(From Clovis) “Susie-Q” is good and “Butterfly” is really good. “Party Doll” came off well, but I know what he’s talking about. They tend to be a little flat-sounding, comparatively. Nonetheless, just the fact that they still exist is great. Who’s singing “Leave Me Alone” and “What’ll I Do”?
BV: That’s Bill. That’s my brother. He was a big Johnny Cash fan.
It sounds like Johnny Cash meets Jack Scott!
BV: (Laughs) Exactly! Oh my god that’s funny!
When I listen to this stuff, I was never really all that aware of just how good Bill was, but it seems to me that he’s one of the unsung heroes of rock ’n’ roll guitar players, like a Luther Perkins or a Scotty Moore. He’s in that league, but I never hear people talking about Bill Velline.
BV: He was an interesting guy. He was my mentor and my hero when I was growing up. He was five years older than me, and I went to all the shows with him, all the country stuff, and went to all the shows that came through the area, and he taught me how to play guitar. You know, the three chords, and I was on my own, but he hated the business thing of rock ’n’ roll, the traveling and agents and buyers, and all that stuff. He just wanted to play.
Maybe the same sort of outlook as a Cliff Gallup. He loved to play but was anti-everything else.
BV: “Card Shark And Mind Reader” we cut in California. “Loco” and “Toy Soldier” — it says Madison on the record but it’s not; Stereo Sound was in Wisconsin somewhere. I have a whole album that I recorded with The Shadows, and it’s never come out. It’s one of those things. I brought the master tape back to L.A. They weren’t really interested. There were vocals on there, Bill was singing some stuff and I was doing background vocals. It was really the band. It was The Shadows, and that’s when the real Ventures conflict came up. They didn’t know what to do with them, “we’ve got an instrumental band ...”
You’ve got enough material to put out an instrumental album?
BV: Yeah, I do. “Loco” and “Toy Soldier” were part of that, and then there are 10 other tracks that have never come out. And it’s pretty good stuff. You can listen to “Toy Soldier” and say, “That was nicely recorded, pretty good sound ...” We’re doing a new CD on The Shadows. I own the product. It’s in the EMI vaults. For collectors and people who like that ’50s thing it would be a lot of fun.
What I’d really like to do is to complete this Bobby Vee and The Shadows package [and] put this same lineup of stuff that we have, and add to it the album that I did with The Shadows that didn’t come out and also [add] the couple of cuts that we didn’t include in the original package, and then we’d have everything.
It would certainly be fun for me. I’m excited about it because my brother is in it, and he sang a couple of rockabilly tunes on there. [The] stuff is a little bit raw, a little bit loose, but it’s good stuff. It may turn up in that EMI package, and if it doesn’t, then we’ll do something with it on its own. It’ll be fun, 25 songs or something like that. The Ventures always loved Bill’s playing, too.
You should have EMI put it out on vinyl!
BV: I hadn’t thought about that, but it would be appropriate!
“Mind Reader” is very much of the period, with the horns and stuff.
BV: Yeah, it is. They heard that, and they thought, “Hmmm ... it’s got Ventures all over it.”
BV: That’s what I thought, too. And the irony is, I remember going out and touring with The Ventures, and Bill came along, and he played with the Ventures. I mean they loved his playing. Bob Bogle and Don Wilson, whenever we get together, they always talk about what a great player Bill was, and, of course, Bill loved it because he was a big fan of the Ventures.
He’d get up and play lead guitar on some of the songs. Nokie wasn’t with them at that time. He never played with a pick. He was like Mark Knopfler in that he plucked at the strings. He was perfect for me because I would be singing a melody and he would be doing a little counter thing beneath it — never got in the way of the vocal. He could have been playing a saxophone or a violin or anything, that’s the way he approached it.
That was the art of that period of time, and that’s why all those rockabilly guitar players like the Scotty Moore sort of bits are so hard to reproduce, because it’s the art of finesse. It’s not Eddie Van Halen doing hammer-ons up and down the neck. You’re actually playing single notes and inside the melody. That sort of went out the window with Cream and Hendrix, although Hendrix actually did some of that. People that are learning how to play guitar now aren’t really learning how to play guitar. They’re learning how to tune down to D and playing a big fat chord and let ‘er rip.
BV: There’s a rockabilly movie that’s coming out, and they were looking for songs from the time period. You know if you go into the movies, you hear all the old songs in them — “In The Still Of The Night,” “Only Have Eyes For You.” “Runaway” by Del Shannon has been in several movies. It’s such a big business that they could [afford] $50,000 or $100,000 to get the rights to use them in a movie.
It wasn’t that type of a movie. They didn’t have a budget for that, and the music director for the movie is a friend of my son’s, and he called Tommy and asked him, “Do you have any?” Does your dad have anything that he owns that we could use?”
So I sent him the CD, and he pulled off “Laurie,” which is going to be the re-occurring song in the movie — “Love Must Have Passed Me By,” maybe “Lonely Love” ’cause they wanted that real garage-y sounding thing. And I think he also used “It’s Too Late,” so that was a fun thing, and [the fact] that 40 to 45 years later somebody gets excited about this!
The film is called “The Idol.” It’s interesting. I got one clean copy from Lou Irwin. When the Bob Dylan movie “No Direction Home” came out, they put a little piece of “Suzie Baby” in there. My piece was about 45 seconds, and we made a deal with them in lieu of payment if we could dump it down into the current platform, state-of-the-art copy from film into the digital world. It might be in the package we’re going to be putting out if it doesn’t fit into that plan we’ll do something else with it.
People still haven’t really heard this even though it’s on CD it seems to me. “Lonely Love” and “Love Must have Passed Me By” ... if those two songs had been the A- and B-side of a single at the time, it would be worth $1,000 today. It would be just nuts. Those two songs have every conceivable element that make a record desirable and fun and collectible in this day and age. Especially if they had come out on Soma where they would have disappeared, know what I mean? You’re almost Elvis on “Lonely Love,” and it’s incredible because you’re 15! It’s absolutely amazing to me.
BV: My wife and I had dinner with our daughter and her husband in Minneapolis a while back, and her husband came in with the Bob Dylan book “Chronicles,” and there’s about a page and a half about his early days in Fargo when he played in my band for a while. He was Bob Zimmerman at the time. He talks about that time period, and it blew my mind that he would remember that. He played in Fargo in 1991, and I sent him a letter welcoming him back to Fargo, ’cause he spent time there when he was 17 or something and played in our band a short time. And I brought it up and gave it to one of the technicians that I knew working that show, and said, “If you see Dylan, give him this note.”
So my wife and I and daughter Jennifer, and our oldest son, Jeff, we were all at the show, and on the break after the opening act. We got a page to come backstage. We went backstage, and he and the guitar player on that tour, G.E. Smith, were the only people backstage up in this little dressing room. I had also sent along a cassette of The Vees, and when we walked in, he was playing The Vees cassette, and we chatted and I was amazed at how much he remembered from that time period. [He] talked about my brother Bill, asked how he was doin’ [and] Bill had obviously made an impression on him. And the Red Apple Café where he had worked as a bus boy, and Del Shannon ... that was the last show Del played, at the Fargo Civic.
Just about 10 minutes, and that was it — gave him a hug and left the room. Anyway, in the new book, he talks about his experience in Fargo. It’s fascinating.
So Bob Dylan was in The Shadows? What’d he do?
BV: He was in The Shadows. Yeah, he played piano, but he didn’t play very well, and we didn’t have a piano. He talks about playing in a church basement, and that’s true.
The piano was horribly out of tune. He could play “Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Going On.’ He played really well in the key of C, but that was about it. He had this amazing energy even at that time, and when he wasn’t playing he’d come up, and we did Gene Vincent songs and Ronnie Hawkins and all kinds of stuff — I remember doing “Lotta Lovin’” and all of a sudden hearing handclaps next to my ear, and he was singing harmony on “Lotta Lovin’” and I thought, “Wow, this guy, he’s a wild card.”
He was great-spirited, had an amazing sense of humor and just wonderful energy. This was summer of ’59. He also mentioned that we had that time period in common. He grew up in Hibbing, and I grew up in Fargo, but we were listening to the same music. But then he moved to New York and started connecting to a lot of things that I was not connected to, because I wasn’t aware of them.
That’s before he had ever written a song even. You were the songwriter in that band and Dylan was the piano player!
BV: Think about that! But he was very kind and very generous about his memories around that whole thing. I left there thinking, “My god, what a memory this guy has,” and then I thought to myself, “That’s what writers do. They remember things and then write about them later.
So when you got linked with Liberty and Snuff Garrett, you didn’t feel like they were transforming you into anything that you were unhappy with? You were perfectly comfortable?
BV: I was absolutely comfortable. Snuff and I were good friends. He would go out and find the songs, and he’d come back with a stack of demos, and we’d weed our way through them and say, “Well let’s do this one, let’s do that one.” And Ernie would come in and sit down at the piano, and we’d find a key for them and sing them through a few times and generally did them in similar fashion of the demo.
No matter how sparse the demo was, Ernie would come up with these great string lines and added to it.
You rubbed elbows with a lot of good people when you were young and coming up. That must have left a great impression.
BV: That’s right, it did. I mean the discipline of the people that showed up. I mean Earl Palmer and Tommy Allsup. who played with Holly at the end of his career ... Barney Kessler, Howard Roberts who played the solo on “Devil Or Angel.” There was kind of a core of people we used, and I recorded a lot, like four albums a year, so that was a lot of material.