Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Bob Fuller Four
I Fought The Law


Released 1963 on Exeter Records, Texas
Reviewed by archpanzie, 06/07/2001ce


I Fought The Law – The Bob Fuller Four. Exeter Records. Texas. 1963.

In 1958 the Crickets split with Buddy Holly, various line up changes saw guitarist Nikki Sullivan being replaced by the multi instrumentalist Sonny Curtis. Curtis then went on to write a series of rock n roll benchmarks – More Than I Can Say, Baby My Heart, Walk Right Back (for the Everly Brothers.) and continues to this day to be one of country music’s most respected millionaire songwriter/producers.
Tucked away on side two of their 1960 Coral LP In Style With The Crickets is one of rock & rolls most enduring crossover tracks. I Fought The Law. Covers versions by Bob Fuller, Sam Neely, The Clash, Tom Petty & the Pogues kept the song alive. The original lollops along more charming than menacing. Jerry Allison clatters his drums. The Curtis picked guitar riffing dominates. It’s short, subtle, but you KNOW it’s a classic.

I had the good fortune to mix the sound for Sonny Curtis in the late 80’s when he toured his solo acoustic show. He was a good-humoured man with expensive boots. About the movie The Buddy Holly story with Gary Busey he said “ too many mountains, there ain’t no mountains in Lubbock”. During the show Curtis played I Fought The Law on acoustic guitar. On the solo he detuned the guitar up and down without missing a beat or harmony then smiled that his four-chord wonder could still provoke SUCH a reaction.
When asked about I Fought The Law he said the version by The Clash had paid for a house extension, his favourite version was Bob Fuller’s, they were neighbours in Texas and some bad people had put paid to Fuller’s career…and “yes, we did carry Zip guns”.

Drummer Bobby Fuller and brother Randy formed Bob Fuller & the Fanatics in the early 60’s. With Tony Curtis good looks, sharp clothes and a rocked up Texas dance style they attracted a growing audience. Texas in the early 60’s was a potent mix of traditional country and garage acid. Classics from the 50’s were being re-recorded fuelled up and set loose on a young audience keen to reject traditional values and buy into the vicarious youth culture that was creeping into the Texas norm.
Bobby went to California and was blown away by the burgeoning surf music sound. On returning to Texas he incorporated the surf sound into the Fanatics, giving birth to the Bob Fuller Four.
The sound was a mix of Texas standards, Brit pop-Hollies/Beatles, Surf harmonies coupled with an amphetamine dance beat and an ever-increasing guitar clatter. In short a HIT.
Fuller in visionary or businessman mode realised the Crickets classic I Fought The Law was a cherry waiting to be picked. In 1963 local label Exeter Records released I Fought The Law, it was an immediate hit on Texas radio. Their 1965 top ten hit with a re-recorded version of I Fought The Law took the Fuller Brothers out of the El Paso Texas music scene and established them as a top ten national act.
They went on to release seven singles & two Lps KRLA KING OF THE WHEELS and I FOUGHT THE LAW between 1963 & 1966.
Bobby Fuller was murdered in June 1966. The motive was unclear, local gangsters? Bad debts? Whatever? Fuller’s body was found in his car. Forced to drink gasoline he’d been abandoned & left to die.

The 1963 Exeter release is purity perfected in two minutes 15 seconds. My all time favourite record. First bought in 1978 as a Trip Oldies re-release coupled with Pushing Too Hard by the SEEDS. The Clash had been playing it on their Tour but failed to release their own version until Election Day May 1979. (Thatcher got in.) It took the cute hippy chick in Virgin records about half an hour to find it in the rack. It was an import & cost a massive £1.50.
From the opening mono drum clatter it shifts into a winning pattern so basic they used it for the next three years. The beat does a six-gun stutter every now and then but stays on track throughout. The inflatable electric bass is pumping like a steer about to inseminate the herd. The unique Texas reverb sound drapes everything like some mystic peyote fog. The guitar chops, fading in and out. It’s Buddy Holly on mescaline with the Jordanaires doing surf harmonies. The icing on the cake is Fullers Vocal tear when he whines, “ I left my baby and it feels so bad”. It’s Hank Williams back from the grave, he’s pissed and he’s got a gun. The guitar solo a collection of on the beat chords is a rejection of expected musicality. They do it twice just to prove a point. Speed, Speed, faster, faster, always faster…

You can put this record in any situation and it won’t let you down. Twenty-three years on and it still sends shivers through me with its speed whisky intent. It’s so fast it’s come and gone and you’ve got to play it again, and again. It’s two minutes of optimistic fatalism, angst and intent side by side.
It’s the best they ever got. Nothing else in the set or on the LPs matches this moment.
Slightly more than one hit wonders but not “out there” enough to sit alongside true Texas vision like the 13th Floor Elevators or Butch Hancock.
In the late 70’s on the liner notes of a bootleg Lp even Lou Reed conceded he’d swiped a lot of his guitar style from this riff.
It’s a rare moment of uncluttered pop rock angst propping up the consciousness of every rebel without a cause who ever took a line, then crossed a line.


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