Bobby Vee, ’60s Hitmaker, Dies at 73

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Bobby Vee in 1962 (Photo from his Wikipedia page)

Bobby Vee in 1962 (Photo from his Wikipedia page)

Bobby Vee, who placed six singles in the top 10 between 1960 and 1967, including the #1 “Take Good Care of My Baby,” died October 24 at age 73. The cause of death was complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Vee was residing in a hospice in Rogers, Minnesota, at the time of his death.

Born Robert Velline on April 30, 1943, in Fargo, North Dakota, Bobby Vee—the stage name he took when he began singing professionally—was 15 when he and his band the Shadows were hired to replace Buddy Holly on the Winter Dance Party tour in 1959, after the latter died in a plane crash. Vee and the band signed to Soma Records soon after and recorded the rockabilly-style “Suzie Baby,” which was picked up by the Liberty label and reached #77 in Billboard.

Vee was signed to Liberty by producer Snuff Garrett, who produced “Take Good Care of My Baby” and went on to produce dozens of other significant hits. Garrett once called the Vee single his favorite because, he said, “You only get one first #1 song.”

Related: Producer Snuff Garrett dies

In 1963, Vee released a tribute album on Liberty called I Remember Buddy Holly.

Vee first hit the top 10 in 1960 with “Devil or Angel,” a cover of the Clovers’ R&B ballad. By the time his chart run ended in 1970 he had placed 38 singles on that chart. His other top 10 hits, beside “Devil or Angel” and “Take Good Care of My Baby” (from 1961, and written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King), were “Rubber Ball” (1960), “Run to Him” (1961), “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” (1962) and, after a five-year drought, “Come Back When You Grow Up,” in 1967. All of his hits were released on Liberty.

A later photo of Bobby Vee (from the North Dakota Music Hall of Fame website)

A later photo of Bobby Vee (from the North Dakota Music Hall of Fame website)

One trivia note that always comes up in Vee bios is that, for a brief time in 1959, the Minnesota resident employed a young piano player named Robert Zimmerman. A couple of years later he would emerge in New York City as Bob Dylan. Vee, of course, took a much different direction with his music, creating pop singles meant for airplay on AM radio. “Take Good Care of My Baby,” in fact, so impressed a young band from Liverpool called the Beatles that they recorded their own version when they auditioned for Decca Records in 1961.

In 2013, Dylan, who rarely speaks on stage, paid tribute to Vee during a concert in St. Paul, Minnesota, the area where Vee spent most of his life. The quote was reprinted in today’s obituary in the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “I lived here a while back, and since that time I’ve played all over the world, with all kinds of people. Everybody from Mick Jagger to Madonna and everybody in between. But the most beautiful person I’ve ever been on the stage with was a man who’s here tonight, who used to sing a song called ‘Suzie Baby.’ I’m gonna say that Bobby Vee is actually here tonight. Maybe you could show your appreciation with just a round of applause. So we’ve been trying to do this song, like I’ve done it with him before once or twice — ‘Suzie Baby.’ ”

A musical about Vee’s life, Teen Idol: The Bobby Vee Story, debuted at the History Theatre in St. Paul.

Watch an early promotional video of Bobby Vee singing “Take Good Care of My Baby.”

Bonus video: Here’s the Beatles’ cover of “Take Good Care of My Baby,” from 1962.

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Jeff Tamarkin

Jeff Tamarkin

Best Classic Bands Editor Jeff Tamarkin has been one of the most respected and prolific music journalists in the country for some four decades. He was editor of Goldmine for 15 years, the first editor of CMJ and Grateful Dead Comix, and an editor of Relix magazine. He has written for dozens of publications including Billboard, Newsweek, Playbill, Creem, Mojo, Newsday, New York Daily News JazzTimes and others, and has contributed to the Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music and All-Music Guide. He has written the liner notes for more than 80 CDs, including most of the Jefferson Airplane catalog as well as the Beach Boys, Merle Haggard, Tom Jones, Chubby Checker, Al Kooper and the J. Geils Band.

Jeff has also served on the Nominating Committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and as a consultant to the Grammys. As a consultant to the Music Club CD label, he assisted in releasing over 180 reissues and compilations, in styles ranging from jazz to country to pop. His first book was Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane (published in June 2003) – the first biography of this legendary San Francisco band written with the cooperation of all of the band members. He is also the co-author of Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc, with Howard Kaylan. From 2002 to 2006 Jeff was the editor of Global Rhythm, the leading magazine for world music and global culture. He was the Associate Editor of JazzTimes from 2008-16. He lives in Hoboken, NJ, with his wife, the novelist and Boston Globe book columnist Caroline Leavitt. Their son, Max, is a theater major at Pace University in New York.
Jeff Tamarkin
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