Bobby Vee

Bobby Vee got his first break in show business as the result of a tragedy and went on to become one of the biggest rock-and-roll stars of the pre-Beatles era.

Robert Velline was born in Fargo, North Dakota in 1943. When he was fifteen he formed a band in Fargo with his brother and a friend which they called the Shadows.

In February, 1959 rock-and-roller Buddy Holly was on a bus tour through the Upper Midwest, performing at shows with Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper, Dion, and others. Tired of the bus tour and wishing to get to the next stop in order to do some laundry, Holly chartered a light plane to fly him to the tour's next stop in Moorhead, Minnesota, which is just across the state line from Fargo. Shortly after takeoff near Clear Lake, Iowa in the early morning hours, the plane developed instrumentation problems and crashed, killing Holly and the three others who were aboard the plane. The bus rolled out with the remaining members of the tour, who were unaware of the fate of Holly's plane until they arrived at their destination and saw the news on television. A decision was made to continue the tour, but the organizers scrambled to find a local act who could fill in on short notice.

Bobby Velline's group, the Shadows, took the job. It was a group with which rock superstar Bob Dylan would later claim to have been associated. The Shadows had a local hit with Suzie Baby and began to record for Soma.

Producer Thomas "Snuff" Garrett had known Buddy Holly from his days as a DJ in Lubbock, Texas, and moved to Los Angeles and Liberty Records in 1958. Garrett, who was twenty years old in 1959, heard Suzie Baby and liked both the song and Velline's style. Velline was signed to a contract with Liberty and his professional name became Bobby Vee. A singer named Adam Faith had come up with an imitation of Holly's style and had recorded What Do You Want? in the UK. Bobby Vee was given the assignment of covering the song to sell in the US market, but his recording did not meet with success.

Garrett's formula was to pick up songs from the prolific songwriters in New York City's Brill Building, and to make certain that the words to the songs were sung in such a way that they could be heard clearly and understood. The breakthrough song for Bobby Vee was Devil Or Angel, one that made it to the top ten late in 1960, when Vee was only seventeen. He followed it a short time later with another top ten tune Rubber Ball, which had been co-written by Gene Pitney. Rubber Ball also served to introduce Bobby Vee to rock-and-roll fans in the UK, where it reached number four.

Recording for Liberty in the early 60's, Bobby Vee became one of rock-and-roll's biggest stars on both sides of the Atlantic. His innocent style and supply of Brill Building compositions were enormously popular. In 1961 he recorded a Carole King composition and came up with his only number one song, Take Good Care Of My Baby. His next hit Run To Him went to number two.

In 1962 Bobby Vee had other hits such as Please Don't Ask About Barbara and Sharing You. He recorded an album that once again linked him with Buddy Holly [whom he never met], Bobby Vee Meets The Crickets. The album was well received by critics. He had another huge hit with The Night Has A Thousand Eyes and some other top forty songs. He also appeared in movies: Swingin' Along, It's Trad, Dad, and C'mon Let's Live A Little, among others.

The Beatles burst on the pop music scene in 1964 and altered the history of rock-and-roll permanently. Suddenly the innocent songs and the wholesome image of Bobby Vee were no longer in vogue, and even criticized in some circles. He fell off the charts completely for a few years.

In 1967, he came back in a big way. Come Back When You Grow Up, by Bobby Vee and the Strangers, soared to number three and re-established Bobby Vee in the minds of rock music fans. He had some other minor hits before leaving the charts for good in 1968. In 1972 an album that he recorded under his own name, Nothin' Like A Sunny Day, went nowhere.

Bobby Vee was a polite, clean-cut singer in an era that rewarded someone with a repertoire such as his. He has always been well liked by people in the music business, and continues to perform on oldies tours before appreciative audiences.

Most Recent Update: April 20, 2000

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