Song of the Day: I Fought the Law by Sonny Curtis (cover by the Bobby Fuller Four)

I Fought the Law” is a song written by Sonny Curtis of the Crickets and became popularized by a cover by the Bobby Fuller Four, which went on to become a top-ten hit for the band in 1966 and was also recorded by the Clash in 1979. The Bobby Fuller Four version of this song was ranked No. 175 on the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2004, and the same year was named one of the 500 “Songs that Shaped Rock” by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


I’m breakin’ rocks in the hot sun
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 sad
I guess my race is run
But she’s the best girl I’ve ever had
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won

Robbin’ people with a six-gun
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won

I miss my baby and the 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 sad
I guess my race is run
But she’s the best girl I’ve ever had
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won


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, tells us: “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 4 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 They released it as part of their campaign against unfair bank charges for overdrafts.

The John Mellencamp hit “Authority Song” was inspired by this.


Original by the Crickets

Cover by the Clash

Other versions

Sam Neely’s version of the song went to No. 54 on the Billboard pop charts and no. 61 on the country charts in 1975. Hank Williams Jr. had a No. 15 country hit with the song in 1978 and another country version by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band went to No. 66 in 1992.

The song has also been performed, both in concert and on record, by the Dead Kennedys who did a version with lyrics re-written about the Moscone-Milk assassinations. Dave Courtney, the London gangster, sang alongside Scottish pop-punks Mute, fronted by Jay Burnett, who wrote an updated version with lyrics based on Dave’s legendary court case. Both this and the Dead Kennedys’ version are titled “I Fought the Law and I Won”.

In 1999, Mike Ness of Social Distortion covered the tune on his second solo effort, Under the Influences, which peaked at No. 174 on the Billboard 200 (November 27, 1999).

In addition, Richard Clapton, Ducks Deluxe, She Trinity, Beatsteaks, Viper, Bryan Adams, John Cougar Mellencamp, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Social Distortion, Stiff Little Fingers, Mike Ness, Waylon Jennings, Gary Allan, Green Day, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Ska-P, the Jolly Boys, Grateful Dead, Stray Cats, Mary’s Danish, Claude François, Mano Negra, the Big Dirty Band, Lolita No. 18, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Attaque 77, Die Toten Hosen, Status Quo, Nanci Griffith, La Vida Bohème, Anti-Flag, Chumbawamba, Tsuyoshi Kawakami and His Moodmakers, the Airborne Toxic Event, The Bad Shepherds, Johnny Marr and numerous other artists have covered this song live or in studio. For the 2003 film Intermission, Colin Farrell recorded a version of the song, singing it in the guise of his character in the film. The Mary’s Danish recording is featured in the film Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), and the accompanying soundtrack release Buffy the Vampire Slayer Soundtrack.

The Crickets


Origin Texas, United States
Genres Rock & roll, Lubbock sound
Years active 1957–present
Labels Brunswick, Coral, Liberty, MCA,Vertigo, Chirp
Members Glen Hardin
Jerry Allison
Joe B. Mauldin
Sonny Curtis
Past members Albert Lee
Bobby Durham
Buddy Holly
Earl Sinks
Henry Lee James
Jerry Naylor
Larry Welborn
Niki Sullivan
Tommy Allsup

image by oO-Fotisha-Oo

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