Bobby Vee, the Sixties teen idol who had Hot 100 hits with “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Run to Him” and “Rubber Ball,” died Monday following a five-year bout with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 73.
Vee’s son Jeff Velline confirmed the singer’s death to The Associated Press, adding that his father reached “the end of a long hard road” and died peacefully surrounded by family at a hospice facility in Rogers, Minnesota.
Born Robert Velline in Fargo, North Dakota, Vee’s career took off the day after “the Day the Music Died”: Following the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper – who were on their way to a concert in Moorhead, Minnesota on February 3rd, 1959 – the 15-year-old Vee and his band the Shadows were among the local acts recruited to replace the rock legends on the bill.
Despite the sad circumstances, the Shadows’ gig was considered a success, with Vee calling the Moorhead show “the start of a wonderful career.”
Vee and the Shadows soon recorded a regional hit with “Suzie Baby,” which resulted in Vee signing a record deal with Liberty Records. Minnesota native Bob Dylan, who called Vee in 2013 “the most meaningful person I’ve ever been onstage with,” would later cover “Suzie Baby” in concert.
Dylan, who played in the Shadows with Vee in 1959, also praised the singer in his Chronicles, Volume One. Vee “had a metallic, edgy tone to his voice and it was as musical as a silver bell,” Dylan wrote. “I’d always thought of him as a brother.” Dylan briefly joined Vee’s backing band as a pianist after Vee’s brother brought Dylan, who called himself “Elston Gunnn,” in for an audition. “He was a funny little wiry kind of guy and he rocked pretty good,” Vee said.
With Liberty Records, Vee kicked off a string of 38 Hot 100 hits, including his first two Top 10 singles in 1960, “Devil or Angel” and “Rubber Ball,” which had a cover of Holly’s “Everyday” as its B-side; Vee would later perform with Holly’s backing band the Crickets in Paul McCartney-curated tributes to the late singer.
“There are so many synchronicities to the Buddy Holly connection that spread out all over my career,” Vee told the Star Tribute at the time. “That has been absolutely enjoyable, because I was and still am such a fan.”
The following year, Vee scored his first Number One hit with “Take Good Care of My Baby,” a Gerry Goffin and Carole King-penned classic that was later covered by the Beatles when they auditioned for Decca Records in 1961.
Vee would later have hits with “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” and his last Top 10 record, “Come Back When You Grow Up.” Although the hits dried up by the end of the Sixties, Vee continued to tour and work on music throughout his life, recording over 25 albums before his diagnosis with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Vee last performed at his own retirement show in 2011, not long after he was diagnosed.