Bobby Fuller worshiped at the altar of fellow West Texan Buddy Holly. Sadly, Bobby Fuller also followed in his idol’s footsteps, enjoying rapid success before meeting a sudden and tragic death. Unlike Buddy Holly, we still don’t know who or what took Fuller’s life.
As young boys in El Paso, Bobby Fuller and his brothers were transfixed by the explosive new sound of Rock and Roll. Bobby discovered Elvis and was immediately addicted. By his early teens, Bobby presided over a constantly shifting lineup of players, usually including his brother Randy.
They managed to land a few homemade recordings with local, independent labels. Those first records didn’t make a dent commercially. However, Bobby was praised for his surprisingly adequate home recordings, especially noteworthy for the use of a crudely constructed backyard echo chamber.
A Rapid Rise to Fame
By 1964, Bobby and Randy had established a stable lineup. Dubbed the Bobby Fuller Four, they trafficked in a hybrid of rockabilly, surf and Tex-Mex. Leaving West Texas for the gleaming promise of Los Angeles, Bobby Fuller quickly found a recording stable in Mustang Records.
Their first single for Mustang, “Let Her Dance” was a Top 40 hit.
However, the specter of Buddy Holly still loomed large over Bobby Fuller.
A plane crash had taken the lives of Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper, and Buddy Holly in 1959. But Holly’s Crickets soldiered on, hiring Sonny Curtis to take over for their departed leader.
Among his first contributions was a song he’d written in 1958–“I Fought the Law.”
The post-Holly Crickets relegated “I Fought the Law” to the B-Side of long-forgotten single “A Sweet Love.”
A few minor artists covered “I Fought the Law” in the early ’60s. Most notable was a light but charming 1962 take from Paul Stefen and the Royal Lancers. It was less than a blip on the pop radar.
The Bobby Fuller Four recorded their own version in 1964, and enjoyed some local success before signing to Mustang.
In 1965, they re-recorded “I Fought the Law” for their new label. This version rapidly scaled the charts, peaking at #9 in 1966.
The band would also enjoy minor chart flirtation with a cover of Holly’s “Love’s Made a Fool of You.”
Their third Top 40 hit would lead to an appearance as Nancy Sinatra’s backing band in the awesomely titled beach horror film, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini.
Fuller Found Dead
These would be Bobby Fuller’s final contributions to the world. “I Fought the Law” peaked on the charts in March of 1966. In mid-July, Bobby was found dead, asphyxiated in a parked car outside his Hollywood apartment.
Allegedly, there was no sign of struggle but investigators at the scene were unable to determine the exact cause of death. It appeared as though Fuller had ingested gasoline, a decidedly uncommon method of suicide. Though the medical examiner checked off ‘accident’ and ‘suicide’ as causes of death, each was followed by a question mark.
A Rock and Roll Conspiracy
These question marks remain to date. Since Fuller’s sudden death at age 23 (just one year older than Holly at the time of his death), many theories have been posited. Among them, those who knew Fuller best believe the cause of death was murder.
The Crooked Manager Theory
Rick Stone, the band’s road manager, claims that he spoke to Bobby on the last night of his life. Bobby had confided in him that he intended to break up the band to escape a contract with their manager Bob Keane.
Bobby’s brother Randy would also go on to note that Keane was involved with the mob, and that this involvement may have played a part in the band’s rapid rise to fame. Randy claims that Bobby was more than likely aware of his criminal benefactors.
And in the interest of stoking further conspiratorial speculation, Bob Keane was also the manager for Sam Cooke and Ritchie Valens at the time of their respective, sudden and mysterious deaths. Just sayin’.
The Jealous Mobster Theory
Those close to him acknowledge that Bobby Fuller was closely and secretly involved with a woman named Melody during the last week of his life. Melody was alleged to have also been in a relationship with a notable mobster at the time. (Many years later, a woman claiming to be Melody confirmed her involvement Bobby Fuller but denied a relationship with a reputed mobster. She also voiced her own doubts that Fuller’s death had been a suicide.)
The Sinatra Theory
There is one remarkable theory which suggests that Frank Sinatra had Bobby killed. As the story goes, Bobby gifted a tab of acid to Nancy Sinatra during their film shoot which subsequently caused her to experience a bad trip. Far fetched though it may be, there are those who have suggested that Ol’ Blue Eyes retaliated for his daughter’s bad trip by having Bobby Fuller rubbed out.
Murder Most Foul
Of course, these theories are speculative at best, libelous at worst.
Conspiracy theories aside, far too many questions remain unanswered about the death of Bobby Fuller. In fact, at his family’s insistence, police eventually reopened his case and removed “suicide” as a cause of death. Today, Bobby Fuller’s official cause of death remains an “accident” surrounded by question marks.