WEIRDLAND: Bobby Vee (RIP) and Buddy Holly: Gentle Idols

Friday, December 02, 2016

Bobby Vee (RIP) and Buddy Holly: Gentle Idols

Letter: I’ll always be grateful to Bobby Vee It has long been the norm to dismiss the “teen music” of the early 1960s with a sneer of condescension but having lived through that period, I’ll always be grateful to Bobby Vee. He brought kindness to his songs of love and loss, and endorsed gentleness in relationships, not just in the words of songs such as Take Good Care of My Baby but in his tone of voice. It was a huge treat to see Bobby in person in the All American Solid Gold Rock’n’Roll Show in Woking, Surrey, in 2000, when he commanded the stage with warmth and human generosity.

Bobby Vee, best known for hits including Rubber Ball, Take Good Care of My Baby and The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, died at the age of 73. Vee released more than 25 albums during his career, retiring in 2011 after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Vee's big break came about in 1959 at the age of 15 when he filled in for Buddy Holly after the singer's death in a plane crash. A call went out for local acts to replace Holly at his scheduled show at the Moorhead National Guard Armory. Vee and his band, which had only formed two weeks previously, volunteered.

Bobby Vee, born Robert Velline, also gave a young Bob Dylan his start. Dylan played briefly with Vee's band and he was the one who suggested Velline change his last name to Vee. Bobby Vee and the Shadows were signed in autumn 1959 and Vee had his first hit in the Billboard charts in 1960 with Devil or Angel. Source:

Vee had many hits, and a lot of high quality ones at that. That includes one I learned just a couple weeks ago, “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes.” It’s both cranked-out hack work and kind of brilliant. There’s no doubting either its corniness or its supreme craftsmanship. Part of that polish is the ease with which the young singer glides through its three contrasting sections. I happen to know that Vee liked to cut live in the studio with all the musicians there. Here it would mean a large string section. He never cared for the modern piecemeal approach to recording. I was given this tidbit by his nephew, who lives in the Twin Cities. Nothing is made that way now except movie soundtracks and classical music. “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” lyrics are kind of creepy in a David Lynch way. I’m sure he would have considered this song for one of his movies, if only because a cheerful, upbeat stalker would probably fascinate him. Bob Dylan, his polar opposite, remained a fan and a friend. Bobby Vee carried the torch from Buddy Holly and passed it on to the Beatles. He was a place holder, and he made that dry stretch a little better. He’ll be missed. Source:

Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth (2011)  Chapter 6: The Day the Music Was Born: On those tours in 1958, we went from glory to glory, headlining with the likes of Eddie Cochran (“Summertime Blues”), Gene Vincent (“Be-Bop-ALula”), and Bobby Darin (“Splish Splash”). In the fall we got invited to join another superstar, Buddy Holly, on what was billed as “The Biggest Show of Stars.” Buddy had a streak of hits that could make Joe DiMaggio jealous: “That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Everyday,” “Oh, Boy,” “Maybe, Baby,” and “It’s So Easy (to Fall in Love).” He’d only been recording for a year, but he had already established a rock and roll sound that everyone was mimicking. 

We spent three weeks together on “The Biggest Show of Stars,” and we established a strong relationship–friendship and mutual musical admiration. When Buddy invited me to join him on his upcoming all-star “Winter Dance Party” tour, I was honored. You may already know how this story ends; it’s part of rock-and-roll mythology. People call February 3, 1959, “the day the music died.” I was one of the headliners. I’ve read all the interviews, their stories, and I can authoritatively say to you that most of it is bunk. The events, as they happened, have been completely eclipsed by urban legends, cinematic retellings, gossip, and outright grandstanding. If all the people who said they’d flipped a coin with Buddy Holly were telling the truth, we would’ve needed a military personnel carrier to fit them all. But I guess a story like that makes for good TV, and it makes the guys respect you at the bar. I found the whole business distasteful.

Although Buddy Holly’s rise to fame may have seemed meteoric, it actually required not only tremendous musical talent but also a commitment to an often-grueling tour schedule, which contributed to his premature death. After agreeing to perform for another round of Alan Freed shows in December 1957, Holly and the Crickets once again hit the road, playing several venues east of the Mississippi River. Around this time, there was a growing public backlash against rock and roll, especially among parents, civic leaders, segregationists, and others who feared that this new music would undermine traditional social mores and encourage interracial mingling. 

Buddy Holly was never comfortable with the more rebellious “bad boy” image often associated with rock and roll. Holly traded his old-fashioned, clear plastic and silver-framed eyeglasses for a pair of black, horn-rimmed frames popularized by television celebrity Steve Allen. In Australia, January 1958, the tour performed before arena-sized crowds that were especially impressed by the Crickets. 

In fact, Jerry Lee Lewis later admitted that Buddy Holly was the true star of the show. The Crickets’ stage persona was somewhat different from that of other rock and roll bands at the time: Buddy Holly would often use folksy and self-deprecating humor on stage. The Crickets headed out on another grueling 44-day North American tour, known as the “Big Beat Tour,” which had been arranged by Alan Freed. Also on the tour were Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Frankie Lymon, and Danny and the Juniors. Although Alan Freed’s “Big Beat Tour” was loaded with talent, attendance for most shows was lackluster. The public animosity toward the music was growing. Soon afterward, Massachusetts Governor William Fleming introduced a bill to ban rock and roll music from all government buildings. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover used this incident to argue that rock and roll was part of a Communist conspiracy to undermine Western freedom and democracy. “Not Fade Away”: The Geographic Dimensions of Buddy Holly’s Meteoric Career (2011) by Kevin Romig

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