Monday, February 4, 2019

Remembering Bobby Vee and the Day the Music Died

Bobby Vee and the Shadows in 1959 from the photo section of
(L-R) Dick Dunkirk, Bobby Vee, Bob Korum, and Bill Velline (Bobby's brother).
This was the group that performed at Moorhead Armory on Feb. 3, 1959.
This is the original Shadows Band with Bobby.  (L-R) Jim Stillman on bass guitar,
Bob Korum on drums, Bobby, and, on rhythm guitar, Bobby's brother, Bill Velline.
Photo posted by permission of Rock House Productions.

Bobby passed away at the age of 73 in 2016 from complications of Alzheimer's disease. His wife of 52 years, Karen, passed away the year before. Born in Fargo, N. Dak., as Robert Velline, Bobby's big break came as the result of a tragedy. He was hired at age 15 to substitute for a planned concert with Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J. D. Richardson (the "Big Bopper") at the Moorhead, Minn., armory, on February 3, 1959.

I interviewed Bobby Vee about a year or so before he contracted Alzheimer's. At that time, his memory was excellent. The occasion for this interview was the forthcoming 2010 reunion of the Valley City (N. Dak.) High School class of 1961. Bobby and his band would be performing at the June gathering (and they did a wonderful job!). In May of that year, Bobby's son, Jeff, arranged for me to visit with him on the phone. I apologize for some of the poor quality of the telephone line, but you'll be able to hear every word.

Both he and I learned of the fatal plane crash the same way. We both lived near our respective high schools; he close to Fargo Central and I almost across the street from Valley City High School. As was our routine, we both went home for lunch that terrible day, and learned of the plane crash there. He from his mother and me from my grandmother. We became glued to the radio to find out more.

The interview is about 12 minutes. You can listen to it by clicking here.  Note: You may have to "right click" and select "open in new window." LG-2-04-2019

RELATED TO THIS TRAGIC EVENT IS ANOTHER INTERVIEW: this one by my former colleague at WDAY Radio in Fargo, way back in the late 60s and early 70s, John Erling. John went on to  host the top-rated talk show in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, market, Erling in the Morning on KRMG Radio and he maintained that popularity for over 30 years. We had lunch in Fargo last year and visited through about three hours of memories. John was also the emcee of my "retirement roast" in September, 2007, and did a fabulous job!

Since his retirement from radio, John has worked tirelessly on capturing interviews with prominent Oklahomans through the Voices of Oklahoma oral history project he founded and still produces. One of his most popular interviews, and certainly relevant on this 60th anniversary of those tragic deaths in that plane crash in 1959, is his visit with Tommy Allsup. He was the lead guitarist in the tour band that performed with Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper during that very tough winter in the Midwest. There was only one seat left on the small Beechcraft Bonanza plane, piloted by 21-year-old Roger Peterson. Richie Valens wanted the seat that was originally slotted for Waylon Jennings. So they asked Allsup to flip a coin. You can hear the rest of that story in John's interview with Allsup by clicking here.