The world of music sometimes seems so filled with premature, tragic, and senseless deaths that they all blend into one woeful story: a young, talented musician cut down in the prime of his (or her) life, at the height of his creativity, just ahead of the cusp of mainstream success; it's a tale told time and again, from Robert Johnson's and Hank Williams' now seemingly prehistoric exits, to the airplane and car wrecks that have felled rockers from Buddy Holly to Marc Bolan, to the 1990's rash of suicides and overdoses--so many that upon hearing of the latest fatality, the weathered rock fan can only shake their head sadly at the predictability of the departures of minor figures like Material Issue's Jim Ellison or INXS's Michael Hutchence. Yet the bizarre story of Bobby Fuller still stands out from the crowd of rock & roll deaths for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the case remains unsolved to this day. The one Bobby Fuller track everybody knows--the classic single "I Fought the Law"--simply seethes with irony when the listener is aware of Fuller's brutal death. The amazing music he left behind despite being cut down at the age of 23 is the best argument for his legacy, but the circumstances surrounding that music's creation--and, perhaps, its inevitable termination--provide a puzzle with more twists and turns than any five Hollywood thrillers, and a mystery for the ages.
Robert Gaston Fuller was born October 22, 1942 in Goose Creek, Texas, into a relatively financially stable family, comprised of parents Lawson and Loraine Fuller, half-brother Jack Leflar (twelve years older than Bobby, and Loraine's son from an earlier marriage), and brother Randy (nearly three years older than Bobby). Soon after Bobby's birth the family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, where they lived until Bobby was fourteen. In childhood Bobby and Randy started messing around with music to entertain themselves, no doubt aided by the instruments conveniently provided by their parents. Bobby played drums, piano, and trumpet, while Randy learned guitar and trombone, and the two recorded their early efforts on their parents' reel-to-reel tape recorder, using the moniker 'Captain Fuller and the Rocket Squad'. One might be tempted to label this a typical suburban paradise of a childhood, but half-brother Jack was already involved in petty theft and making and using homemade explosives in his early teens, often running away from home and clearly gravitating towards the criminal element.
In 1956 Dad got a good job in El Paso and the family packed up and moved back to Texas. Bobby went to school and continued working on his music, while Randy was shipped off to military school in an attempt to steer him away from the path taken by brother Jack, who by now apparently had little contact with the remainder of the family. After graduating from high school and a technical program, Bobby briefly enrolled in college, but soon quit above the objections of his parents, resolving to make his music his life's pursuit. He took a job in a local music store selling guitars and amplifiers. Our first indication that all was not well was the discovery of the body of Bobby's half-brother Jack Leflar on February 22, 1961--Jack had been murdered. More than that is unknown, but temptation is high to draw correlation between Jack's criminal connections and the manner of his death. In any case, the event must surely have impressed upon Bobby the potentially brief nature of life on Earth, for he redoubled his resolve and concentrated upon his music even more devotedly. He had already attracted attention around El Paso as a drummer, but was working diligently on his songwriting, striking up a collaborative partnership with lyricist Mary Stone, a friend's mother who penned the words to such archetypal 50's romance-styled songs as "You're In Love", "You Kiss Me", "Only For You", and "To Make Love Last". When Randy got back from military school he was shocked at Bobby's progress, not least at teaching himself the guitar--with Randy's abandoned instrument. Bobby itched to get his tunes down, and set up a session in his parents' living room using members from bands he'd been in around town. They laid down the Fuller/Stone co-composition "You're In Love" and Bobby's own "Guess We'll Fall In Love" on the same tape recorder he and Randy had used to document their childhood efforts, and the New Mexico-based Yucca Records issued the two tracks as a 45 rpm single around Thanksgiving 1961--Bobby's recorded debut. The single did well locally, going to number 2 on El Paso's radio station KELP and selling over 3,000 copies, giving Bobby no end of encouragement. He formed his own band, drafting brother Randy in but requiring him to learn the bass if he wanted to be involved, since Bobby's abilities on the guitar were now clearly at a 'professional' level. For his second single, Bobby wanted to take another step into the big leagues and set up a session at Norman Petty's legendary NorVaJak Studios in Clovis, New Mexico; no doubt Bobby was going for the sound Petty had provided for Bobby's idol (and fellow Texan) Buddy Holly's classic tunes like "Not Fade Away", "Peggy Sue", "That'll Be the Day", "It's So Easy", and "Oh Boy!". Bobby's second single (also on Yucca) paired Bobby's "Gently My Love" with "My Heart Jumped" (a cover recommended by producer Petty) but despite the contracted 'professional' sound and sales of over 8,000 singles Bobby was unsatisfied with the tracks. Deciding he could do at least as well on his own, he set up a studio in his parents' house. This primitive studio was Bobby's salvation; the tapes that have emerged are surprising clear and well-produced. Bobby obviously agreed, and encouraged by the success of his first do-it-yourself move at independence, he issued his third single on his own Eastwood label, pairing covers of Eddie Cochran's "Nervous Breakdown" and Holly's "Not Fade Away"--the results compare favorably with the originals both in terms of performance and recording.
Never satisfied with the speed of his career's progress and perhaps tiring of promoting his music at high school dances, Bobby lined up a month of shows out in California, an opportunity Bobby used to haul his singles and tapes around to the various Sunshine State-based record labels. The only encouragement he found was at Bob Keane's Del-Fi records (best known for its Ritchie Valens and surf music capitalization), where Keane listened to Bobby's tape and told him to come back when he had something that would knock him out. Back in El Paso, Bobby continued his D.I.Y. streak by opening an all-ages club (with financial support from the Fuller family) called "Bobby Fuller's Teen Rendezvous", and increasing his record-label activities by launching Exeter Records, which released three Bobby Fuller singles in 1964 as well as records by other El Paso acts such as Los Paisanos (who issued the only full-length LP to appear on the label) and the Sherwoods. Bobby's second Exeter single was the most successful of all the Exeter releases: his original version of the Crickets' "I Fought the Law", backed with his own "She's My Girl". The single went to number one in El Paso and Tucson, but despite this success Bobby was obviously feeling constrained by the limitations of the local market. He called a band meeting to discuss their future, with the intention of planning a move to California to pursue the elusive music industry connections they were so obviously lacking in Texas, despite distribution on the Exeter "I Fought the Law" single by VeeJay (best known for issuing the first Beatles singles in the USA and milking it past the point of legality when the money started coming) and a fourth single ("Saturday Night"/"Stringer") issued by Todd Records, a branch of the music publishing company that had signed Bobby's publishing. All the members of the band were up for the move excepting drummer Dalton Powell, who had a wife and baby boy in El Paso; after replacing him with DeWayne Quirico, they packed up their green Chevy van with their equipment and headed for Hollywood, California in November 1964--accompanied by Bobby and Randy's mom Loraine, driving alongside in her Oldsmobile.
Upon arrival, they took their latest batch of tapes and discs over to the Del-Fi office again, and this time Keane signed the group, giving them full access to the on-site Del-Fi studio and creating the Mustang Records imprint for the band's music. They started playing the South California clubs as soon as they could, and quickly attracted attention from Hollywood clubgoers as well as bigger fish like Keith Richards (who reportedly checked the band out when the Stones were staying nearby), Casey Kasem (who booked them for his Teen Dances), and Phil Spector (who sat in with the band, playing piano and guitar, while scouting them out for his Philles label).
Oddly enough, despite all the musical activities of the past, the band hadn't settled on an appropriate name. Most of the D.I.Y. singles had been issued under Bobby's name alone, but the move to California had been accompanied by an all-for-one-and-one-for-all pledge for the band and a promised four-way split of all monies. The first Del-Fi single was issued under the most common alternate name (one which appears in several surviving advertisements from El Paso) Bobby Fuller and the Fanatics; the second was put out as the Shindigs in an attempt to snag a job as house band on the new ABC TV show Shindig. While the band toiled away in the studio, Keane decided the Bobby Fuller Four was the most appropriate name, much to the chagrin of the other band members. He also began intruding more upon the Fuller recording sessions. Bobby had clear ideas about the sound he liked and wanted, having learned through hard-won experience what was and wasn't appropriate for his music, but Keane, as the record label head wanted input into the process, often tarting up the Four's tight, powerful live sound with extraneous percussion overdubs in an apparent attempt to target the dance audience. The clearest example is the transformation of the El Paso track "Keep On Dancing" (a clear hybrid of Ritchie Valens' and Buddy Holly's styles) into the A-side of the Four's fourth Del-Fi single, "Let Her Dance". Keane recalls, "We tried to do it with a little Tex-Mex feel, all those bass runs. Randy was tapping away on a beer bottle…and it was sounding pretty good in the booth. I said, 'That's it! That's the sound!' The sound we got, with the beer bottle and all that stuff, Bobby didn't like it. He didn't like anything." Small wonder: a quick comparison between the original "Keep On Dancing" and the final "Let Her Dance" reveals that the former is a delightful driving, melodic rock track and the latter is a plodding, leaden groove tacked onto an otherwise good song. Regardless, the resulting single went to the top spot under somewhat suspicious circumstances in Los Angeles but missed the national top 40, and the release was confused when Liberty records released their own version of the single a month after Del-Fi. Keane explains the havoc this way: "My partner was playing gold with Al Bennett, who owned Liberty…he told 'em I had this terrific song they should hear. Then Bennett called me up, and he said 'I'd like to talk to you about putting it out here.' I thought he was bullshittin' me, you know, because we were releasing the 45 that week. I thought they wanted to distribute the record. Then about a week later, they had already pressed up copies for radio…He sent over a contract for me to sign. I took one look at it, and he'd slipped in this clause about having an option of the first Bobby Fuller Four album…which I definitely didn't agree to, 'cause we were going to put out an album next." The debut album was a project that Keane worked on a few times, first assembling a batch of surf instrumentals, a few covers, and singles tracks into a proposed "Drag album" (as in "drag racing"). This never came together, though, so Keane set up a deal with LA radio station KRLA to issue an album as a promotional LP to feature the station's call letters on the front cover. The resultant album, KRLA King Of The Wheels, was a hodgepodge of tracks intended for the "Drag album" and previously issued singles, containing twelve solid tracks but hardly showcasing the best the Four had to offer with its overemphasis on instrumentals. Keane had previously negotiated the band into a promotional appearance in a wacky teen flick, The Ghost In The Invisible Bikini, with Nancy Sinatra, Boris Karloff, and Basil Rathbone among others. It might have been a useful promotional vehicle for the group, but when they arrived on the set they found that they'd be lip-synching someone else's song and were even forced to pretend to play Vox equipment instead of their own familiar Fender gear.
The bizarre promo shit seems to be best exemplified by the sudden success of the "Let Her Dance" single, which, to hear Bob Keane talk, succeeded purely on the basis of being a great record, largely due to his production. Randy Fuller, though, tells a different story: "Bob Keane gets this new partner…A lot of people have claimed that he was affiliated with--and P.J.'s, where we worked--were affiliated with the mob, you know. I just know what I know, and I know what Bobby told me one time, but he never mentioned 'the mob'. But he did mention some other things; crooked, I'll put it that way, crooked. Because, you know, to get a record on KRLA or KFWB was almost impossible for an unknown band. When this guy said he was gonna do these things for us, we were just kinda laughing under our jackets a little there, you know, 'Sure, he's not gonna do that." And all of a sudden, he says, 'You boys listen to the radio at one o'clock today. Your record's gonna be on there.' We're like, 'Sure, sure.' So we're drivin' down the street and 'Let Her Dance' came on…" Whatever they did to promote "Let Her Dance", it apparently wasn't repeated for the followup single, "Never To Be Forgotten"/"You Kiss Me" because didn't duplicate its predecessor's success despite being one of the cases where Keane's production dovetailed perfectly with the BF4's power: "Never To Be Forgotten" is the most stunning single example of Bobby's work, successfully fusing the pure West Texas-derived rock & roll sound with a beautifully melodic song featuring evocative lyrics and layered-in and reverbed-out vocal backings, psychedelic pop and kickass rock at the same time--in short, it's great art, and you can dance to it. The next single apparently didn't require any fakey promotional stunts or backroom dealings: it jumped into the national charts immediately following its release, eventually peaking at #9 four months after its release, and has stayed in consistent radio rotation ever since. "I Fought The Law" was the song that brought the biggest audience response at the BF4's shows, and Bobby relished the chance to get another shot at the song in higher-tech surroundings. Randy claims "it was my idea to do the song from the beginning. Years ago, 1962-63, Bobby said 'Listen to this Crickets album I found, ' and he played it for me, and I said, 'If I was gonna cut a song from there I'd do 'I Fought the Law'--even though it sounded horrible--'cause I bet that song would be a hit"; the BF4 would eventually cut three tracks from that album, The Crickets In Style: "Law", "Love's Made A Fool Of You", and "Baby My Heart" (also by "Law" writer Sonny Curtis, the replacement for Holly is that version of the Crickets). The resulting "I Fought the Law" finally broke the band nationally in 1965, but despite this (or perhaps because of it) Keane was back to brainstorming promotional stunts. Keane set up a "Celebrity Night" at P.J.'s, a club that frequently booked the BF4, and invited Hollywood celebrities with the intention of photographing the band with the celebrities for the cover of a proposed live album. The "Celebrity Night at P.J.'s" album was taped December 3, 1965, and stars like Ann-Margret, Ryan O'Neal, Sally Field, and Nancy Sinatra duly posed with Bobby (although not the rest of the band), and documents the BF4's complete set. The focus is less on the BF4's music than trying to keep the crowd dancing, as Randy explains: "See, we had a good dance groove…at P.J.'s that was the main thing. That dance floor was always packed with wild dancing, people just goin' crazy." Accordingly, keeping in mind their audience's limited familiarity with their music they limited their own material to the only two songs they could reasonably expect the audience to know: "I Fought the Law" and "Let Her Dance", with exceptions made for Bobby's gorgeous ballad "A New Shade Of Blue" (an exception both in being an unfamiliar original and in being a slow song) and surf instrumental "Thunder Reef". Their set that night was mostly uptempo covers, often segued together to keep the beat going, ranging from classic-even-then material by Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and (of course) Buddy Holly to the contemporaneous Beatles' "Anytime At All" to dancehall and garage band favorites "Do You Wanna Dance" and "California Sun". From the sound of things, though, the celebrity factor seems to have worked against the dance groove, as it sounds like more people are talking than dancing or listening to the music, most likely talking about the celebrities in attendance. By the end of the set, between-song applause has dwindled to minimal levels while conversations continue, seemingly oblivious to the band churning away behind them. The proposed live LP was shelved, purportedly due to dissatisfaction with the representation of the BF4's live sound; plans at the time were to try again at the same club later, but is never happened.
Regardless of the P.J.'s debacle, 1966 finally saw the release of a solid Bobby Fuller Four album, the appropriately named I Fought The Law. Del-Fi cherry-picked the best seven tracks from the KRLA album, added the BF4's smash breakthrough hit and four additional great songs, and the result was a killer from top to bottom, consistently impressive and confident despite being saddled with a goofy cover shot of the band wearing wacky uniforms (Randy recalled "I hated that suit--it made your ass stick out") posing on some kind of odd ladder arrangement. The all-for-one spirit of the band was already eroding, though: drummer DeWayne Quirico was missing band rehearsals and meetings, and showing up late to gigs. DeWayne was fired after one late arrival too many, and Bobby called back home to El Paso to convince former drummer Dalton Powell to rejoin the group. After talking it over with his wife, Powell agreed to come out and joined up with the band just in time to record the followup single to "I Fought The Law". "Love's Made A Fool of You" was written and demoed by Bobby's hero Buddy Holly before his plane crash, and Bobby felt it would make an excellent single and tribute to Holly--the song even contains the distinctive ringing guitar chord figure that features so prominently in the intro and breaks of "I Fought the Law". The song didn't ascend to the heights scaled by its predecessor, but it did make a significant showing on the national charts, peaking at #26.
All during their existence, the BF4 had made a point of playing out as much as possible, priding themselves on their tight live sound and their ability to reproduce their records in performance. It stands to reason, then, that their first national tour would have been an event of some importance to them. Keane booked a six week tour that encompassed a wide variety of venues, from the April 9th kickoff date in a Grand Rapids, Michigan high school gym to a railroad stockyard appearance during a rainstorm to a two-week engagement at New York City discotheque Ondine's, nighttime stomping grounds for Andy Warhol and his Factory crew. Randy relates, "It was a rollercoaster ride, man, just a series of ups and downs. One minute we'd be playing a really great show where everyone loved us and loved our music, and the next show would be a total disaster, where we felt lucky to get out of there. The one I remember best was in Madison, Wisconsin. We got there late, and these big 'ol farmboys were all standin' out front, lookin' pissed off, and they said 'You guys better be better than that last bunch that was in here [the Turtles had been been there right before us] or we're gonna whip everybody's ass.' So we hooked up, started playin'…and they just ate it up. They didn't care if we were two hours late. They just couldn't have been nicer."
During a break in the tour, the band jetted back to L.A. to record their next single, a Motown-esque number written by Ted Daryll, who had written the then-current hit by the Shangri-Las, "He Cried". Bobby was opposed to this further alteration of the BF4's sound, and Keane says the sessions were a constant battle between him and Bobby: "Bobby said 'The Magic Touch' didn't sound like one of his songs". Furthermore, he knew they wouldn't be able to reproduce the single's sound live, as it had been tweaked by Keane and his new A&R man Barry White (yes, future "Can't Get Enough Of Your Love" bedroom soul auteur Barry White), who also added drums to the track, and mixed without Bobby's involvement. Thanks to White's help, the song is largely successful in its own right, but sounds very little like the Bobby Fuller Four, and certainly nothing like "I Fought the Law" or West Texas rockabilly. The single was released anyway while the band headed back out on the road to finish the tour, but the conditions had gone from bad to worse with poorly promoted, under-advertised and sparsely attended shows--soon, the once-tight unit began talking seriously about breaking up at the end of the tour. After Bobby canceled the last week of the tour during an argument with the club's owner, the band flew home to LA and played another of Casey Kasem's Teen Dances on July 10, 1966; it would be the last time the Bobby Fuller Four would ever play together. A photo from the concert reportedly shows that the always clean-cut Bobby had begun to grow a goatee, maybe reflecting his knowledge of the changing times. In an interview, he'd earlier talked about the changes evident on the local scene: "The Hollywood strip has gone psychedelic crazy--the kids, the clubs, the whole effect of hallucination…I think all the reporters should go on writing about LSD and its effects, and let the people decide for themselves whether or not they should take it. One thing I know is that you are completely aware of what you're doing, but it's intensified into unreality…" Indeed, Bobby had experimented with acid once and intended to try it again; his brother Randy says "the thing about Bobby was that he liked intelligence--he was very intelligent, and if anything had 'intelligence' tacked on to it, he was gonna do it. He told me, 'Man, the way that LSD works, if you're really intelligent, if doesn't affect you.'" A friend of Bobby's who was then a call-girl working under the name 'Melody' says Bobby's acid test took place at her home: "About a week before he died, he came over to my place and said he was going to experiment with it, and asked if he could stay the night. I tried to talk him out of it. He'd taken his [LSD] and he had his headphones on--he liked to listen to my stereo with headphones on--and he was trying to write songs, but it didn't work. He kept getting up to go outside and walk around, and I kept goin' out there and bringing him back in."
When the band arrived home from the tour, guitarist Jim Reese found his Vietnam draft notice waiting for him--another harbinger of changing times. Since the band seemed to be dissolving anyway and he figured snazzy transportation would be the least of his concerns in the military, Reese arranged to sell his Jaguar XKE to Bobby, who was busy lining up musicians for his next project. While on a visit to El Paso Bobby had run into some friends whose band was getting ready to play out in California, and he had mentioned to them that he might be looking for some people to play with him; when they made it out to Hollywood, Bobby contacted them and they spent the day having fun and relaxing. Bob Keane dropped by to talk to Bobby, and when he left Bobby told them that they were having a band meeting the next day--Monday, July 18, 1966--at the Del-Fi offices. But Bobby never showed up for the meeting, and never met with Jim Reese to finalize the car deal. At 5 PM, the El Paso musicians headed to Bobby's apartment to see if he was there; when they arrived, they noticed his car wasn't there (it had been missing since 3 AM that day, that last time Bobby was seen), but they decided to ring the bell anyway. There was no answer, as Bobby's mother Loraine had just stepped out to check the mail. When she got to the parking lot area, she noticed the Texas plates on the musicians' car and then noticed that the car--the family Olds she had driven out from El Paso--was back. She ran down to the car and opened the driver's side door, and was immediately struck by overpowering gasoline fumes. "He was lying in the front seat," Loraine said, "The keys were in the ignition, and his hand was on the keys, as if he had tried to start the car. I thought he was asleep. I called his name. When I looked closer, I could see he wasn't sleeping…he was dead."
The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office's official autopsy report read: "Deceased was found lying face down in front seat of car--a gas can, 1/3 full, cover open--windows were all rolled up & doors shut, not locked--keys not in ignition" (seemingly contradicting Loraine Fuller's account, unless she thought to retrieve the keys from the car before the police's arrival). The report also noted excessive bruising on his chest and shoulders, and attributed the cause of death to asphyxiation "due to inhalation of gasoline". Bobby had been drenched in the fuel, saturating his clothes and hair, and his body was found in a full state of rigor mortis, a clear indication that he'd been dead for over three hours. Eyewitnesses testified that Bobby looked battered, as though he'd been in a fight, and that "his right index finger was broken, as if it had been bent back." Apparently disregarding all this evidence, the ever-incorruptible LAPD ruled Bobby's death a suicide; the official police report notes "There was no evidence of foul play". The case was closed (and remains sealed under California law), and Bobby's corpse was buried July 20 at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Burbank. Even ignoring the blatant physical evidence ruling suicide out, there are plenty of factors making it an unlikely conclusion--the most obvious pointed out by Randy, who asked "Now how can a man that's dead--in rigor mortis--drive a car and pour gas on himself?" Keane stated at the time "In my ten years in the industry I have never met a more singly purposed, ambitious young man completely devoted to his career of music. I feel without a doubt that Bobby Fuller did not die of his own intention." A close friend of Bobby's, Charlene Nowak, said that she "talked to Bobby on Sunday the 17th and I wanted to come visit him the next day, and he said he was going to be in the studio all day recording, and that he wouldn't have much time to hang out. So he said to come by on Tuesday. That doesn't sound like someone who is thinking about killing himself, does it?" Perhaps BF4 drummer Dalton Powell summed it up best when he said, "Anyone who can write it off as a suicide is either totally incompetent or totally scared to death."
Exactly what happened that night may always remain a mystery, but Bobby was definitely in the apartment in the early morning hours of July 18th: both his mother and the band's roadie (who was crashing there) confirm that between midnight and one Bobby was still there, watching TV and talking on the phone. Randy says, "Somewhere around one or two in the morning, he got a call and left, and then he didn't come back. He still had on his lounging clothes", indicating that he wasn't going out to a party or meeting a girl--Keane has ventured the unlikely scenario that Bobby went to an 'LSD party' that night, freaked out and died in a fall, and then the partiers tried to make it look like suicide. Besides the fact that this is an idiotic idea, it's contradicted both by the autopsy (the bruises don't seem to have been the cause of death) and his brother's assertion that Bobby would never have gone out without sprucing up: "He was always clean [slang for well-dressed, as in the phrase 'cleaner than a broke-dick dog']" In the autopsy report, Lloyd Esinger, the manager of Bobby's apartment building, said Bobby stopped by his apartment about 3 AM and they had a few beers; he recalled that Bobby "was in good spirit". It was the last time anyone can confirm seeing Bobby alive.
Four days after Bobby's death, three armed men showed up at the apartment BF4 guitarist Jim Reese shared with drummer Dalton Powell, two doors down from the building housing the Fuller apartment. Reese said "When I got home about midnight…Dalton was standing there with a gun in his hand. He told me about the three men who came by looking for me. We had already decided to go back to El Paso the next day…the only difference was that I had a loaded pistol in my seat all the way back." Reese suspected it had something to do with an insurance policy taken out on his life: "I had that insurance policy canceled because I was worth a lot more dead to certain people, and I was taking no chances." Randy recalls that there was a life insurance policy on Bobby for between $800,000 and $1 million, payable to the aforementioned investor in Del-Fi who was rumored to have underworld connections. Dalton noted that "We worked off and on for some real ugly people…I think there were probably some people behind the scenes that just considered us an investment. Maybe they saw it as their $1 million investment about to fly out the window and they wanted to make sure they got something out of it." It also seems that strings were pulled at the LAPD: besides the premature ruling of suicide, Randy claims they never checked the gas can found with Bobby for prints, and when one of his uncles went down to the police station begging for an investigation, "They told him if he knew what was good for him, he'd better keep his mouth shut." Randy also says the coroner back then "was crooked as a three-dollar bill. And hell, how many other people in office were like that? Everybody in Hollywood was crooked back then." Melody, the call girl paid to act as an intermediary between Bobby and Keane's shady partner, claims she "had 100% no mob connections, and neither did Bobby…The most illegal thing might have been what was called payola, but no one ever talked about it. And no one ever paid out on that insurance policy either--the insurance company screwed [Keane's] partner out of his money." She also adds the important detail that the night Bobby was killed, "there were reports from three neighbors on his street…about a white sports car, like a Mustang or something, that was seen speeding around at four in the morning"--could these have been Bobby's abductors? Another interesting detail is the fact that Keane and Del-Fi profited handsomely nine years before when Ritchie Valens' death created an unnaturally high demand for his recordings; while it seems exceedingly unlikely Keane himself had anything to do with Bobby's death (although one might be tempted to wonder when he proffers wacky theories like the acid party one), his partner might have thought the same thing would happen again with Bobby and used his connections to bring about a similar tragedy.
The mystery of Bobby Fuller's premature death may never be solved, but fortunately more of his music is available now than ever before: Del-Fi (still headed by Bob Keane) has issued a single CD containing all the tracks contained between Bobby's two albums as KRLA King Of the Wheels/I Fought the Law, but their recently issued three-CD box set Never To Be Forgotten is a much more extensive collection of the BF4's music, containing their complete official recordings (both the albums plus all the singles), many unreleased songs and alternate versions, plus the complete, previously unreleased Celebrity Night at P.J.'s live album, wrapped in beautiful packaging and including a 64 page booklet. Bobby's early efforts and indie singles are collected on the 2-CD box Shakedown! The Texas Tapes Revisited, which contains both sides of all seven of Bobby's pre-Del-Fi singles as well as something like 36 previously unreleased tracks from Bobby's home studio and a 36 page booklet. Norton Records has issued a disc titled El Paso Rock: Early Recordings Volume 1 which seems to overlap with Shakedown substantially, containing a selection of Bobby's home tape interspersed with live cuts which do not appear on the Del-Fi release, although the Shakedown liner notes do note that tapes have been located which contains live recordings of Bobby and his band playing at El Paso's Skylanes Bowling Alley and The Hitching Post--the ideal solution would seem to be a 'El Paso years' live album containing these tapes, thus avoiding purchasing El Paso Rock simply for the few cuts not contained on Shakedown . El Paso Rock's main value would seem to be as a low-cost alternative for the penny-pinching music fan who can't scrape up the cash for Del-Fi's premier quality packages--you ought to be able to buy both KRLA King Of the Wheels/I Fought the Law and El Paso Rock for under twenty-five dollars, thus getting a good selection from both phases of Bobby's career. Still, anyone with the financial wherewithal to do so should go with the Del-Fi boxes, as their lovingly reverent treatment of Bobby's music shows through in every detail.
Today it seems likely that Bobby will finally get his due as a great musician after years in near-obscurity, thought of by many simply as a one-hit wonder who died under freakishly bizarre circumstances, but Randy Fuller still remembers the years of bitter struggle and how it felt when Bobby died, and always will: "Put it this way, when you're a kid back in the 50's and you're seeing Elvis Presley…and all the girls screamin', you're sayin' that's what I want to do! And all the crap comes down at school and you end up with a bass guitar, playin' alongside your brother, and your whole dream is to get out of this hick town and go to California…and we get out here and this big English thing is happenin' and it seems like we'll never be able to do nothin'. We're playin' P.J.'s, but it's just workin' gigs like we did in El Paso. Then Bob Keane gets this new partner, who comes into the picture and tells us, "Tomorrow starting at such and such a time, they're gonna be playing 'Let Her Dance'…every hour on the hour. And we're drivin' down the freeway and that song comes on and man, it's like when I was ridin' down the street and heard Elvis Presley when I was seven years old and I wanted to be that. That's what it was like. The adrenaline flowed and the goosebumps popped up and man, it's just the greatest feelin' in the world…We're on our way. We're gonna be millionaires. We're doin' what we really wanna do. And then it's gone (snaps fingers) just like that."