by Pat Matthews
More sad news in the music world to report today. Bobby Vee, a teen idol of the 1960s, who The Beatles covered in their early days, has died. He was 73. The always smiling pop singer whose career was born when he took a Midwestern stage as a teenager to fill in after the 1959 plane crash that killed rock ‘n’ roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.
The Beatles recorded the Gerry Goffin-Carole King penned “Take Good Care of My Baby”, with George Harrison taking the lead vocals, on their audition recording for Decca Records. It’s a song you can hear by both Vee and The Beatles on beatlesarma.com. The song was Bobby Vee’s only #1 hit, but his catalog is prolific.
Born Robert Velline in Fargo, North Dakota, Vee was only 15 when he took the stage in Moorhead, Minnesota, after the Feb. 3, 1959, plane crash in Iowa that killed Holly, Valens and Richardson on their way to the concert. A call went out for local acts to replace Holly at his scheduled show at the Moorhead National Guard Armory. Vee and his 2-week-old band volunteered, along with three or four other bands. The show’s emcee, Charlie Boone, then a disc jockey at KFGO Radio, turned to Vee and asked him the name of his band. Vee looked at the shadows of his bandmates on the floor and answered: The Shadows.
Within months the young singer and The Shadows, which included his older brother Bill on lead guitar, recorded Vee’s “Suzie Baby” for Soma Records in Minneapolis. It was a regional hit, and Vee soon signed with Liberty Records. He went on to record 38 Top 100 hits from 1959 to 1970, hitting the top of the charts in 1961 with the Carole King-Gerry Goffin song “Take Good Care of My Baby,” and reaching No. 2 with the follow-up, “Run to Him.” Other Vee hits include “Rubber Ball,” ”The Night Has A Thousand Eyes,” ”Devil or Angel,” ”Come Back When You Grow Up,” ”Please Don’t Ask About Barbara” and “Punish Her.”
Besides his clear, ringing voice, Vee also was a skilled rhythm guitarist and occasional songwriter. He racked up six gold singles, but saw his hits diminish with the British Invasion of The Beatles and other English groups in the mid-1960s. But Vee continued to record all the way up until 2014 even after being diagnosed with Alzheimers in 2011. He made his last live performance that year, but in 2014 he gathered family members in his garage in Tucson, Arizona to record “The Adobe Sessions”, an album that was released on the 55th anniversary of the Buddy Holly plane crash. The set included some of Bobby’s favorite songs by Ricky Nelson, Towns Van Zandt and Gordon Lightfoot. A special treat was his rendition of Bob Dylan’s “The Man In Me”, a nod to the Nobel Prize winner who actually got his start in Vee’s band in Fargo. Dylan, who grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota, indeed played in Bobby Vee’s Shadows, albeit for a short time. However, the folk-rock hero did make a lasting effect on Vee’s career when he suggested he shorten his name from Velline to Vee. In his memoirs, Dylan said that Vee “had a metallic, edgy tone to his voice and it was as musical as a silver bell.” When Dylan performed in St. Paul in 2013, he saluted Vee in the audience and performed “Suzie Baby.”
Vee and his wife Karen were married for more than 50 years and had four children, including sons who performed with their father. Karen passed away last year of kidney failure.