge of Criminal Investigations at UTEP from 70-71. The only way the incompetence (in my mind) surrounding Bobby Fuller’s death and so-called investigation can be understood is to know that their were evil forces with strong influence over the law enforcement agencies involved in Los Angeles. Consider how long the Mafia has existed, consider how long crooked politicians and low-life thugs have had their sticky hands together, consider the ease with which a deranged lover with underworld connections can hire a hit, consider too how right now a hit in Juarez by a young man is 40 bucks a week and back in the day of Bobby, the price was around $1500. Consider the ineptness of Los Angeles officials today who haven’t the decency or morality to open up what should be a ‘Cold Case’ of murder. Consider that fame for one is shame for another and that shame can be bought while fame is earned.

  • http://blogcritics.org Eric Olsen

    very interesting stuff – thanks Jawbone!

  • dave

    I find this whole mystery of Bobby’s death very disappointing. With all of the science and technoligy we have today; nobody will make good on the truth. I’m no rocket scientist but I know that he did not kill himself. He breaks a finger, beats himself up, and soaks himself with gas; c’mon. Where is this mystery girl he had been hanging with at the time? Something tells me that she might know something. Is there anyone out there with enough NADS to really look into this case. If I had the right resources and the financial backing, I would look into it. Somebody knows something and we need to finally find out. I would think that it is driving his family members crazy not knowing what really happened. Or do they know?

  • Richard

    I went to Burges and had a class or two with Bobby. I remember walking along Parkland Drive and listening to Bobby and Randall practicing in their garage. Calling Bobby a Holly fanatic is an understatement. Bobby sounded more like Buddy than Buddy did, when Bobby played a gig at our neighborhood swimming pool WAY before he got famous. His “I fought the law” was first released in 1961 on a local El Paso label (Sun?), and sounded like it was recorded in the bottom of a well. A great song even then. None of his friends in El Paso ever bought the suicide story. The world is poorer without him.

  • willie b

    47 years later and still nothing? I think the lady know’s something. how do you get somebody out of thier apartment at 2:00 in the morning. just wondering