Bobby Vee was born Robert Thomas Velline on 30 April 1943 in Fargo, North Dakota. As a teenager, he was obsessed with Buddy Holly.
When it was announced that Holly and The Crickets were due to perform in his hometown, he hastily formed a high school group with his brother Bob and three others. Calling themselves The Shadows (not to be confused with Cliff’s mates) they slavishly copied Buddy Holly.
Ironically, Holly’s sudden death on 3 February 1959 gave The Shadows their first professional break.
Buddy Holly and The Crickets were due to perform at the Winter Dance Party in Fargo when the plane crashed killing Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper. The Shadows stepped in to fill their spot on the show after answering an appeal from their local radio station.
And it was from this performance that Bobby Vee’s Shadows moved on to regular gigs, before financing their recording session at Soma Records’ studio in Minneapolis. Suzy Baby, written by Bobby Vee (in Holly’s style of course) was the result.
When the single was issued it naturally became a local hit. Then Liberty Records purchased the master recording to release it on a national basis.
It debuted in the American chart at #77, at which point the record company offered the group two deals. One for The Shadows, the other for Bobby Vee as a soloist.
Early in 1960, after working with respected producer Snuff Garrett, Bobby Vee, emulating Holly, recorded What Do You Want? (covered by Adam Faith who had the British hit in 1959). It struggled into the American Top 100.
After much persuasion by Garrett, Vee recorded Devil or Angel, previously a hit for The Clovers. Despite Vee’s reservations, the single stormed up the American charts to an impressive Number 6.
But it was in 1961 that the young singer really made his mark when he recorded Rubber Ball, an infectious yet childish song written by Gene Pitney and Aaron Schroeder. It was Vee’s first million-seller.
Within weeks, Rubber Ball also gave Vee his debut British hit at #4, beating rock & roller Marty Wilde‘s version which stalled at #9.
More Than I Can Say, originally the B-side of the American hit Stayin’ In, likewise reached #4, but it was his fourth single that finally elevated Bobby Vee to the #1 position.
Snuff Garrett was searching for suitable songs and visited various publishers, including Aldon Music. There he heard a demo of Take Good Care Of My Baby written by Carole King. He was told the song wasn’t available as Dion had already recorded it, although it was doubtful it would be issued.
Garrett persuaded Carole King to modify the song to suit Vee. It was the perfect pop song, bursting with the writer’s innate ability to compose a strong, flowing melody.
It blended perfectly with Vee’s voice and topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, selling a million copies in each country.
Dion did later release his version on the Runaround Sue album and Bobby Vee himself re-recorded it at a slower pace for his 1972 album Nothin’ Like a Sunny Day, released under his real name.
The follow-up, Run To Him, was equally impressive, although it faltered at #6 in Britain, while the album Take Good Care Of My Baby reached the Top 10.
To cash in on his British success, Bobby Vee, with his all-American clean-cut image, toured the country, fitting in television spots when he could. Please Don’t Ask About Barbara became a #29 hit, and in July 1962 Sharing You peaked at #10.
After releasing the inevitable Bobby Vee Meets The Crickets album, which featured as his best-selling album in Britain, the singer actually toured with Buddy Holly’s group.
Following this and before 1962 was out, A Forever Kind Of Love reached the Top 20. Recorded in Britain with Norrie Paramor as producer, it was another slice of Bobby Vee magic – A strong melody against his warm voice. It couldn’t fail.
To start 1963, The Night Has A Thousand Eyes, lifted from the Just For Fun movie, soared into the Top Three in both Britain and America, becoming Bobby’s eighth and final UK top twenty hit.
The song was written by Dorothy Wayne and Marilynn Garrett with Ben Weisman who was present at the recording session and was concerned that most of the studio time was taken up by producer, Snuff Garrett working with Bobby on the Burt Bacharach and Hal David song, Anonymous Phone Call.
Ben begged both singer and producer to save some time for his song and with only time at the end for just one complete take, when listening to the playback, Ben walked over to them claiming Bobby had sung wrong words in the line, “One of these days you’re gonna be sorry”, instead of “One of these days you’re gonna be crying” but no one took any notice and the record sold over a million copies.
Although his British recording career was finished, Vee continued to work with Snuff Garrett until 1965.
None of his singles reached the Top 20 in America until 1967 when he recorded Come Back When You Grow Up with The Strangers, which hit the top three.
Bobby Vee remained a recording artist until 1972 but his past success evaded him. All attempts to leave his ‘sound’ behind and to experiment with different styles like lightweight country and western didn’t work.
Following the release of the compilation The Bobby Vee Singles Album, the singer was a regular contributor to the ‘oldies but goldies’ packages until he retired in 2011 after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Vee and his wife Karen were married for more than 50 years and had four children. She died of kidney failure in 2015, aged 71.
The singer was moved to a care home near Minneapolis and received hospice care before his death in October 2016, aged 73.