Born on 22 October 1942, Bobby Fuller was just another struggling rock ‘n’ roller until he recorded I Fought The Law (composed by Sonny Curtis – the original guitar player with Buddy Holly & The Crickets).
Fuller formed his own band in Texas and cut a handful of singles for small local labels, including an earlier stab at I Fought The Law.
Fuller and his band, The Bobby Fuller Four, headed West to Hollywood in late 1964 in a last-ditch attempt to hit the big time. They would eventually succeed – but at one hell of a price.
Unbeknownst to Fuller, his manager had attracted the interest of the kind of business partner used to dealing in concrete boots and making offers that disc jockeys couldn’t refuse.
On the plus side, this meant unlimited airplay from radio stations who’d been severely compromised either financially or under threat of waking up with a severed nag’s head on their pillow.
The downside, however, was that the group were being fleeced out of their rightful earnings.
So when I Fought The Law smashed into the US Top 10, Fuller studied his bank balance, did his sums, and demanded a management showdown.
A date was arranged for 18 July 1966 at their record company headquarters. The band duly turned up on time. All except Bobby himself that is.
They phoned him, but to no avail. They waited one hour, then two. Then they lost their patience and decided to call at his apartment on Sunset Strip, Hollywood.
Just as they arrived, Bobby’s mother Lorraine was collecting that day’s post from the mailbox outside when she spotted that her son’s car – missing since the early hours of the morning – had returned. It looked as if someone was sitting inside. She hurried over and opened the unlocked driver’s door. Indeed there was . . .
It was Bobby Fuller. He was battered and bruised. One of his fingers had been bent right back out of its socket. His hair and clothes were sodden with gasoline. And he was stone dead.
The coroner of the Los Angeles Police Department concurred that Fuller had died of gasoline asphyxiation. The final verdict? This 23-year-old budding rock idol on the cusp of international success had “committed suicide”. Assumedly by beating himself up, breaking his own fingers then dousing himself in petrol?
The verdict was later amended to ‘accidental death’.
Not surprisingly, his bandmates suspected mob back-handers and a dodgy police cover-up – a Hollywood police officer had, for some inexplicable reason, destroyed crucial evidence at the scene (such as the gasoline canister).
But they were too helpless and more than a little scared to fight the authorities themselves. Bobby’s brother Randy continued to try and uncover the truth – including appearing on NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries – but to no avail.
So the law won after all . . .