Sound Check

"I Fought the Law" kept the band on the road for the rest of Fuller's life, playing stadiums, state fairs and roller rinks across the country. The band played New York, which Fuller hated; it played Los Angeles double bills with Dick Dale and the Del-Tones; and it made live recordings -- something almost unheard of at the time -- at PJ's, a popular L.A. club.

The Bobby Fuller Four's last Mustang session in '66 yielded the Motownlike "The Magic Touch" (on The Bobby Fuller Four), a departure from Fuller's style that depressed him, he complained, because it didn't have his West Texas sound. Future R&B star Barry White was working for Mustang at the time, and Fuller reportedly couldn't stand what he represented: the manipulation of sound beyond what a single person or live band could play. Fuller wanted the trickery to do only so much -- to augment him, not take his place. He was further aggrieved when "Magic Touch" started getting airplay and he couldn't duplicate it on-stage.

Late one night in July of that year, Fuller was at his Hollywood apartment drinking beer with friends when he said he was going out to buy acid from a prostitute he knew. His driver and roadie, Rick Stone, told Linna he was at the apartment when Fuller left; when Stone awoke the next morning, Fuller wasn't there and neither was the Oldsmobile Fuller drove. Later that afternoon, Stone returned to the apartment and saw police cars and a crowd around the Olds. Fuller's mother had found her son dead inside the car, bruised and doused with gasoline. He was 23.

A coroner's report stated Fuller had apparently drunk gasoline, suggesting it was a suicide. Bob Keane called that "ridiculous." To this day, however, no one has come up with a credible motive for a murder. And that's where we leave the facts of the Bobby Fuller story.

What does his work mean beyond one glorious single? It's difficult enough to argue that his meager recorded legacy is rootsy, even though his story, smelling of come and gasoline, is the quintessential rock and roll tale. In the end, it was synthetic music, especially as evidenced on Shakedown! -- a melange of styles he plucked from the air vibrating around him. But if it was synthetic in the derogatory sense, then the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and every Brit rocker who would soon rifle the American songbook made Bac-O-Bits look authentic.

In Kicks, Melody Patterson, the young actress who played Wrangler Jane on the TV series F Troop, recalled seeing the Bobby Fuller Four in a Sunset Strip club at the height of its fame, when she was 16.

"Bobby would kick into some of the wildest, hardest rock and roll that he and the band could produce," she wrote. "Deep pounding throbbing instrumentals you could feel all the way into your vagina!

"One of the big memories I'll keep until I get sloshed off to the old actors' home is of Bobby with his guitar slung across his back, a blue light on his face and a microphone in his hand. His clothes -- black slacks, white shirt -- stuck to him, transparent with sweat, while he crooned some slow sweet ballad. I swear to you he made eye contact with every babe in the joint, and every babe in the joint, including me, swore Bobby was singing that sweet song just for her.

"After the evening ended I was too pumped up to go home, so we went over to Ciro's to see this new group that was supposed to be pretty hot. They were called the Doors. They put me to sleep."

-- Robert Meyerowitz
(Shakedown! and The Bobby Fuller Four can be ordered from Del-Fi, (800) 99-DELFI or DEL-FI@primenet.com.)

***** Redwood roots
**** Live oak roots
*** Cedar roots
** Pine tree roots
* Bleached roots

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