Born Robert Thomas Velline, 30 April 1943, Fargo, North Dakota
Died 24 October 2016, Rogers, Minnesota

On the morning of February 3, 1959, 15-year old Bobby Velline was excitedly looking forward to a rock & roll concert. That night he was going to see Dion and the Belmonts, the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson), Ritchie Valens and, best of all, his idol Buddy Holly, in Moorhead, Minnesota, the twin city of his hometown Fargo, just across the state line. Velline was a guitarist himself, and only two weeks before the big show, he had formed a band with one of his older brothers and two friends. They put Bobby on as vocalist because he knew the lyrics to the six numbers in their limited repertoire.

While in school, Bobby heard the terrible news. A plane had crashed in a cornfield in Iowa. None of the passengers had survived. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper were dead. Fargo’s Top 40 radio station, KFGO, put out a call for help. The Winter Dance Party had to go on. Was there a local group that could play that night? Bobby’s group volunteered. As soon as he came home from school he got his band together. They bought matching ties and sweaters, decided on a name (the Shadows), rehearsed a few rock and roll songs and auditioned at seven P.M. They were second on the bill, singing three songs, and they were a success. So the career of Bobby Vee (as he would soon be renamed) started where Buddy Holly left off. His style was modelled after Buddy’s approach.

Local promoter Bing Bingstrom offered to manage Bobby and the Shadows and took them to a studio in Minneapolis on June 1. Bobby’s own composition “Suzie Baby” became the A-side, with the instrumental “Flyin’ High” on the flip. Originally released on the tiny Soma label, the record sold well enough in the Midwest to be picked up by Liberty Records for reissue in August 1959. It spent four weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at # 77. The line-up of the Shadows was augmented with a piano player who called himself Elston Gunn. He left after only a few weeks and did nicely on his own later, under the name Bob Dylan.

At Liberty, Bobby was groomed as a teen idol. He came under the wings of their new A&R man Snuff Garrett (1938-2015), who liked to use large string sections on his productions (Johnny Burnette, Gene McDaniels, Buddy Knox, etc.). For Vee’s second Liberty single Garrett selected “What Do You Want” (a # 1 UK hit for Adam Faith), copying the pizzicato arrangement by John Barry, who in his turn had “borrowed” it from Buddy Holly’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”. It only scraped the bottom of the charts (# 93) and the next 45, “One Last Kiss”, sold even less. But it would be his only non-charting single until August 1964. A revival of the Clovers’ 1956 R&B hit “Devil Or Angel” became Bobby’s first major success, peaking at number six in October 1960. His next hit, “Rubber Ball”, was written by Gene Pitney (under his mother’s name, Annie Orlowski) and Aaron Schroeder and it also went to # 6.

Vee submitted many of his own songs to Garrett, but they were all rejected. Garrett relied heavily on material from the Brill Building writers, especially Carole King and Gerry Goffin ; Bobby recorded at least a dozen of their songs, including his only # 1, “Take Good Care Of My Baby” (which reached the top on September 18, 1961, stayed there for 3 weeks). This was followed by the dramatic “Run To Him”, which went to # 2 (kept from the top by “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by the Tokens). Bobby was now at the peak of his commercial and artistic success. Notable hits in 1962-63 were “Please Don’t Ask About Barbara” (co-written by Bill Buchanan, of Buchanan and Goodman fame), “Sharing You”, “Punish Her”, “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” (one of his best, a # 3 hit) and “Charms”. Vee was also popular in the UK with nine Top 30 hits (1961-63), although this pales against his 38 Billboard chart entries (1959-70), six of which were million sellers.

The 1962 LP “Bobby Vee Meets the Crickets” was much acclaimed by purists and re-established the Holly connection. Following the British Invasion, Vee still scored hits, but nothing major, with the exception of “Come Back When You Grow Up” (# 3, 1967). He left Liberty in 1971 and recorded under his own name (Robert Velline) for United Artists, without success. Soon he found himself performing on the revival circuit, returning to the Bobby Vee moniker. In later years he was backed by his sons Jeff and Tom, who called themselves The Vees and who also recorded in their own right. In 2011, following a diagnosis of early Alzheimer’s disease, Bobby made the decision to retire.

More info :

Official website :

Discography :

CDs :
There are plenty of “Best Of / Greatest Hits” compilations to choose from. “The Very Best Of Bobby Vee” (One Day, 2012, 50 tracks on 2 CDs) offers good value for money. The real fan will need the double-CD “Rarities” (EMI Gold, 2011, 61 tracks), with rare recordings from 1959-2002, many of them previously unissued.

Acknowledgements : Fred Bronson, Michael Jack Kirby, the official website.

YouTube :
Devil Or Angel :
Rubber Ball :
More Than I Can Say :
How Many Tears :
Take Good Care Of My Baby :
Run To Him :
Walkin’ With My Angel :
Please Don’t Ask About Barbara :
The Night Has A Thousand Eyes :
Keep-A Knockin’ (starts at 7:01, superb drumming by Earl Palmer) :

Dik, April 2016

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
please contact Dik de Heer at

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