Bobby Fuller worshipped at the altar of fellow West Texan Buddy Holly. Like his idol, his life would be tragically brief. Unlike Buddy Holly, we still don’t really know what claimed the life of the young Fuller at the height of his short career.
As a boy in El Paso, Bobby Fuller was transfixed by the explosive new sound of Rock and Roll. He was pulled into the considerable orbit commanded by Elvis Presley and soon found himself utterly addicted. As teenagers, Bobby and his brother Randy started a band and presided over a constantly shifting roster of players. They managed to land a few homemade recordings on local and independent labels.
By 1964, Bobby and Randy had established a stable lineup. Dubbed the Bobby Fuller Four, the band struck out for Los Angeles, where they were quickly rewarded with a contract on Mustang Records. Offering a hybrid of rockabilly, surf and Tex-Mex, the Bobby Fuller Four broke through with the original composition “Let Her Dance.”
Though it was a Top 40 hit, it was their next release, a cover of post-Buddy Holly Cricket Sonny Curtis’s “I Fought the Law,” that would catapult the quartet to greater fame. The recording scored the band a #9 Billboard hit in 1966 and became nothing less than a rock and roll standard. For a brief moment, the Bobby Fuller Four was on top of the world.
The band would subsequently 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 slightly less-than-classic but awesomely titled haunted pool party film, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini.
Sadly, these would be Bobby Fuller’s last contributions to the world. “I Fought the Law” peaked on the charts in March of 1966. In mid-July, the singer was found dead in a parked car outside his Hollywood apartment. There was no sign of violence or struggle but official investigators at the scene were never able to determine for certain what had occurred. It appeared as though Fuller had orally 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.
These question marks remain a defining part of the case. Since Fuller’s sudden death at age 23 (just one year older than Holly at the time of his death in 1959), many theories have been posited. Among them, those who knew Fuller best believed it to be murder. According to his road manager, Rick Stone, the last night that Bobby was alive, he had confided in him that he intended to break up the band to escape contract with their manager Bob Keane.
Brother Russell adds another shred of consideration to the case, acknowledging that Keane was involved with some less-than-savory characters. He notes that Bobby was himself aware of the possibility that mob support had played a part in his rapid rise to success. There is also some speculation that Bobby made romantic contact with a woman named Melody during the last week of his life and that she was in a relationship with a notable Mafia figure. His killing may have been the work of a jealous gangster.
There is even a remarkable theory that says Bobby gifted a tab of acid to Nancy Sinatra during their film shoot which subsequently caused her to experience a bad trip. This gives legs to the theory that mobsters were responsible for rubbing out Mr. Fuller as a favor to their buddy Frank Sinatra on behalf of his tripping-balls daughter.
Unfortunately, these and all other theories amount to mere speculation. Too many questions remain unanswered. But few who knew him or who were in his company near the time of his death accept the official version of events.