Bobby Vee

Forget show business, Bobby Vee was simply one of the nicest people on the planet. That is not an opinion. It is simply a fact.

Bobby died today at the age of 73. He had lived with Alzheimer’s disease for several years. His wife Karen died in August of last year. They were married for 51 years.

I was a Bobby Vee fan first. Who wasn’t growing up in the early 1960’s in North Dakota? The state just didn’t have many pop stars to call its own.

Bobby had a string of hit songs like “Rubber Ball,” “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” “Come Back When You Grow Up Girl” and “Take Good Care of My Baby.” Some written for him by Carole King. That last one was a #1 hit in the country, no easy accomplishment.

Any chance I could get over the years I talked with Bobby on television. It ended up being at least a half dozen times.

The first was in a television studio in the early 1970’s, just before his first appearance in North Dakota in almost a decade at a Bismarck nightclub.

Years later, he helped me with research on a series of stories I was doing on the anniversary of the death of Buddy Holly who died in the crash for a light airplane carrying him and two other music stars to Fargo-Moorhead. It’s become known as “the day the music died.” Bobby and his band filled in for Holly at the Moorhead Armory the next night.  We exchanged phone numbers, not something your average pop star would do for a reporter.

The last time we met was in Bismarck, just before he accepted the North Dakota Roughrider Award in June of 1999. Bobby always recognized me when we met–except that day. He sort of squinted and looked at me as if he was struggling to remember who I was. I just thought he was tired. After all, he and his band had performed in Cincinnati, I think it was, the night before and then traveled to Bismarck. I will always believe his disease had started to kick in even then.

When he first heard about his Roughrider Award nomination, he told me that day, he thought someone was pulling his leg. Not surprising for someone who was as down-to-earth as he was. That’s how I will remember him, humble and hard-working. His shows were always different and fresh. He always looked like he was the one in the room having the most fun.  And he worked tirelessly at self-promotion. Self-promotion in the very best sense of the word.

Jeff Velline described his father to the BBC today as “a person who brought joy all over the world. That was his job.” And Bobby Vee was very good at his job.