One of rock’s most iconic anthems, “I Fought The Law” by The Bobby Fuller Four made it to #9 on the Billboard charts in March of 1966:
Written by Sonny Curtis of Buddy Holly’s Crickets (who also penned the memorable theme song for THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW , “Love Is All Around”), “I Fought The Law” was a throwback to the heyday of rockabilly in that year of British Invasion madness, and was all over the airwaves that spring and summer. Fuller’s Holly-influenced sound brought rock back to its roots, and his surf guitar stylings were on a par with legendary Dick Dale.
Bobby Fuller was born in Baytown, Texas in 1942, and the family, including younger brother Randy, moved to the West Texas town of El Paso when Bobby was twelve. Like most teens during the mid-50’s, Bobby was rock’n’roll crazy, and soon he and Randy were fronting bands and playing the local circuit. Relocating to LA in the early 60’s, The Bobby Fuller Four signed with tiny Mustang Records (who were distributed nationally by Roulette), and enjoyed some regional success before “I Fought The Law” put them at the top of the rock pile.
The Bobby Fuller Four were riding high, appearing on teen-oriented TV shows like HULLABALOO and WHERE THE ACTION IS, and even popped up in AIP’s last ‘Beach Party’ movie, THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI, along with Tommy Kirk, Deborah Walley, Nancy Sinatra, and veterans Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, and Patsy Kelly:
On July 18, 1966, Bobby Fuller’s mom found him dead in his car parked outside their home. The windows were rolled up tight, and there was an open gas can in the car. Despite the facts there were multiple bruises on his arms and shoulders, a reported broken finger, and his body being doused with gasoline, the death was officially ruled a suicide. In October, the LA medical examiner changed the verdict to “accidental asphyxiation”. Speculation has run rampant since then, from Fuller being “hit” for having an affair with a Mafioso’s girlfriend, to an LSD-related death allegedly involving Charles Manson, to a deal gone sour with mob-connected Roulette Records boss Morris Levy (aka “The Godfather of Rock’N’Roll”). Bobby Fuller was at the peak of his career at the time; why would he commit suicide? We’ll probably never know the truth as to what happened that fateful summer night. All we know is rock lost another artist at a young age – Bobby Fuller was just 23 years old.
“I Fought The Law” has gone on to become one of rock’s most covered songs, with everyone from your local bar band to artists like Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, The Grateful Dead, and Hank Williams Jr. interpreting the tune. It was hugely popular among the punk rock movement, covered by The Dead Kennedys, The Ramones, The Stray Cats, and most notably The Clash:
Great as that version is, I’ll always think of The Bobby Fuller Four’s rendition as being definitive, their place in rock history ensured forever. And I’ll think of Bobby Fuller himself, a life cut short on his way to rock immortality.