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.