This was written by Sonny Curtis, who was a member of The Crickets (Buddy Holly's group). The Crickets recorded it shortly after Buddy Holly's death in 1959 and released it on their 1960 album In Style With The Crickets. If Holly had lived, there's a good chance it would have been a huge hit for The Crickets.
Fuller was a popular singer/guitarist from El Paso, Texas, and he first recorded this song in 1964 where it was a regional hit in New Mexico and West Texas. The hit version was recorded in 1965 at his label Del-Fi Records, using the same group of musicians.
The song is about a guy who goes to jail after a robbery spree. The phrase "I fought the law" caught on, and has remained in the American lexicon ever since. Both the song and the saying have appeared in many movies, TV shows, video games and other commercial enterprises. It's also been parodied a great deal, notably by Bob Rivers on his track "I Fought The Lawn."
When they recorded this song, the Bobby Fuller Four was: Bobby Fuller on vocals and guitar), his brother Randy Fuller on bass and backup vocals (the raspy heavy voice), Jim Reese on guitar and Dewayne Quirico on drums. Jim Reese died October 26, 1991 in Lufkin, Texas after playing a round of golf - he had a heart attack as he was getting into his truck. Randy lives in Colton, California and Dewayne in Chicago.
Fuller was found dead in the front seat of his mother's car shortly after "I Fought The Law" became a national hit. His death was ruled a suicide, but there were signs of foul play and the investigation was tainted, leaving the circumstances of his death a mystery and rumors to run rampant. Rick Stone, who was a roadie for the Bobby Fuller Four and good friends with the band, told Songfacts: "My mom, Mary Stone, wrote music with Bobby at our home at 7420 Catalpa Lane in El Paso, Texas. Bobby did NOT have gas in his mouth when he was found in the car, but he did die of asphyxiation.
Bobby had I Fought The Law' released on his own label in El Paso two years earlier where it was a Top 10 Hit regionally. The original lyric was 'Robbin' people with a six gun,' but he would sing it as 'Zip Gun,' 'Shotgun' or 'Six Gun,' and joked about other guns when he sang it live.
Bobby's body was found in a vacant lot in his mother's car and four years later Janis Joplin would walk out of her apartment and purchase pure bad heroin on the street corner of that same vacant lot... then overdosed not more than 250 feet away from where Bobby died. They were born in the same general area of Southeast Texas four months apart - both traveled to Hollywood the same year and both left about the same time - they never knew each other as far as I know.
The song that should have made Bobby a star was 'Let Her Dance,' which was in The Fantastic Mr. Fox. 'A New Shade of Blue' was written by my mother - Bobby changed the melody a little and a line of lyrics. It was in Boys Don't Cry and Deadbeats."
Apart from Stephen McParland's book Bobby Fuller Four: Rock 'n' Roll Mustangs, Fuller hasn't gotten the biopic treatment given to many rockers who died before their time. There is an annual Border Legends of El Paso concert that honors Fuller and brings together many musicians who played with him. Rick Stone helps organize this event, and shared more of his memories about Fuller with us. Says Stone:
"'Let Her Dance' we all felt was BF4's best recording but Bob Keane (who ran Fuller's label Del-Fi Records) had leased the recording to Liberty and they let it die - didn't promote it. When we were on the east coast in the spring of 1966, all we heard were complaints about how bad Del-Fi was shipping the records out. DJ's didn't want to play 'Love's Made a Fool of You' because the kids couldn't find the singles to buy in any of the record stores!"
The Clash recorded this in 1979 after they heard Fuller's version on a jukebox. They made the song more bleak, changing the line, "I left my baby" to "I killed my baby." Their version got them noticed in America, where the song was released on July 26th, 1979, with "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais" as the B-side. The Clash played a live version at the Lyceum Theater, London on December 28, 1978, which is featured as the ending of Rude Boy, the 1980 film by Jack Hazan and David Mingay.
In the UK, the song was originally released in 1979 on the Clash EP, The Cost Of Living, which charted at #22. It was not until 1988, when their record company issued an actual single of the song, that it hit the UK singles chart, coming in at #29.
Other groups who covered this include Social Distortion and Green Day. In 2008 a novelty single by Oystar with the same title, based on this track peaked at #25 in the UK. It was a download-only not-for-profit single from fans of a financial website moneysavingexpert.com. They released it as part of their campaign against unfair bank charges for overdrafts.