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Bobby Vee

+ {Robert Thomas Velline}

Clean-cut teenage sensation BOBBY VEE had the unenvious task of superseding the late BUDDY HOLLY after the bespectacled superstar was tragically killed in that fated plane crash in Iowa on February 3, 1959; it also took the lives of RITCHIE VALENS and BIG BOPPER. Despite duly ghosting several HOLLY-esque hits in the early 60s (until the advent of The BEATLES), Bobby’s star faded into obscurity and the golden oldies circuit, though leaving behind some genuine pop classics in `Rubber Ball’, `Take Good Care Of My Baby’ and `Run To Him’.
Born Robert Thomas Velline, April 30, 1943, Fargo, North Dakota, BOBBY VEE and his Shadows (brother Bill and friend Bob Korum) were in the right place and the right time, when, due to the aforementioned air-crash, they filled in for the main star on the Fargo leg of the Winter Dance Party tour package. VEE never looked back, and when teenage producer Tommy “Snuff” Garrett offered to oversee the trio’s first session, things looked sunny side up in summer ’59, when the independent `Suzie Baby’ (for Soma Records) was fast-tracked by Liberty/RCA to dent the pop charts.
Dropping the Shadows from the credits, Bobby’s career didn’t quite match up to his potential when follow-up singles, `What Do You Want?’ (a UK smash for ADAM FAITH) and `One Last Kiss’, failed to emulate his promising debut platter. What was needed was a classy song, and in a re-tread of The CLOVERS’ `Devil Or Angel’, VEE stormed up the charts, eventually peaking at #6. The lead-off track from his inaugural LP, BOBBY VEE SINGS YOUR FAVORITES (1960) {*6}, the talented teenager hadn’t yet won over the hearts of the record buying public; that would arrive with his bouncing `Rubber Ball’ (penned by GENE PITNEY and Aaron Schroeder), a resounding global chart-buster that kept rock’n’roll ticking over.
The double-headed `Stayin’ In’ and `More Than I Can Say’ (the latter also Top 5 in Britain), preceded his eponymous sophomore set, BOBBY VEE (1961) {*6}, a record that was truly in-tune with the pop-fixated market of the day. `How Many Tears’ (authored by GOFFIN & KING) also fared better in the UK, where it cracked the Top 10, although this time the accompanying LP, WITH STRINGS AND THINGS (1961) {*5} was too much too soon. Bobby was as ever reliant on cover versions (PAUL ANKA’s `Diana’ and `Each Night’ were typical fodder), but in a rendition of DALE HAWKINS’ `Susie-Q’, not forgetting his own lonely composition, `Laurie’, the 18-year-old was finally coming of age.
Next off the hit production line was another GOFFIN-KING number, `Take Good Care Of My Baby’, his one and only US chart-topper, and another to reach the shores (and Top 3) across the Big Pond. Putting VEE’s rather innocuous and predictable HITS OF THE ROCKIN’ FIFTIES (1961) {*4} to one side, the belatedly-released TAKE GOOD CARE OF MY BABY (1962) {*6}, featured yet another transatlantic hay-maker, `Run To Him’.
The Top 20 `Please Don’t Ask About Barbara’, `Sharing You’ and UK-only hit `A Forever Kind Of Love’, featured on the lad’s next full set of current songs, A BOBBY VEE RECORDING SESSION (1962) {*5}, while obsession for all things 50s, came about in the almost simultaneously-released BOBBY VEE MEETS THE CRICKETS {*6}, a record backed by former cohorts of the late BUDDY HOLLY; `Peggy Sue’ and `Well… All Right’ sat well within the context of the album.
Bobby was as much in-demand in the world of rock’n’roll celluloid, and during this healthy period he performed in three teen-pop movies, Swingin’ Along (1962), Play It Cool (1962) and Just For Fun (1963); the latter featuring yet another classic RnR transatlantic smash, `The Night Has A Thousand Eyes’; incidentally, VEE was given the chance to act (as a folk singer) alongside JACKIE DeSHANNON, and other pop stars, in 1967’s woeful flick, C’Mon, Let’s Live A Little.
Back on track with the cash-in THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1963) {*5} album – showcasing a tidy cover of CAROLE KING’s `It Might As Well Rain Until September’ – the star took yet another chance by teaming up with a primarily instrumental combo under the BOBBY VEE MEETS THE VENTURES (1963) {*6} set. Coming so soon (a few months on) from his previous LP, saturation was beginning to dog the comparative good-will he had with his fans; the hits `Charms’ (US) and `Bobby Tomorrow’ (UK) were exceptions to the rule.
As Bobby was ever so fixated with catching up with the past on his tribute I REMEMBER BUDDY HOLLY (1963) {*6}, there was a certain band looking to the future. As The BEATLES and, in turn, the British Invasion, took America by storm (only DYLAN – a one-time VEE session man – could compete), the VEE factor was all but washed up. However, with a loyal fanbase, the 21-year-old soldiered on with minor home-soil hits; he also married sweetheart Karen Bingham on December 28, 1963; they stayed together until she passed away in 2015.
Liberty Records kept faith with their young star protégé, initially trying to fit in with his peers from overseas by way of sings THE NEW SOUND OF ENGLAND! (1964) {*6}, an attempt to saddle up his own compositions with that of LENNON-McCARTNEY and er… CHUCK BERRY (Buddy had covered his `Brown-Eyed Handsome Man’).
1965’s in-concert LIVE! ON TOUR {*5} was sandwiched between the medley-fied 30 BIG HITS OF THE 60’s (1964) {*4} and 30 BIG HITS OF THE 60’s VOLUME 2 (1966) {*3}, while the lack of freshness at a time when competition was rife was drowning his career.
Then on the back of a modest title track hit from LOOK AT ME GIRL (1966) {*6}, the surprise hit of ’67 was surely unveiled in the Top 3 `Come Back When You Grow Up’ (scribed by Martha Sharp). It certainly sparked a mini-revival for the 24-year-old, and with his parent Top 75 album, also entitled COME BACK WHEN YOU GROW UP (1967) {*6}, and subsequent minor hits from the late 60s (`Beautiful People’, `Maybe Just Today’, `My Girl / Hey Girl’ his most prominent), VEE was not ready yet to hang up his microphone. Supplementary albums such JUST TODAY (1968) {*6}, DO WHAT YOU GOTTA DO (1968) {*6} and GATES, GRILLS & RAILINGS (1969) {*5} were not major sellers by any stretch of the imagination, but it kept the singer rolling along.
Produced by the ever-faithful Dallas Smith, and now sporting a beard, Bobby reverted back to his birth-name ROBERT THOMAS VELLINE for 1972’s NOTHIN’ LIKE A SUNNY DAY {*6}. Despite a slow-version re-vamp of `Take Good Care Of My Baby’ and a few tracks penned/co-penned by John Buck Wilkin (`My God And I’) and John Durill (`Home’), the singer-songwriter was left to ponder what to do next.
If the 70s were not good to BV, then the 80s and 90s were a complete wash-out for the once-great star. 1999’s DOWN THE LINE {*6} – a 40th Anniversary of BUDDY HOLLY music – was hardly a fresh outlook for a singer who could’ve achieved as much as DION and P.F. SLOAN in his twilight years. Not that Bobby didn’t make money, as his pioneering work with the music video industry and jukebox (Scopitone) would suggest, it was just frustrating to have been left out in the cold while others benefitted from revivals, etc., etc.
But then up popped two self-financed albums, I WOULDN’T CHANGE A THING (2002) {*6} and the semi-sarcastic LAST OF THE GREAT RHYTHM GUITAR PLAYERS (2007) {*6}, which gave him some sort of hope that he wasn’t totally forgotten. Sadly, still a force to be reckoned with in-concert appearances, Bobby was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, in 2011. Withdrawing from public eye, he was still able to sit alongside friends and family on a set of new recordings, THE ADOBE SESSIONS {*6}, released in February 2014. It was a fitting tribute to the hit-maker of the 60s, who passed away at a hospice in Rogers, Minnesota, on October 24, 2016.
© MC Strong/MCS Oct2016

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