Never to Be Forgotten
The Bobby Fuller Four
El Paso Rock, Vol. 2
Bobby Fuller's less a legend and more a one-hit wonder, a man who scored a single Top 10 hit in 1966--"I Fought the Law"--then, shortly after, died a mysterious death unsolved to this day. Fuller was discovered by his mother in the front seat of her Oldsmobile, which had been stashed in his Hollywood garage; the body, stiff for hours, had been beaten and bruised and soaked in gasoline. The Los Angeles coroner's office ruled his death a suicide, though it could have been anything from a jealous mobster's revenge to an LSD accident gone awry. Either way, Fuller died at the age of 23, an El Paso boy gone to Hollywood who tasted fame and swallowed gasoline.
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Fuller never became much of a rock and roll hero after his death; perhaps it didn't help that his sole hit, later turned into a punk anthem by the Clash, wasn't even his own. It had been written by fellow Texan and former Buddy Holly sideman Sonny Curtis and performed by the Crickets four years before Fuller got around to it. Fuller wrote plenty of his own songs, many collected on Del-Fi's three-disc box Never to Be Forgotten, but in the end, he's known--if at all--for making a hit out of someone else's song.
If Buddy Holly is a chapter in rock and roll's history book, then Fuller is that chapter's footnote: Fuller appropriated the Lubbock native's rock and roll and tried to make it his own, coating even the most rebellious anthem in sugar and honey. Listen to Fuller's "I Fought the Law," and there's no way you could ever believe this guy's been breaking rocks in the hot sun. His hands are soft, his voice sweet, his delivery deliberate. Joe Strummer's vocals hinted at violence--"Rrrrrrrobbin' people with a six-gun"--until you believed he was telling the tale in the first-person, recounting yesterday's crime spree. Fuller sounded like a man telling someone else's story.
Perhaps Fuller never lived past these collected singles because he was nothing more than a talented disciple, someone who so adored the Everly Brothers and Holly and a host of surf-rock bands that he decided to make a career imitating his heroes' every move. The Norton collection, El Paso Rock, Vol. 2, proves that Fuller's group was a damned fine bar band, but not much more; their versions of "Peggy Sue," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," "Not Fade Away," and "Miserlou" are echoes of the originals. As relics, every Fuller song holds up remarkably well, but as revelations, they make you wonder what might have happened if Fuller had lived to find his own voice.