Celebrating a Disturbing New Bio, Bobby Fuller's Band Rocks Burbank

bobby fuller book cover P

The sold-out crowd dancing to Chris Montez, the Randy Fuller 4, and The Outta Sites at Joe's American Bar & Grill in Burbank on March 7 did the Stomp, the Wobble and the Watusi too, while some of them were wondering who killed garage-rock genius Bobby Fuller in 1966, soon after his irresistible "I Fought the Law" hit the Top 10.

Was it the mafia? Was it Charles Manson? Or did Fuller, 23, take LSD from a mysterious, mob-employed woman named Melody (possibly a hooker), causing a trip in which Bobby thought it would be good to soak himself with gasoline inside a hot car until he asphyxiated a block from Grauman's Chinese Theatre and right outside his mom's house?

Bobby's brother and bandmate Randy Fuller raises each of these possibilities in the new book I Fought the Law: The Life and Strange Death of Bobby Fuller, (Kicks Books, $16.50), by ex-Cramps guitarist and Norton Records owner/archivist Miriam Linna and Randell Fuller. Both Fuller and Linna went from the book's Mar. 7 launch party at Hollywood's La Luz de Jesus Gallery straight to Joe's in Burbank.

Onstage, Randy Fuller and the other BF4 survivor, drummer Dewayne Quirico, demonstrated why their band has been described as "Buddy Holly with balls." Arguably Eddie Cochran's balls. Besides giving their cover of "I Fought the Law," originally an obscure Crickets B-side, a startling hook ("Robbin' people with a — Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! — sixgun"), Fuller naughtily got away with singing the line, "I miss my baby and a good f—." Probably most of the dancers at Joe's thought the line went, "good fun," which they were evidently having.

The other two acts on the bill had fun, too. "God bless America! I haven't sung these songs in a long time," said a grinning Chris Montez, who toured England with the newborn Beatles as his opening act in 1963. Youthfully mop-topped at 72, Montez nailed his 1963 hit, "Let's Dance," his idol Richie Valens' "La Bamba," and tunes from his garage-rock days, before Herb Alpert gave Montez a lucrative Astrud Gilberto makeover. "The last time I played a place like this I was 17 with fake ID," said Montez, just back from a jet-lagged trip to Spain, happily.

As the respectively blonde and brunette Outta Sites go-go dancers, Suzy Stevens and Dinah DeRosa flailed their fringed outfits. Singer and two-neck-guitar master Deke Dickerson hailed them as "our own Betty and Veronica," and boasted, "We're charging $15 — if you were seeing this show at House of Blues, you'd pay $60 and give $15 to Ticketmaster."

Dickerson helped The Outta Sites (Chris "Sugarballs" Sprague, Jason "Mongoose" Eoff, and Pete Curry) behave as if it were still 1965, only with irony as well as innocent pre-psychedelia energy. In their own set, they played two songs, each with the words "shake," "shout," and "go" in the titles. Then they switched it up to back the Randy Fuller 4 and Montez. Their rockabilly verve (also evident in Sprague and Curry's other band, the Grammy-nominated Los Straitjackets) helped drive the retro-riffic beat of the three-set show.

Even so, despite all the movin' and groovin', the rockabilly- and surf-music-inflected evening had an obbligato of sorrow, thanks to I Fought the Law's ghastly subtext. It sure looks like Bobby Fuller's death was not suicide, as cops concluded — who douses himself with gas and waits to die? Why was his finger bent way back? Why would he kill himself right by his mom's house — in his mom's car — and not leave a suicide note?

I Fought the Law doesn't straightforwardly answer these questions. It is rambling and vague, with more tantalizing leads than smoking guns. Linna is a terrific pop scholar who desperately needs an editor. The book obliquely suggests that the notion that Manson killed Fuller is a dead end, even though two people in the BF4's inner circle say that the killer tried to get Bobby Fuller and guitarist Jim Reese to give him lessons (and Manson went helter skelter because he couldn't get a record deal). Also, BF4 member DeWayne Quirico gave mobbed-up singer Frank Sinatra's girl Mia Farrow her first drum lessons.

Manson did get two people who figure in the Bobby Fuller story killed: Jay Sebring, the band's hairdresser, who refused to let them get a Beatles cut, and Sebring's then-girlfriend Sharon Tate, who happened to go to high school with the mother of one of Bobby's illegitimate kids. But these seem mere coincidences.

More likely, the book hints, Bobby's death could be somehow mixed up with the guy he made a music rights deal with: top music man and mobster pal Morris Levy. In his more straightforward memoir Me, the Mob, and the Music, Tommy James says Levy threatened to disembowel him for asking for $40 million in missing royalties, and also threatened to rip off Little Richard's face. Several Levy associates died violently, their cases unsolved. Though Levy had a kindly side — he may have saved James' life by sending him to Nashville during New York's Genovese-Gambino war — James says Levy regularly terrorized people with baseball bats, gasoline and matches. He is said to have helped inspire The Sopranos character Hesh Rabkin, while his pal Fat Tony Salerno helped inspire Tony Soprano.

I Fought the Law also casts some shade on Bob Keane, who discovered both Richie Valens (Joe Pantoliano played Keane in the biopic La Bamba) and Bobby Fuller, and recorded them on his Del-Fi label. Fuller hated the direction Keane was taking his music, and cheesy gigs like the BF4's appearance in the film The Ghost In The Invisible Bikini, with Nancy Sinatra, Boris Karloff, and Basil Rathbone. Fuller died the day he had intended to quit his band, break his record contract, and go solo, which could have upset Keane. "I hated [Keane] the minute I met him," says Dewayne's wife Joyce Quirico, an ex-dancer from the Pussycat a Go Go who knew everyone, including Bobby's constant friend the mysterious maybe-hooker Melody. "[Keane] shook my hand, and I wanted to peel my skin off and soak it in acid. Nothing that came out of his mouth was the truth."

So did Bobby Fuller fight the lawless and the lawless won? We may never know. However, his work will live on, and you can hear "I Fought the Law" everywhere from The Clash's cover to M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" to Green Day's cover of the tune in their Super Bowl Pepsi commercial. To quote the title of one of the BF4 hits that rocked Joe's Bar & Grill, he's "Never to Be Forgotten."