In recent times Glen Campbell publically admitted he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and even wrote and sang the very moving and emotional song, I’m Not Gonna Miss You, about it, not too many people make it known and Bobby Vee was one of them. He’d been suffering with it for five years and lost his battle last Monday.
Bobby, who was born Robert Velline in Fargo, North Dakota in 1943, was only 15 when he got his big break albeit under tragic circumstances. He took to the stage in Moorhead, Minnesota to stand in for Buddy Holly following the February 3rd plane crash in Iowa that killed Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens in 1959.
A call went out for any local acts who could step in to replace Holly at his scheduled show at the Moorhead National Guard Armory. Bobby and his band volunteered. They’d only been together for a couple of weeks and didn’t even have a name. The show’s host, Charlie Boone, turned to Bobby and asked him the name of his band. Vee turned around and saw the shadows of his bandmates on the floor and answered, “The Shadows.”
“I didn’t have any fear right then,” Bobby recalled in a 1999 interview with The Associated Press. “The fear didn’t hit me until the spotlight came on, and then I was just shattered by it. I didn’t think that I’d be able to sing. If I opened my mouth, I wasn’t sure anything would come out.” He later said that his debut was a milestone in his life, and “the start of a wonderful career.” As a tribute he recorded the album Bobby Vee Meets the Crickets with Holly’s backing group in 1962 and it reached number two in the UK album chart.
Bobby’s own career took off in 1960 with the US hit Devil or Angel which reached number six and followed that with the international hit Rubber Ball which made number four in the UK. He charted 10 UK hits but an astounding 45 Billboard singles in America including the top three singles Take Good Care of my Baby, Run To Him and The Night Has A Thousand Eyes.
Bobby married his wife Karen in December 1963 and they were married for over 50 years until her death of kidney failure in 2015 aged 71. The couple had four children, including two sons who, in later years, would perform with Bobby.
In the early sixties one of his touring entourage included a musician who called himself Elston Gunnn (with three ‘n’s), his real name was Robert Zimmerman a young man who later became known as Bob Dylan.
Bobby kept recording and touring right into the 2000s but he had trouble remembering lyrics during performances, and he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2011. He performed his last show that year which was billed as his retirement, during an annual community fundraiser that his family hold near their home in Minnesota. He made a public announcement about his diagnosis the following year.
In a 2013 interview with The Associated Press, Vee said he knew his abilities were diminishing and he didn’t want to put his family through a public decline, “It’s not getting any better, I can tell you that, But I’m doing the best I can.”