Born in Fargo, North Dakota, to Sydney Ronald Velline and Saima Cecilia Tapanila, he had his first single with "Suzie Baby", an original song penned by Vee that nodded towards Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue" for the Minneapolis-based Soma Records in 1959; it drew enough attention and chart action to be purchased by Liberty Records, which signed him to their label later that year. His follow-up single, a cover of Adam Faith's UK number 1 "What Do You Want?", charted in the lower reaches of Billboard in early 1960; however, it was his fourth release, a revival of the Clovers' doo-wop ballad "Devil or Angel", that brought him into the big time with U.S. buyers. His next single, "Rubber Ball", was the record that made him an international star.Vee's 1961 summer release "Take Good Care of My Baby" went to No.1 on the Billboard U.S. listings and number 3 in the UK Singles Chart. Known primarily as a performer of Brill Building pop material, he went on to record a string of international hits in the 1960s, including "Devil or Angel" (U.S. #6), "Rubber Ball" (1961, U.S. #6), "More Than I Can Say" (1961, U.K. #4), "Run to Him" (1961, U.S. #2), "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" (1963, U.S. #3), and "Come Back When You Grow Up" (U.S. #3). When Vee recorded "Come Back When You Grow Up" in 1967, he was joined by a band called "The Strangers"
.Vee was also a pioneer in the music video genre, appearing in several musical films as well as in the Scopitone series of early film-and-music jukebox recordings. He is a 1999 inductee of the North Dakota "Roughrider Award". He is mentioned in the film No Direction Home
, regarding his brief musical association with Bob Dylan and Dylan's suggestion that he was "Bobby Vee" after Vee's regional hit.EMI/UK released The Very Best of Bobby Vee
on May 12, 2008. This package charted in the UK top five. On January 17, 2011, EMI/UK released Rarities
, a double CD package with 61 tracks, many of which had been previously unreleased. Others included were alternate takes and first-time stereo releases, as well as tracks from the Bobby Vee Live on Tour
album minus the "canned" audience.On March 28, 2011, he became the 235th inductee into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
The Day the Music Died
Vee's career began amid tragedy. On "The Day the Music Died" (February 3, 1959), the three headline acts in the line-up of the traveling 'Winter Dance Party'—Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper—were killed, along with 21-year-old pilot Roger Peterson, in the crash of a 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza v-tailed aircraft (registration #N3974N) near Clear Lake, Iowa, while en route to the next show on the tour itinerary in Moorhead, Minnesota. Velline, then aged 15, and a hastily-assembled band of Fargo, North Dakota, schoolboys calling themselves the Shadows volunteered for and were given the unenviable job of filling in for Holly and his band at the Moorhead engagement. Their performance there was a success, setting in motion a chain of events that led to Vee's career as a popular singer.In 1963, Bobby Vee released a tribute album on Liberty Records called I Remember Buddy Holly
. In the liner notes, Vee recalled Holly's influence on him and the events surrounding Holly's death:
Like so many other people, I became a Buddy Holly fan the very first time I heard him sing. I've been a fan ever since and I guess I always will be. I remember a few years ago when Buddy was scheduled to appear at a dance in my home town of Fargo, North Dakota. It was going to be a big event for the whole town, but even more so for me. I was anxiously looking forward to seeing Buddy in action.
The day he was to arrive disaster struck, taking Buddy's life, along with the lives of two other fine singers, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. The shocking news spread through Fargo very quickly. The local radio station broadcast a plea for local talent to entertain at the scheduled dance. About a week before this, I had just organized a vocal and instrumental group of five guys. Our style was modelled after Buddy's approach and we had been rehearsing with Buddy's hits in mind. When we heard the radio plea for talent, we went in and volunteered. We hadn't even named the group up to that time, so we gave ourselves a name on the spot, calling ourselves "The Shadows". We appeared at the dance and were grateful to be enthusiastically accepted. Soon afterwards, I made my first record. It was called "Suzie Baby" and I was pretty lucky with it; it was a fair-sized hit.
For some time now, I have wanted to make an album in tribute to Buddy, but I wasn't sure it was the proper thing to do. However, during the past year, I have received many requests to do such an album. These requests came not only from my fans and from DJs, but also from Buddy's loyal following---still a large group of devoted fans. It.... gave me the confidence to do the album. From "Suzie Baby" to this present album, I have made many records, but I have never forgotten Buddy Holly and his influence on my singing style and my career.
Despite the circumstances of his debut, Vee went on to become a bona fide star, and regularly performs at the Winter Dance Party memorial concerts in Clear Lake. Often some tribute concerts to the event have been performed by Vee's son Robbie but now no longer with Jay Richardson, the son of the Big Bopper, who died on 21 August 2013 at age 54.
As a child, Bobby spent summers on the Tuomala Family Farm in Perth, North Dakota, with his cousins. He is half Finnish through his mother who was Saima Cecelia Tapanila. He lived in Beverly Hills, for decades, but relocated to St. Cloud, Minnesota, then to nearby Collegeville. He is currently located in Cold Spring, Minnesota.Vee married Karen Bergen of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, December 28, 1963, and fathered three sons and a daughter. His children include: Jeffery Robert Velline (born January 3, 1965), Thomas Paul Velline (born October 25, 1966), Robert Bryon Velline (born August 4, 1967), and Jennifer Joanne Velline (born May 31, 1972). A number of his children join him on tour backing as his band. He is still active and touring internationally as a performer as of 2008, along with his backup band, The Vees, which includes his two elder sons, Jeff and Tommy Vee. His youngest son, Robby Vee, is also a recording and performing artist. Bobby Vee is a recipient of the state of North Dakota's Roughrider Award and his contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. In 2009 Bobby Vee was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.Bobby Vee and his sons in the Vees traveled to Perth, North Dakota, summer after summer to entertain people for the Music on the Prairie concert series and to participate in the Tuomala and Tapanila family reunions as both families came together from Canada and America.Bobby announced on 29 April 2012 on his website that he was diagnosed a year before as in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease.
Vee concluded a long-running engagement at Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theater in Branson, Missouri. He performed in the 8:00 pm 'Original Stars at American Bandstand' show with Fabian Forte, Chris Montez, Brian Hyland, and The Chiffons.In October 2007, he was on tour performing in 'The Last of the Big Rock Shows' along with Lesley Gore and Billy "Crash" Craddock in Australia.In fall of 2011 he was in the recording studio working on a new album and writing new songs.
Early in Vee's career, a musician named Elston Gunnn briefly toured with the band. "Gunnn", whose birth name was Robert Allen Zimmerman, later went on to fame as Bob Dylan.In his autobiography, Chronicles, Volume One
, Dylan makes special mention of Vee and shares significant and complimentary details about their friendship, both professional and personal.In a concert at Midway Stadium in St. Paul on July 10, 2013, Dylan said he had been on the stage with many stars but that none of them were as meaningful as Bobby Vee. He said Bobby Vee was in the audience and then Dylan then played Bobby Vee's hit "Suzie Baby" with emotion. From a concert audio recording, Dylan said, "Thank you everyone, thank you friends. I left here a while back, and since that time, I've played all over the world, with all kinds of people. And uh, everybody from Mick Jagger to Madonna. And uh, everybody in there in between. I've been on the stage with most of those people. But the most meaningful person I've ever been on the stage with, was a man who is here tonight, who used to sing a song called "Suzie Baby". I want to say that Bobby Vee is actually here tonight. Maybe you can show your appreciation with just a round of applause. So, we're gonna try to do this song, like I've done it with him before once or twice."