Thinking About Bobby Fuller Tonight
A newsgroup that I’m in recently posed this question: What song would you use to illustrate what rock and roll is to someone who had never heard it or had no idea what it was? A question as daunting as it is irresistible.
Well, tonight my answer is Bobby Fuller’s version of “I Fought The Law.” I know for a lot of people rock and roll only flows from Liverpool by way of Memphis and the airwaves of Cleveland, but I say it’s everywhere. For me nothing compares to the time I was ten years old and saw my first live band at a roller rink. I’ve never recovered and I kept going back for the next few years each Saturday night that I could swing it. The Beatles only came to town once, but these bands playing their songs note for note were always around. To be honest, they were probably playing them better than the original bands after a while.
Getting back to Bobby Fuller, I love the photos and recordings of him and his band playing those West Coast clubs in the early and mid-sixties. The ones with the low stage, thick velvet curtain back drop and some radio station’s call letters hung above the band. The clubs were just large lounges trying to cash in on all of this “long hair music the kids were going for.” The shows look like a scene from any number of Elvis movies. The guys all look like extras in beach movie and the girls look like Nancy Sinatra. They may have some troubles, but they won’t last. It was every parents nightmare. The kids feel a freedom they could have only dreamed of a few years earlier.
It’s California, it’s the summer of 1966, the hottest day of July. Just look at him, he’s young and good looking, he’s smiling, he owns a Corvette, and has a guitar in his hand. He’s every American kid that ever got a guitar for Christmas. He’ll be dead tomorrow, but the night is still young, was made for lovers and has a thousand eyes. Between songs the girls all run over to him. He signs some 45’s for them and pockets a couple of phone numbers. He spikes his coke, steps out back for a cigarette with the drummer, shares a joke with a DJ, and checks out some of the cars the kids have driven to the show. Twenty minutes later he’s back up on that stage covering the Beatles or more Buddy Holly before closing with their “hit.” The kids file out into the still warm night air. Some can’t stop dancing. With their convertible tops down they can smell the salted sea breeze as they drive home and drop off friends one by one. Unlike Fuller life will still be a dream for most of them tomorrow.
Seeing real, non cover bands in person was years away for me so these local fraternity / cover bands / no-hit wonders were what I grew up on. That will always be rock and roll to me. Even today I would have to say that they tried harder than some of the groups I’ve paid good money to see over the years.
Again, I’m drifting. This song has it all: a guy, a girl, a crime committed to keep the girl and a moral to please the parents. It has a great rolling fade in and the lyrics are married to the melody perfectly. Thanks to him it’s still one of the best reasons to own a radio forty some years on. Each time I hear it I have to turn it up. It flies by like it’s moving from one radio to another. I hope mine’s next.