Bob Dylan typically doesn’t say much to the crowd during his shows. But in July 2013, when performing in his home state of Minnesota, he offered a rare spoken-word introduction to a cover of “Suzie Baby,” a 1959 hit by the Minnesota pop singer Bobby Vee, who was in attendance that night.
“I used to live here, and then I left,” Dylan said. “I’ve played with everybody, from Mick Jagger to Madonna … but the most meaningful person I’ve ever been onstage with is a man who’s here tonight, who used to sing a song called ‘Suzie Baby.’”
Dylan and Vee, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 73, have a long shared history, dating back all the way to the year of “Suzie Baby.” On the night of February 3rd, 1959, Vee was asked to replace Buddy Holly on a scheduled show in Moorhead, Minnesota, after a plane crash killed Winter Dance Party tourmates Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson. This Sunday marks the 60th anniversary of that infamous plane crash, later memorialized as the Day the Music Died in Don McLean’s song “American Pie.”
That same year, Vee hired a teenage pianist going by the name of Elston Gunnn [sic]. “One day my brother Bill came home and said he was talking with a guy at Sam’s Recordland who claimed he played the piano and had just come off a tour with Conway Twitty,” Vee later recalled.
Gunnn, it turns out, was none other than Dylan, who, at 18, had certainly never before toured with Twitty. His short-lived engagement with Vee, which only lasted a couple shows, was Dylan’s first ever opportunity touring with a nationally known recording artist.
“It was ill-fated,” Vee later explained of why the association was so brief. “I mean, it wasn’t gonna work. He didn’t have any money, and we didn’t have any money. The story is that I fired him, but that certainly wasn’t the case. If we could have put it together somehow, we sure would have. We wished we could have put it together. He left and went on to Minneapolis and enrolled at the University of Minnesota.”
Still, getting any chance to perform with a singer connected, however loosely, to the Winter Dance Party was a full-circle moment for Dylan, who famously saw Holly perform on that very tour in Duluth on January 31st, just a few days before the singer died.
“I went to see Buddy Holly play at Duluth, the National Guard Armory,” Dylan would later say of that moment. “I was three feet away from him, and he looked at me.”