Rock legend with Fargo roots Bobby Vee dies
FARGO -- The Day the Music Died -- Feb. 3, 1959, when Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper perished in a plane crash en route to a show at the Moorhead Armory -- was a dark day for rock ’n’ roll.
But on Feb. 4, a new light emerged.
Fifteen-year-old Fargoan Bobby Vee and his new band The Shadows stepped up to fill the bill at the Moorhead Armory show. With that, the singer/guitarist took his first step into rock history.
Vee died Monday morning from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease in the Rogers, Minn., memory care facility where he lived for the past year.
Robert Thomas Velline was born April 30, 1943, to Sydney and Saima Velline of Fargo. Raised in a musical household, young Bobby followed suit and started playing saxophone at Central High School.
“I wanted to rock out. We were playing all the standard band pieces, but I wanted to play ‘Yakety Yak,’” Vee recalled on his website biography.
When his older brother, guitarist Bill Velline, started playing with bassist Jim Stillman and drummer Bob Korum, Bobby begged to join, but they thought he was too young. He won them over with a velvety smooth voice. The group hadn’t played together much and didn’t have a name until just before taking the stage at the Moorhead Armory that fateful night.
“I remember being petrified when the curtains opened,” Vee told The Forum 19 years later. “I was blinded by the spotlight and just numb all over.”
The nerves didn’t last. That June he and The Shadows recorded “Suzie Baby” and the song was on the radio later that summer. Hits like “Devil or Angel” and “Rubber Ball” kept coming. In 1961 he would release his only No. 1 song, “Take Good Care of My Baby,” written by Carole King and Gerry Coffin. The follow-up, “Run to Him,” peaked at No. 2 and in 1962 he would reach No. 3 with “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.”
Vee’s future was so bright that while he was still a student, Don Bredell, dean of boys at Central High School, suggested that Vee drop out to take advantage of his opportunity.
Vee’s clean-cut good looks made him a teen idol, but he only had eyes for his sweetheart Karen Bergen of Detroit Lakes, Minn. Their 1963 wedding was a front-page story in The Forum. The couple stayed together until she died in August 2015.
The couple had four children, Jeff, Tommy, Robby and Jennifer and in the early 1980s, moved from Los Angeles to St. Cloud.
“He was very humble,” said Tommy Velline on Monday afternoon. “He was just a member of the community. He would go into Mills Fleet Farm and chat with people. He was just a regular guy. I don’t think he had the ability to let his ego get out of control.”
Vee certainly had things to brag about.
He released more than 25 albums, six of which went gold. He made it to the Top 100 38 times. He played concerts with legends such as Ray Charles, Dion and the Belmonts, Del Shannon, Gene Pitney and others.
In 1999 he received the Rough Rider Award, the highest honor given to North Dakotans
“That’s the nicest award that I’ve ever gotten, to be recognized in my home state,” he said.
His music inspired the likes of Keith Richards and Paul McCartney, who covered Vee’s tunes in the early years of The Beatles.
Vee’s most legendary rock relationship was with Robert Zimmerman, now known as Nobel Prize-winning singer/songwriter Bob Dylan. At the time, Zimmerman was passing himself off as a piano player and Vee brought him on the road for a short period. They parted ways, but remained friendly, reconnecting when Dylan played the Fargo Civic Center.
During a 2013 show in St. Paul, the normally mum Dylan praised Vee, calling him “the most meaningful person I’d ever been on the stage with,” then played, “Suzie Baby.”
In his memoir, “Chronicles: Volume One,” Dylan said of his former boss, “I’d always thought of him as a brother.”
“My dad was taken aback by all of that,” Tommy Velline said Monday afternoon. “I don’t think he realized the extent of influence that he had, but he always appreciated and loved the relationships.”
His strongest relationships remained with his family. In late 2014, Vee’s children started digitizing and archiving his music.
Vee retired from performing in 2012 when he announced he had Alzheimer’s. Jeff Velline said that although his father quit making music, he would react when listening to his old songs.
“He never lost that love for music,” Jeff Veline said Monday. “Even when he couldn’t play it anymore and couldn’t sing, he would hum. The music was a powerful piece that remained, right on until the end.”