Bobby Vee, the teen idol who hit the top 20 ten times in the early 60’s, died on Monday from advanced Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 73.
Vee was born Robert Velline on April 30, 1943 in Fargo, ND. In a family that played many different band instruments, he was more interested in rocking. Bobby’s musical fate was set on February 4, 1959 when, at the age of 15, he filled in along with his brand new band, the Shadows, for Buddy Holly in Moorehead, ND after Holly’s death in a plane crash.
His voice, which had many of the same qualities as Holly’s, did not go unnoticed and, by mid-year, he recorded his song Suzie Baby for Soma Records out of Minneapolis. The record became popular enough locally that it was picked up by Liberty for national distribution where it peaked at number 77 on the Hot 100. Two more very minor hits followed, What Do You Want (1960 / #93) and One Last Kiss (1960 / #112).
Vee began to tour around his first few charting songs with a band that included Elston Gunnn [sic] whose real name was Robert Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan. Dylan has acknowledged Vee on many occasions, paying him numerous compliments for his friendship and place in his early career. Rumor says that it was Dylan who suggested Velline change his name to Vee.
While he was slowly gaining fans, it wasn’t fast enough for Liberty Records and Bobby’s fourth single, Since I Met You Baby was looking at the same fate when a Pittsburgh DJ turned the record over and started playing Devil or Angel. The new side quickly picked up steam and shot to number 6 on the Hot 100, crossing over to the R&B charts where it went to 22.
Before the end of the year, he did it again, hitting number 6 with Rubber Ball, a song that had a big pedigree, written by Gene Pitney and Aaron Schroeder, arranged by Ernie Freeman and produced by Snuff Garrett. Along with being an American hit, it was also the song that broke Vee in Britain where it went to number 4.
Vee and Liberty released numerous singles each year, some becoming major hits and others peaking in the lower two-thirds of the chart. In 1961, he put together two hits in a row with Take Good Care of My Baby (1961 / #1) and Run to Him (1961 / #2). He followed with three that made the top twenty but failed to break the top ten until late in 1962 when The Night Has a Thousand Eyes went to number 3 on the Hot 100 and in the U.K., 2 on the Adult Contemporary and 8 on the R&B Singles.
In 1963, music was beginning to go through changes. Surf music had its short but bright heyday and the British Invasion was starting to gain steam. Vee and other teen idols’ music suddenly became passe and, after an early 1963 hit with Charms (#13 Pop / #5 AC), he went on an almost four year drought where none of his records went above number fifty.
Liberty Records stuck with Vee this time around and it paid off in early 1967 when Vee once again reached the upper reaches of the charts with Come Back When You Grow Up (1967 / #3). It would be Vee’s last top thirty hit.
Bobby continued recording to the mid-70’s and toured in both clubs and on the oldies circuit, especially in Europe, throughout the rest of his career.
In 2011, Vee retired after learning he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. His final album came in 2014 in The Adobe Sessions, a recording by Vee and his family recorded in their garage in Arizona.
Vee’s wife of fifty years, Karen, died in 2015. He is survived by their four children.
Johnny Tillotson commented on Vee’s passing:
It is so sad to write and to say that I was heartbroken today to learn of the passing of Bobby Vee. May god rest his soul. I have known him almost all my career which is to say over 50 years and we have toured together so so many times. I continue to work with his very talented sons Jeff and Tommy on the Legends of American Bandstand and admire the talents of his other children musician Robby and daughter Jenny. My sincere and heartfelt condolences to them and the entire family and grandchildren.
He had a legion of fans that I know are heartbroken today as are so many of his peers and others in the music community. I learned of his passing from my dear friend Tommy Roe, and also heard from dear friend Wink Martindale, Rocky of Rocky and the Rollers, so many musicians and artists who are so saddened by this news.
It is very hard to see the passing of so many truly great talents from our generation of hit makers. And to say goodbye to so many friends that have been part of our lives since we were really just such young men, some in their teens.
Bobby Vee was a huge talent, they just don’t make em like that anymore.
We all know Bobby Vee’s incredible accomplishments, but his true legacy lies with his wonderful and talented family he’s left behind – his three sons and his daughter and grandchildren. He’s now “Taking Care of His Baby Karen” in Heaven. It’s a very sad day. I’ll miss him. #RIP Bobby Vee ~ Fabian