Get Caught Up: Part 1
The Day the music died
Buddy Holly was in his prime. He was really on a roll at that point. I’ve always thought — just my own feeling on the thing — is that with “Raining In My Heart” and “It Doesn’t Matter Any More,” those records to me are Buddy Holly sort of becoming what Liberty ended up finding with you, with the strings and the nice pop production with a rock ’n’ roll basis. You were obviously a fan of Buddy Holly and the whole scene as a young guy. I know from many years of listening to you and listening to you now that nothing about your style is affected whatsoever. This is Bobby Vee, this is how you sing [and] this is how you sound. And I’m sure when you were 15 you already sounded like that.
BV: I think I did, yeah.
Did your band do any Buddy Holly songs?
BV: I did. We did, and we did Buddy Knox songs. I still do. To me, he was one of the great rockabilly guys; you never hear his stuff any more, but he made some great records in Clovis, N.M., and we did Gene Vincent. We did a lot of rock ’n’ roll stuff ’cause that’s what everybody wanted to hear, and people wanted to dance, too. So I would do my hits ... I’ve always done Buddy Holly music.
So the 1959 Winter Dance Party covered the Midwest, too, headed to Fargo ...
BV: They were en route to Fargo from Clear Lake; beyond that, on to Sioux City. The show was actually to be in the Moorhead, Minn., Moorhead Armory, [the] Fargo-Moorhead area where I grew up. I heard the announcement about the plane crash at a noon-hour lunch. I had gone home for lunch, and then that was the topic of conversation when I went back.
I was a sophomore in high school. That’s what everybody was talking about, of course, ’cause it was the first major package show to come through the area. So it was exciting. I think it was a Tuesday night, and the radio station had met with The Crickets and The Belmonts. The rest of the guys that came in, the new Crickets, and decided to go on with the show, and they asked — I think once on the radio,we just happened to hear it — for any local talent that would help fill in the evening, and we called them up, and they said come on down and that was it.
Did people come up and say, “You sound just like Buddy Holly?”
BV: No, no one ever said that, and ironically ... I’d like to say that it was to honor Buddy Holly I didn’t sing any that night. We just didn’t sing any. I knew them all, but we didn’t sing any of them. I’m a real student of Buddy Holly’s life and his short career; talk about “True Love Ways” ... one of the greatest love songs ever written. He co-wrote that song with Norman [Petty], and if you go back and listen to all the Buddy Holly songs that have ever been issued, you can hear him becoming a great writer. It just all happened over a period of about three or four years.
... And a great producer. That was where he was headed. That was my impression.
BV: And producer. Right. The pop stuff — when I signed with Liberty, Snuffy wanted to hear some of my songs, and everything I sang him was a rock ’n’ roll song. He really had the vision; I didn’t have the vision. His vision was Buddy Holly’s vision.
He was a friend of Buddy Holly’s. Snuff had been a disc jockey in Lubbock, Texas. He was friends with The Crickets and Norman, and that’s why we went to Clovis to record. It was more because that was part of his comfort zone. He was just a young producer, and he had spent time in the studio in Clovis, and he thought, well, that’s where you go to make records. You go to Clovis, even though Liberty was in L.A. So that’s where we went.
Snuffy and Buddy Holly’s vision I think were similar. I mean Holly really had a vision of pop music that’s really evident in songs like “Words Of Love” and “Listen To Me” and some of those ballads that he did. He really set the tone for my direction, Johnny Burnette’s direction ... I mean Johnny Burnette, my goodness, one of the great rockabilly bands of all time, and here he was reinventing himself as a pop singer.
Did you ever talk to him about that? Or did you ever have any discussions with him about your similar roots and similar direction?
BV: Not really. Actually, we recorded some of the same songs. Snuffy would find a song, and there were several of them ... actually I shared my first session with Johnny Burnette. We went in and split the session. He did two songs, and I did two songs. I did “What Do You Want” and “My Love Loves Me,” the Sonny Curtis song, and he did “Dreamin’” and “Cincinnati Fireball.”
Well, that was a moment in time that sort of changed things! Having those two records come out of the same three hours. My goodness.
BV: No kidding.
I really like “What Do You Want.” I told you the other day that I hadn’t heard it for years and had completely forgotten what it was like. That’s a really good record. It absolutely had the hallmark of everything that was to follow.
BV: Oh thanks. It’s a good record, yeah. It certainly did. That set the table.
What all did you do at Clovis?
BV: Actually, the first session that I did for Liberty, they flew me out to L.A. to record “What Do You Want.” The next session we did was in Clovis.
The deal that I had was for an album. Snuffy had this idea that he wanted to make a rock ’n’ roll album, and he wanted to make a pop album at the same time. I thought it was a great idea. He said we’ll put all the rock ’n’ roll tunes on one side, and we’ll cut ’em in Clovis, and we’ll go to L.A. and do some ballads, and that’ll be the string side, and love songs and all that — sounded alright to me.
So we went down to Clovis, and we recorded I think it was actually seven songs. We did a version of “That’ll Be The Day,” and we did “Susie-Q.” We did “Bye Bye Love.” We did a version of “White Silver Sands,” “Wishing” — Norman said, “Here’s one of Buddy’s songs that we haven’t done anything with,” and that just knocked me out. So we recorded “Wishing.”
There’s something I’m leaving out, but that was it, and then we went out to Los Angeles and started recording what became my very first album, Bobby Vee Sings Your Favorites. And Norman had written these wonderful liner notes for this project, and we got done with the six songs out in L.A., and the sessions had gone so well and everyone was so excited, Snuff said, “Let’s do some more.” Snuffy wasn’t very happy with the sound of the records that we did in Clovis, so we did six more songs, and we never used the Clovis stuff. It never came out.
It was a better experience for me, you know, being a huge Buddy Holly fan, than it was for him, apparently — at odds with Norman somehow. So we had these liner notes that Norman Petty had written, but everything was changing, so we had his liner notes on the back of the album and ended up with an album of ballads from the ’50s, and “Devil Or Angel” came off of that.
So where did those Clovis sessions go?
BV: Well, nowhere. They sat around. I had a 7 1/2 IPS reel, and there was a master copy I think just stayed in Clovis. I just got it a few years ago, just picked it up. I ended up leasing that material and other stuff to K-Tel, and they put out a package Bobby Vee & The Shadows, The Early Rockin’ Years. My brother died in 1997, and it came out before that, probably 1996.
That was really fun for me ’cause Bill played on that. It’s 24 tracks, all just rockin’ ’50s stuff. It’s very garage-band-y, a beautiful package, great liner notes. Steve Wilson was with K-Tel at the time overseeing the project. It was a lot of fun to put together, and as far as I was concerned, it was a showcase for my brother. The last session we did as a band was at a studio in Wisconsin. It was an album that I produced with the band, and there’s some really nice instrumentals that Bill and I wrote together. (This incredible CD is available from Rockhouse Productions, www.rockhouseproductions.com)
In listening to The Early Rockin’ Years, I’m wondering, did Liberty not hear this material?
BV: The only thing we used during that time period was “Laurie,” which was the B-side of “One Last Kiss.” They got caught up with the whole enmeshment with The Ventures. They didn’t know what to do with The Shadows, basically, and we had signed two different contracts.
This was probably before you even knew about the British Shadows in ’59?
BV: They were The Drifters at that time. Then they changed their name. I saw them play in Minneapolis. They opened the show. It was Frankie Avalon and a bunch of rock ’n’ rollers that came through Minneapolis. Cliff Richard & The Shadows opened the show, and Cliff Richard came out in a white suit, and he stood at the wing, and he did about five spins. He was on the other side of the stage, and it was one of the most rockin’ shows, and we walked out of there saying, “Well, better think of another name for the band.”
Did Liberty end up with the masters to all of these things or did they just disappear?
BV: The masters got burned up. There was a fire. And I had, for example, “Lonely Love,” “Love Must Pass Me By,” “It’s Too Late,” “Remember The Day.” I had acetates on those things and back in the early ’80s, I went into the studio and dumped them down just so that I had them. Then later, when this project came along, we went in and cleaned them up a little bit, but you can still hear clicks and pops in there. But that’s just the way that we retrieved them.
“Laurie” and “It’s Too Late,” especially “Laurie,” sound like [they have] a different bass player, different producer. There are strings on it; it’s completely different than anything else on it.
BV: The only songs the original bass player played on were “Susie Baby” and “Flying High,” the first three actually. There was another instrumental that we didn’t put on here; then Dick Dunkirk came in on bass, and he played on “Love Must Pass Me By,” “It’s Too Late,” and “Laurie.” We took “Laurie” and overdubbed strings on it.
You did that or Liberty did that?
BV: Liberty did it.
So the “Laurie” that’s on here is after Liberty played with it. You say that there is yet another instrumental from the ’59 sessions?
BV: There’s two actually. There’s another version of “Flying High” that we cut at a little studio in Moorhead that I wish I had put on there, ’cause it was the ultimate garage-band sound. Just a real tanky ... we had just written the song, and it was like a minute and 20 seconds or something. I didn’t put it on, but I wish I had now because those are the colors. They become the colors — not fun to listen to but good enough to say, “Well, there’s a garage band.”
Yeah but people eat that up. I’m just looking at it from the standpoint of a fan at the time. It almost looks like they thought, well, they’ve got the next generation’s Buddy Holly here, and they’ll go back to Clovis and try and get that magic back out of that studio. But I think the stuff that you guys did in Minneapolis is cooler sounding, and it’s your stuff. You wrote it.
BV: Well thanks, I thought that, too. They’re better sounding records, and they have some spirit to them because they are original.