WHAT IMPRESSED ME THIS WEEK (Bobby Fuller on the Sunset Strip and John Ford at the OK Corral)

The Bobby Fuller Four–Celebrity Night at PJ’s (Recorded–1965, Initial Release Cancelled–1966, Officially Released–1997)

(Listening close for the first time in years. My original copy, included in the awe-inspiring 1997 box set The Bobby Fuller Four: Never To Be Forgotten, got away in the great CD sell-off of 2002 and was recently reacquired when the collector’s price that soared into the stratosphere during my period of indigence finally dropped back to earth. So….)

This is possibly the strangest recording ever made.

PJ’s was a Sunset Strip night club that had begun as a cool jazz venue in the early sixties and, as the decade progressed, transformed itself (at least part of the time) into a swingin’ dance club where the younger Hollywood set could go to Twist and Watusi (the sleeve for the album has photos of Fuller posed with Sally Field and Ann-Margret, not Twisting or Watusi-ing alas, but merely smiling professional smiles).

Bobby Fuller’s band had made their way to Los Angeles in the mid-sixties after slogging it out for years on the era’s West Texas equivalent of an indie circuit.

By dint of having become perhaps the best straight ahead rock and roll band in America (and it was an extremely competitive time!), they had fought their way to the top of the L.A. pack, releasing several singles that caught on in the local market and one (“Let Her Dance”) that nearly broke nationally, plus becoming a sort of quasi-house band at PJ’s itself, by then a top-of-the-line gig (the actual house band at the time was the Standells of “Dirty Water” fame, no mean straight ahead rock and roll outfit in their own right).

A month or two after the Bobby Fuller Four recorded this show, they would break all the way, when “I Fought the Law” reached the national Top Ten.

Six months after that, Fuller was found dead in his car.

The coroner checked “accident” and “suicide” on the cause-of-death form and put question marks next to both.

Perhaps not surprisingly, dozens of murder conspiracy rumors have circulated in the decades since, involving everyone from Frank Sinatra to Charles Manson to Elvis (who had Bobby snuffed in a dispute over a car, don’t you know–proving yet again that people didn’t start saying stupid stuff about Elvis just yesterday even if it seems like a lot of them were born then!…it’s all nicely chronicled in this set’s truly outstanding liner notes.)

There was no way for Fuller and his band to know fame and death were waiting in such short order when they played “Celebrity Night” on the Sunset Strip in December of 1965.

But they certainly sound like a band who could feel the world both opening up and closing down.

Hence the album’s mysterious and utterly unique pattern, which, with a single brief break for a ballad early on, plays out something like this for well over an hour:

The band storms through a ferocious piece of hard rock (beginning with the not-yet-a-hit “I Fought the Law,”) played exactly as though they were still trying to fight their way out of the gut-bucket beer-and-blood circuit back home, the kind of places where people are there to drink and dance and don’t much care who is providing the background noise.

Then they are met with a tepid round of Vegas-lounge style applause from a crowd who are clearly there to see and be seen and, well, don’t much care who is providing the background noise.

After the “applause” dies down, Bobby then says some version of “thank you very much ladies and gentleman,” sometimes with a little plug for the great life at PJ’s thrown in.

Then the band takes a deep, collective breath and plunges in again, harder and louder and faster than before.

Along the way, a curious kind of tension develops. The band seems to keep betting themselves that this time–THIS TIME!–they will pull it off. They will finally play loud enough, fast enough, tight enough, that the crowd will have to respond.

And each time the crowd does not.

So the band goes another round–cranks it up another notch.

And the crowd does not respond.

So the band goes another round–cranks it up another notch.

And the crowd does not respond.

So the band goes another round–cranks it up another notch.

And the crowd does not respond….


Not even once.

And the band does not stop pushing.

Not even once.

All the way to the end, where the evening is concluded with a thunderous medley of “Money/Shakedown” and is met by a crowd…that does not respond.

The planned live album was cancelled.

The reasons why have never been any clearer than the cause of Fuller’s death.

What is clear is that, on a night in December in 1965, the Bobby Fuller Four had every reason to believe they were as good as anybody on a planet that, just for starters, held the Beatles and the Stones and the Who and the Rascals and (just down the street) the Byrds, and no reason at all to suspect that the Oscar bait in the seats could tell them from the Rat Pack.

Bobby, wherever you are, I just want you to know….I’m leaning suicide.

The Bobby Fuller Four “Let Her Dance/Another Sad and Lonely Night” (Shivaree, before a somewhat more receptive audience)

The Bobby Fuller Four “Miserlou” (Live recording…However, NOT done at PJ’s, so who knows if it would have made the difference!)

My Darling Clementine, John Ford directing, Henry Fonda and Victor Mature starring, 1946.

I’ve seen the film many times. I was, however, newly impressed by the gunfight sequence.

Wisely, the sequence, like the rest of the film–also wisely–has little to do with any of the rather mundane and highly insignificant historical events that actually took place in Tombstone in the early 1880’s (though Ford may or may not have been duped, by Wyatt Earp himself, into thinking his portrayal of the gunfight, at least, was accurate).

But it does, oh-by-the-way, (the sequence, not the film, which contains multitudes) invent the essence of Sergio Leone in much the same way that the climactic sequences of Ford’s last two Will Rogers movies had once invented the essence of Preston Sturges.

Off-handedly as it were and without fanfare.

Just another reminder that, in art, there is the thing and there is the shadow of the thing.

Say what you will about him, Ford was always the thing.

Here’s the sequence:

Gunfight scenes from My Darling Clementine


6 thoughts on “WHAT IMPRESSED ME THIS WEEK (Bobby Fuller on the Sunset Strip and John Ford at the OK Corral)

  1. The gunfight sequence is almost balletic, and I’ve never seen Fonda exhibit such cat-like grace. I would not have thought he could do that, and at the same time appear so coldly competent. As you say, Leone used that and many things later on in his own way.

  2. It’s also interesting in that Ford so rarely extended these kinds of scenes. The showdown in Stagecoach is off-screen, in Wagonmaster its over in a matter of seconds. In the Man Who Shot LIberty Valance, it’s lengthy but only because Lee Marvin is toying with Jimmy Stewart. When the actuly shootout comes, it’s over in an instance (and turns out be be an illusion anyway!) It’s almost as if, with Clementine, Ford said, I’m gonna do this once and if anybody thinks they can do it better have at it. Nobody has, though Leone certainly made a career out of trying (and certainly did interesting and quirky things with it)…Great to hear from you btw….I really am going to get back to regular posting on Ford soon! Lots of ideas, no time! (lol)

  3. Yes, he had the most extraordinary confidence that what he showed (and chose to leave out) was exactly right for a scene. And that off-hand, seemingly casual and indirect manner of his is like catnip to me…it keeps me ever so fascinated in his movies. I look forward to more of your posts…I haven’t been feeling quite well enough to update my own site as much of late, though I try to add a bit here and there to the Facebook page. Happy Sunday…

  4. So right about the endless viewability…With Ford, I don’t feel like I’ve even seen one of his movies anymore until I’ve watched it at least three or four times and no matter how many times I watch his great ones (of which there are many) I always find new things that are actually relevant to character and themes, which is not something I can say about any other English language filmmaker (and there are many I love)…English, alas, being the only language in which I’m qualified to judge that sort of thing!

    I recently re-watched Hawks’ El Dorado, which is a big favorite of mine and there’s a scene where a waitress in a Mexican restaurant is just standing behind John Wayne and James Caan. She’s there for maybe thirty seconds, just standing, nothing else…And I thought “Ford would have had her doing something…and it would have been something that mattered.” So that’s what it’s come to–I’m having Ford direct everybody else’s pictures, too (lol). Thanks so much for your comments April and I hope you are feeling better soon!

  5. I firmly believe that one hasn’t seen a John Ford movie if they have only seen it once. Regardless of whether it impressed them or not, they still haven’t really seen it. I don’t think Welles exaggerated when he said he watched “Stagecoach” 40 times prior to making “Kane”. And I’m sure he saw something different every time (I’m also sure he would have reversed his initial conclusion about “The Searchers” with additional views). I often say he is a director who likes to “hide in plain sight” what is important to him, to his artistic vision. It is no wonder that real artists were usually on to his genius (if others were not) and every great director of his generation (and many afterward) had a nod for his abilities…some even being indebted to what he wrought.

    I love Hawks…simply hearing the voices of Wayne and Mitchum together is like listening to a gorgeous duet. I once had great fun watching Air Mail and Ceiling Zero and comparing the two, essentially the same stories but what was fascinating was the difference in tone and emphasis. In Hawks, the world never intrudes on the universe of his characters whereas it presses in on Ford’s, heavily.

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