King Bobby

Bobby Fuller billed himself "The Rock & Roll King of the Southwest." His reign was short. He dropped acid, died young and left behind some of the wildest rock guitar ever.

"I Fought the Law" kept the band on the road for the rest of Fuller's life, playing stadiums, state fairs and roller rinks from Phoenix to Las Vegas. The band played New York, which Fuller hated; it played L.A. 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.

In Kicks, Melody Patterson, the young blond 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 & roll that he & the band could produce," she writes. "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 them.

"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."

The BF4's last Mustang session in '66 yielded the Motownlike "The Magic Touch," 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 onstage.

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, bruised and doused with gasoline. He was 23.

A coroner's report stated he 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 Fuller's murder. A recent episode of Unsolved Mysteries suggested he died of a drug overdose at a beach party; Linna, who is working on a Fuller biography, calls that ludicrous--how, then, did his body end up battered, and in the car? 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 'n' roll tale. In the end, it was synthetic music, especially as evidenced on Shakedown! and El Paso Rock Vol. 1--a melange of styles he plucked from the air that vibrated around him. But if it was synthetic in the derogatory sense, then the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and every Brit glam rocker who would soon rifle the American songbook and thrill the little girls in El Paso made Bac-O-Bits look authentic.

In his El Paso bedroom, Bobby Fuller scribbled lyrics about beach parties he'd never seen; his themes, like those of Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson, who did not surf and was afraid of the water, are fables. Still, they wormed themselves into the burgeoning American consciousness until almost every teenage boy believed he'd spent at least one afternoon twisting in the sand with Annette Funicello or running from the cops. You could say the acid killed Fuller, but if, when success finally came and it wasn't enough, he retreated into a different kind of vision, he was only doing what this country's great minstrels had often done; in the end, it's all moonshine. Already disaffected, with images of beach bunnies and outlaws collapsing in his mind, it's hard to see how Fuller would have squinted through the rest of the '60s anyway. Maybe that's just as well. Had he lived to hear the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds"--a song dripping with irony--he would have been disgusted.

At the height of its brief fame, the Bobby Fuller Four appeared in a quickie beach movie, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. Arriving at the set, Fuller was desolated to find that he was obligated to lip-synch someone else's song. Yet in a way, Bobby Fuller was the ghost in the invisible bikini. And his contrivance, ambition and guts may be as close as we'll get to the source of all great popular art.

Most of Bobby Fuller's Mustang recordings are available on Del-Fi's I Fought the Law and KRLA--King of the Wheels (1-800-99-DELFI or Kicks #6, the issue of Miriam Linna's magazine with the Bobby Fuller story, is available for $7 from Norton Records, 1-718-789-4438.

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