Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The times they really are a-changing

We heard not long ago that Bobby Vee (born Robert Velline, 1943) was battling Alzheimer's Disease, and the end came yesterday for the man who took up the hiccup-y sound of Buddy Holly and brought it to the top 40 charts many times in the early 60s. He was, indeed, a teen idol, with hits such as "Devil or Angel", "Rubber Ball", "Take Good Care of My Baby", "Please Don't Ask About Barbara", "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" and "Come Back When You Grow Up" between 1960 and 1966.

But how odd that his passing came just a couple of weeks after Bob Dylan (born Robert Zimmerman, 1941) was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Here's the connection. One of Dylan's first music jobs was playing the piano (under the nom de keys "Elston Gunnn") (with three Ns) in The Shadows, Vee's backup band.

Vee was born in Fargo and it was there that he decided to add a pianist to his group. Along came Dylan, who was from Hibbing, Minnesota, and said that he had just finished a job backing Conway Twitty on the road, but failed to point out that he could only play piano in the key of C. Even at $15 a night, it didn't work out, and Dylan put music aside to enroll at the University of Minnesota. Later, he moved to New York and you know the rest of that story (although you never heard it from Paul Harvey.)

Fast forward a couple of years, and Vee finds himself on tour, a rather important pop star playing New York City. He passes by a record shop in Greenwich Village and sees a familiar face on an album cover:
"I was walking down the street. There was a record store there, and there was an album in the front window. And it said, ‘Bob Dylan.’ And I thought to myself, ‘Looks a lot like Elston Gunnn,'" Vee recalled.
And they didn't see each other again for years. In his autobiography "Chronicles," Dylan indicated that he wished Vee had stuck with the rockabilly sound he started out with.

"He’d become a crowd pleaser in the pop world. As for myself, I had nothing against pop songs, but the definition of pop was changing."

However great the differences between the singer of "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" and "Like A Rolling Stone," Dylan and Vee respected each other's music.  

"I wouldn’t see Bobby Vee again for another thirty years, and though things would be a lot different, I’d always thought of his as a brother,” Dylan wrote in his "Chronicles." "Every time I’d see his name somewhere, it was like he was in the room."

Vee told a Dylan website (there are dozens!) that even though Dylan's music was so wildly different from his, he liked it a lot too.  
"I probably plugged into him on the second or third album, and the stuff was really unusual. It was so far removed from what I was doing. Not long after that, I started listening to his stuff and really became a big fan," Vee said.

So, how nice it was in 2013, two years after Vee had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, he was at a Dylan concert in St. Paul MN - and Dylan did a version of Vee's first hit, "Suzie Baby."

And Dylan said that of all the people with whom he had ever performed, Vee was "the most meaningful person." And Bob led the audience in applauding as the legendary Bobby entered his final sad twilight. That must have felt good all around.

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