Texas rocker Bobby Fuller is remembered for two things: his fantastic 1965 hit single ”I Fought The Law” and his mysterious death on July 18, 1966, where he was found dead inside a car in front of his Hollywood apartment, for no apparent reason. In the 52 years since, speculation has run the gamut from logical to absurd, ranging from accident to suicide to murder by a jealous Mafioso and even his record label as part of an insurance scam. Whatever the case may be, one fact remains: at 23 years old, he was way too talented and way too young for his fate. Magic Touch: The Complete Mustang Singles Collection compiles the records released during his brief and ill-fated final years as a Los Angeles-based recording artist.
The story of Bobby Fuller seemed predestined for a Hollywood movie: a teenager living in a remote West Texas town who fell in love with rock’n roll in its early years decided to become a leader of the rock scene, starting a teen dance night that soon led him to opening up a teen club, where he served as the house band, performing both covers and his own original material which he released via local independent labels, some of which he funded himself. His local popularity gave him regional success thanks to a song he recorded, ”I Fought the Law,” a melodic upbeat rocker about a teenage rebel who learned the hard way that crime doesn’t pay. He decided to relocate to Hollywood to find his big break, which he gets after meeting Bob Keane, a record label impresario, and when he releases a re-recorded version of his local hit, it becomes a massive success. Yet the idealistic small-town boy got mixed up in something he didn’t understand, he got involved with the wrong people in the corrupt city, and he wound up dead in the back of the car for possibly romancing the wrong woman, the girl of a local Mafia boss.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
As great as the tragic story is, the music is even better. Fuller might indeed be the first retro rock’n roll act, because by the time he signed to Mustang in 1964, the music he was producing was already seen as passé, thanks to the success of the Beatles and the British Invasion. His music was 50s–inspired rock with a little bit of rockabilly for safe measure, all jukebox joint reverb and slicked-back greaser hair. Fortunately, Keane was astute enough to realize that Fuller had something, but that it needed a little more contemporary flavor. His first two singles for the label were under the names Bobby Fuller And The Fanatics and The Shindigs, and while they showed great promise, they largely went unheard. His third single, “Take My World,” was the inaugural release of The Bobby Fuller Four, and it showed him in line not only with the sound of the Beatles, but also displays an awareness of his new hometown’s burgeoning folk rock scene, while the flip ”She’s My Girl” is a remake of one of his earlier sides. It was a local hit and a great start for the young band.
Keane must have sensed something in the air, as he sought the assistance of major label Liberty for their next single, “Let Her Dance.” It was an innovative sounding record, blending hey wall of sound style production with a Buddy Holly style vocal line. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a major hit, and the one off deal was quickly forgotten about. “Never To Be Forgotten” followed, repeating the same heavy production style, one that belied the band’s ability. Yet just a few short weeks later, everything would change. “I Fought The Law,” a re-recorded version of the earlier single that had been successful enough to lead him to come to Los Angeles in the first place, quickly rose to the Top Ten. It wasn’t a fluke, either; its b-side, “Little Annie Lou,” was an absolutely insane rocker, one that closes the gap between the Little Richard hit “Lucille” and the Beatles’ “Birthday.”
“I Fought The Law” had been written by Buddy Holly associate Sonny Curtis, which probably explains why they opted for the follow up to be a Holly cover. “Love’s Made A Fool Of You” was an obscure number in the Holly catalog, yet it is clear that Curtis borrowed its melody for his own song, and though the band tackle it masterfully, it’s not hard to notice the similarities, leading one to think they were simply trying to re-create the success of its predecessor. The b-side, “Don’t Ever Let Me Know,” is a more down-tempo number, fine on its own merits but not suitable as a follow-up to such an energetic smash hit.
Sadly, Fuller would not get the opportunity to fully show me world what he could do. “The Magic Touch” would be his last single, and much like the cause of his death, it ends his career with a question mark, leaving fans and historians wondering what was going to happen next. It sounds unlike anything he had done before; it is a soulful rocker that could have easily been a Motown release, and it’s not hard to imagine Diana Ross or Levi Stubbs singing it. It’s a most interesting proposition to wonder where he was going with his music, but sadly that came to an end one hot summer night.
After his death, his brother Randy stepped into the leadership role with the intentions of keeping the band alive, and though he was a good vocalist, it just wasn’t the same band. “It’s Love, Come What May,” a song Bobby had been working on was reworked with new vocals, but it did not chart, and a single that was slated to be released as the Randy Fuller Four was rightfully canceled, as the material was inferior at best. Thus the chapter was closed on Bobby Fuller, and his brief career and talent overshadowed by the circumstances regarding his death. Magic Touch: The Complete Mustang Singles Collection is a fantastic document that shows he was much more than a one hit wonder or an unsolved mystery.
Interesting post. Nicely written. I recently did a post about Bobby Fuller. I have long been a fan, though I was only a year old when I Fought The Law charted. I’m from El Paso so there’s that, too. My understanding is the Bobby Fuller hated The Magic Touch; he was not a Motown fan. And though Let Her Dance does have that “wall of sound” production quality, Fuller did like that either. He had the opportunity to work with Phil Spector but turned it down. He was a purist. I personally love A New Shade of Blue. It’s a gorgeous record, I think.