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Robert Thomas Velline

Also Known As: "Bobby", "Bob", "Bobby Vee"
Birthplace: Fargo, Cass County, North Dakota, United States
Death: October 24, 2016 (73)
Rogers, Hennepin County, Minnesota, United States
Place of Burial: Saint John The Baptist Parish Cemetery, Collegeville Township, Stearns, Minnesota, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Sydney Ronald Velline, Sr. and Saima Cecilia Velline
Husband of Karen Ann Velline
Father of Private; Private; Private and Private
Brother of William Velline and Sydney Ronald Velline, Jr.

Occupation: Singer
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Bobby Vee

By 1959, rock’n’roll had apparently run its course: Elvis Presley was in the army, Chuck Berry was in jail, Little Richard had got religion and Buddy Holly had perished in a plane crash. In most versions of pop music history, the resulting vacuum was filled by “the Bobbys”, younger performers whose looks were more important than their singing. Foremost among these, but with better songs and musicianship than most, was Bobby Vee, who has died aged 73.

Vee was a literal replacement for Holly in February 1959. He and his brother, Bill, were set to attend a concert in Moorehead, Minnesota, by the Winter Dance Party package show when Bobby heard the news that its stars, his idol Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, had died in a plane crash. The brothers and their group rushed to offer their services, stopping only to buy angora sweaters for their stage outfits. They duly performed as the Shadows, appearing immediately after a spoken tribute to Buddy from his bass player, the future country music star Waylon Jennings.

By June, the Shadows had recorded Suzie Baby for Soma, a small Minneapolis label, and its modest success was enough to win Bobby a contract with Liberty Records of Los Angeles. He went on to have numerous hit records in the 1960s on both sides of the Atlantic, including Take Good Care of My Baby, Rubber Ball, The Night Has a Thousand Eyes and Run to Him.

Son of Saima (nee Tampinila) and Sidney Velline, Bobby was born in Fargo, North Dakota, into a family of Norwegian and Finnish heritage (in 2014 he was elected to the Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame). His father, a chef, was a pianist and fiddle player. Bill formed a small band at Central High school and allowed his younger brother to join when it transpired that Bobby knew all the lyrics to current hits by Presley and the Everly Brothers.

After their big break at the Winter Dance Party in 1959, a local music promoter was impressed enough to find the group further engagements in the region. During this time they briefly employed a pianist calling himself Elston Gunnn. His real name was Robert Zimmerman, and he would, in a more successful incarnation, soon become Bob Dylan. Vee remembered that Gunnn “played pretty good in the key of C” while Dylan wrote in his 2004 memoir Chronicles Volume 1 that Vee’s voice was “as musical as a silver bell”.

At Liberty Records, the renamed Bobby Vee came under the supervision of the producer Snuff Garrett, who would mastermind his sequence of hit singles. This began inauspiciously with a version of Adam Faith’s British hit What Do You Want but picked up speed when the next single, Devil Or Angel, reached No 6 in the US charts in September 1960.

Next came the first of many songs directed squarely at a teenage audience. With its “bouncy bouncy” refrain chorused by the female backing vocalists, the infuriatingly catchy Rubber Ball was Vee’s first British hit, peaking at No 4 at the beginning of 1961. This was followed by a version of More Than I Can Say, written by Jerry Allison and Sonny Curtis of the Crickets, Holly’s former backing group. Garrett had been a disc-jockey in Lubbock, Texas, Holly and Allison’s home town, and he arranged for Vee to record and tour with the Crickets.

More crucially, in 1961 Garrett linked up with the Brill Building song factory in New York, in order to source songs for Vee. Foremost among these was Take Good Care of My Baby, composed by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, which became Bobby’s only No 1 hit in America and was among his biggest successes in Britain, where it got to No 3. In Liverpool, George Harrison sang the Beatles’ version at the Cavern, dedicating it to the children’s charity Barnardo’s.

Vee’s other big hits in the early 60s included Run to Him, Sharing You and The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, the last of which he sang in Just for Fun (1963), one of two British B movies in which he appeared alongside various home-grown stars. The other was Play It Cool (1962), which starred Billy Fury. Vee also toured Britain several times in the 1960s, including a 1963 package show with Dusty Springfield and the Searchers. In 1964 he supported the Rolling Stones on their first American tour.

By the end of the 60s, Vee’s style was out of fashion although he unsuccessfully tried to join the singer-songwriter trend in 1972 by releasing an album using his real name, in an attempt to claim authenticity.

In 1982, he moved his family from Los Angeles to St Cloud, Minnesota, where he and his wife, Karen, organised annual fundraising concerts to provide music and arts facilities for local children. He also recorded occasionally with his three sons and continued to perform his hits to fans in North America and Europe until a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in 2011.

Karen died in 2015. Vee is survived by their children, Jeffrey, Thomas, Robert and Jennifer.

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Bobby Vee's Timeline

April 30, 1943
Fargo, Cass County, North Dakota, United States
October 24, 2016
Age 73
Rogers, Hennepin County, Minnesota, United States
November 2, 2016
Age 73
Saint John The Baptist Parish Cemetery, Collegeville Township, Stearns, Minnesota, United States