Dakota Datebook

Bobby Vee

Monday, October 13, 2003

On this date, in 1804, the Lewis and Clark Expedition entered what is now North Dakota; in 1890, Valley City State College opened its doors to students; a statue of Sakakawea was dedicated on the Capitol Grounds in Bismarck in 1910; and in 1942, the 164th Infantry, a North Dakota National Guard regiment, landed on Guadalcanal in World War II.

Also on this date, 18 year-old Bobby Vee’s hit single, Take Good Care of My Baby, had been number one on U.S. charts for three weeks in a row. It was 1961.

Bobby Vee grew up as Bobby Velline in Fargo, and bought his first guitar at age 15 with money he saved from his paper route. His older brother, Bill, had a band called The Shadows, but they wouldn’t let Bobby join, because they thought he was too young. But Bobby knew all the lyrics to the songs The Shadows were trying to learn, so Bill let him come along to practices. It didn’t take long before Bobby started doing the singing, and finally, they let him join the band.

The Shadows started looking for jobs, and on February 3, 1959, fate handed them a bittersweet opportunity. The plane carrying Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, The Big Bopper and pilot Roger Peterson crashed in Iowa as it traveled through bad weather to reach the band’s next engagement in Moorhead, Minnesota.

When the rest of the musicians from Buddy Holly’s tour arrived by bus the next morning, a decision was made to continue on with the show. The promoters asked for local talent to help fill in, and as the curtain rose that night, The Shadows took the stage in memory of three of rock ‘n’ roll’s brightest stars. And a 15 year-old who knew all the words to the songs was introduced to the world.

The band’s first paying gig came 11 days later. They drove 45 miles in a heaterless ’51 Olds in zero degree weather. Their stage turned out to be benches that had been pushed together, and in the middle of the show the benches pulled apart, and the amps crashed to the floor. But the band made $60. They were on their way.

Three and a half months later, Bobby and the group went to Minneapolis to record a song Bobby had written. By the end of the summer, “Susie Baby” had reached number one on all the local stations in the Upper Midwest. Major record labels started calling, and that fall, Bobby Vee and the Shadows signed with Liberty Records.

By late 1960, Liberty was unfortunately losing faith in the band, when a radio station in Pittsburgh began playing the flip side of what might have been Bobby’s last single. The song was Devil or Angel, which had been done a few years earlier by The Clovers. Devil or Angel went on to reach the top ten in city after city, and Liberty Records ended up renewing Bobby’s contract for another 5 years.

In the following thirty plus years Bobby Vee placed 38 songs on Billboard’s top-100 charts, with six gold singles, fourteen top-forty hits and two gold albums. Billboard Magazine called him, “One of the top ten most consistent chart-makers ever.”

As testimony to Bobby’s continued popularity, the annual readers’ poll conducted by the ‘60s music magazine, The Beat Goes On, voted him: Best American Act in 1991; Best Live Performer in 1992 ; Favorite Male Singer in 1993; and in 1994 named him runner-up to Paul McCartney in the category of Most Accomplished Performer.

On June 20, 1999, Bobby Vee was presented The Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, North Dakota’s highest non-military honor.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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