The Clash, The Stray Cats, Bobby Fuller : I Fought The Law

‘I wrote it in my living room in West Texas ones sandstormy afternoon. It took me about 20 minutes’ (Sonny Curtis)

West Texas is wide open.

When the wind blows, and it blows a lot, sand storms swirl.

After February 3rd 1959 there was another sound in the swirling sandy wind.

The sound of a Ghost – the Ghost of Buddy Holly.

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Buddy Holly’s music woke deep passions and ambitions in a Minnesota kid who locked eyes with him in one of the last concerts he ever played.

Buddy Holly’s music woke deep passions and ambitions in two Liverpool teenagers who wanted to write and play their own songs and have a group just like The Crickets.

Buddy was the greatest Rock ‘n’ Roller ever to come out of Texas and though his sound echoes all over the world it’s in Texas that his Ghost speaks loudest.

Speaking in the song of the hot sun and the West Texas Wind.

Sonny Curtis knew Buddy well.

He had played with him and recorded with him.

So, when the plane went down that tragic day it seemed natural for The Crickets to turn to Sonny as a new Cricket and songwriter.

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The first post Buddy Crickets album, ‘In Style’ was recorded in New York in 1959 and issued the following year.

Driving up to the Big Apple Jerry Mauldin and Jerry Allison asked Sonny if he had any songs for the new record.

Well .. I got this song, ‘I Fought the Law’ – I wrote last year, ain’t even written it down, kind of a country song, goes like this:

A-breaking rocks in the hot sun
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won
I miss my baby and a good fun
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won
I left my baby and I feel so bad
Guess my race is run
She’s the best girl that I’ve ever had
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won
A-robbin’ people with the zip gun
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won
I needed money ’cause I had none
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won
I left my baby and I feel so bad
Guess my race is run
She’s the best girl that I’ve ever had
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won.

 

Wow! They could all tell this was some song.

A bad boy who ain’t so bad.

The best girl he he ever had.

An armed robbery that goes wrong.

The inexorable reach of the law.

But, not as a country ballad.

No, this needed some of that Buddy bounce.

Bright guitars, rock ‘n’ roll drums, a bright clear vocal (Earl Sinks would take care of that) and a killer chorus.

Put all that together and you’ve got a hell of a record.

 

 

And, it was a hell of a record.

It’s just that in 1960 the great record buying public in all its wisdom wasn’t listening closely to The Crickets anymore and neither were the radio programmers.

So, no hit for The Crickets and no royalties for Sonny Curtis.

Yet, as Jukeboxers know, a true message always gets through – it’s just a matter of how long it takes.

There is, of course, another audience for Songs.

An audience that hears things the public don’t always cotton onto straight away.

The audience of other songwriters and performers who hear a song and think – I know just how to do this one and really make it come alive.

So in 1962 Milwaukee’s Paul Stefan with The Royal Lancers issued a charming, if underpowered, version on Citation Records which won local approval.

A couple of years later Sammy Masters on Kapp recorded it Western recitation style.

Sonny still didn’t really have any royalties to bank but the message was rising above a whisper now.

And, the message was heard loudest and clearest of all by Bobby Fuller under the hot sun back in El Paso Texas.

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Bobby was a natural rocker who loved the sheer sound of guitars turned up high supported by a driving beat and vocals that grabbed your attention from the get go and never let up.

And, Bobby likes to experiment in his basement – layering the instrumental and vocal sound until it rang out like lightning.

Bobby’s sharp ears heard, ‘I Fought the Law’ and he got to work.

He produced a demo, in 1964, that would lay the template for his monster hit of 1966 (the subsequent 1964 45 put out on his own Exeter label was a hit in the El Paso area but to my mind it is flatter, less resonant than the wonderful demo below).

it’s obvious that Bobby has been listening to the likes of The Ventures and Dick Dale as well as good old Buddy.

Now El Paso knew just how great a song this was.

All the elements of a classic were now in place.

What Bobby and the song needed now was a more punchy recording in a better studio along with national distribution and publicity.

Enter Bob Keane of Del Fi and Mustang Records who had lost his brightest star, Ritchie Valens, in the same crash that took away Buddy.

Setting up in Los Angeles Bobby, brother Randy (bass) Jim Reese (guitar) and DeWayne Quirico on drums laid down an all time rock ‘n’ roll classic that has the drive of the 50s forefathers with added 60s colour and brightness.

This one takes off like a dragster and smashes through the winning tape still accelerating.

Once this one got heard on the radio there was no stopping it and by mid March 1966 it was a top 10 hit.

 

 

I make that 132 seconds of Rock ‘n Roll bliss!

Sheer Bliss.

Of course, I can’t think of a occasion I’ve put this on my turntable and played it only once!

Eight years after that sandstormy day, at last, the royalties began to flow for Sonny Curtis.

A true message always gets through.

Always.

Now, you would think such a triumph would presage a stellar future for Bobby – especially as he was such a clued up musician, strong vocalist and a brilliant live performer.

However, those dreams died, in very dubious circumstances indeed, when in July 1966 Bobby was found, asphyxiated and doused in petrol in his car.

The official verdict was suicide.

It seems highly likely that it was malign forces, outside the Law, who took Bobby’s life away and shattered a very promising career.

Time moved on and music went through many phases.

British Beat. Folk Rock. Pyschedelia, Country Rock, Prog Rock, Glam Rock.

By the mid 70s in London a new generation of musicians and incendiary would be musicians intuited that it was time to get back to basics and hit the stage at a hundred miles and hour and let the audience catch up if they could.

Punk Rock was a two fingered salute to the worthy, corporate, Rock establishment.

Get out of the way!

Move it on over!

A new Gang’s in Town.

And, pogoing furiously in clubs all over London, it seemed to me that the coolest Gang and the one which truly understood the essence of real Rock ‘n Roll was The Clash.

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Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon.

Joe and Mick took a trip to San Francisco in mid 78 to work on the second Clash album, ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’.

The Automatt Studio was furnished with vintage Jukeboxes and the record the needle dropped on the most for Joe and Mick was none other than Bobby Fuller’s I Fought The Law.

A true message always gets through.

I Fought the Law, in July 1979, would be the first Clash single issued in America and their first track to gain significant radio AirPlay.

This is truly a magnificent racket!

This one uses premium rocket fuel.

Best to strap yourself in before hitting the play button here!

 

I imagine it never occurred to Sonny that a bunch of West London Bad Boys would really whip up a Wild West Texas Typhoon on that song he wrote 21 years before!

Nor, that a bunch of American Rebels, The Stray Cats, would find their feet in London perfecting a raunchy Rockabilly attack that could ensure any song they took on would leave earth’s gravity in a single bound.

Brian Setzer, Lee Rocker and Slim Jim Phantom palyed with such sheer Joy in their live shows.

Whenever they played near me I was at the head of the queue and ready to elbow my way to my preferred front row centre stage spot!

The message still gets through.

 

 

Oh yes.

The message still gets through.

Crosing Continents and Oceans.

Vaulting Mountains.

Wherever there’s a bunch of musicians who need to ride the whirlwind the message gets through.

It came through on a clear channel to Mano Negra who fell on it like ravenous wolves howling at The Moon.

Ojo! Ojo! Ojo!

This Train ain’t gonna stop – stand well clear or you’ll get your head blown clean off!

 

 

And, if you’ve got your head blown off the least you can do is dance until the rest of your body runs out of blood to pump.

So, to conclude lets rock the joint with two scorching live takes on I Fought the Law.

First off The Clash flash flooding the senses.

Now, the man who put his stamp all over this song for all eternity – Bobby Fuller (dig those groovy dancers all you hep cats and kittens!).

 

One last word of advice to all you Bad Boys and Bad Girls out there – forget going robbing with a Zip Gun, a Six Gun or a Shotgun.

If you fight the law you’ll find the law wins.

No, get yourself a six string and crank it up to 11 and sing with all your heart for Sonny Curtis and Bobby Fuller:

I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won.

I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won.

Notes :

Other versions of I Fought the Law I approve of you might care to check out :

Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Nanci Griffith with The Crickets, John Mellancamp, Mike Ness, The Grateful Dead.

Bobby Fuller – His tragic death was a great loss to music.

In many ways he’s the musical bridge between Buddy Holly and John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

I have two Box Sets ‘Never To Be Forgotten’ from Del Fi and ‘Texas Tapes Revisited’ – both crammed with rocking gems.

Sonny Curtis – Though I Fought the Law is his most valuable copyrighted Song Sonny has penned several other significant Songs including, ‘Walk Right Back’ for The Everly Brothers.

 

 

69 thoughts on “The Clash, The Stray Cats, Bobby Fuller : I Fought The Law

  1. Another treat, Thom.
    1979 – Midnight, hot night, windows open, The Clash, full blast
    2018 – 6.30 pm, close the windows, headphones on because well, you know, got to think of the neighbours.

    I never saw the Clash perform live. My wife did and often (way too often) tells me about the night she met them in a Camden Town pub & how great they were etc etc. So when I first discovered the Bobby Fuller Four video on YouTube I couldn’t resist showing it to her and saying ‘THIS is how you do it’ No offence to the Clash or any of the others (all great, then again it’s hard not to be good with a song like this) but that version is the runway winner to my mind.

    I couldn’t convince my wife though. She muttered something about ‘ogling,’ ‘go-go girls’ & ‘pervert’ before saying ‘Did I ever tell you about the time I met the Clash in Camden Town….’

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Man did you put the work into this one. Had never heard the Crickets original. Did it ever sound good. Like a time capsule for CB. Great tune. I remember seeing the Clash back when ‘Rope’ came out . I ways thought they were a great rock n roll band. Their version proves that. Good work Thom. Top notch piece.

    Liked by 2 people

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