by Craig Moore
Bobby Vee’s true place in the annals of rock ’n’ roll is only just now being thoroughly researched and acknowledged.
In the first four parts of our career-spanning interview, Bobby discussed his influences and his early days with brother Bill as mentor. Now we find the young man from Fargo bursting onto the national scene following the tragedy of Clear Lake, rubbing elbows with the greatest songwriters and producers of the ’60s and ’70s and creating some of the most important pop hits of the entire rock ’n’ roll genre. He evolved not only into a singer/songwriter to be reckoned with, but also as a rock icon who has never left the road nor his fans behind.
With Elvis, people would fine-tune their demos, to try and make them accessible to him, like the ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ demo written by Hoyt Axton’s mother. And in the early ’60s, they had P.J. Proby doing the demos for “Follow That Dream” and “King Of The Whole Wide World” and all that kind of stuff ...
Bobby Vee: I’ll tell you a funny story. I was watching televison, one of the late-night shows — this was quite a few years ago — and I heard Elvis singing. I was in the other room, and when I went in to look, here it was Otis Blackwell, and he was singing the songs he had written for Elvis, sounding like Elvis.
Well, you want to get his attention, you know!
BV: Got my attention! But there were a lot of songs that were tailor-made for artists, and it was sort of that Catch-22 thing, if you don’t have a hit you can’t have any songs. So it was after “Devil Or Angel” that people started sending me songs. And then the Carole King/Gerry Goffin relationship, which really became something.
Did you ever sit down with them?
BV: One time. That was when I was recording “How Many Tears.” They flew out and came to the session, on the break — we were cutting an album (Bobby Vee With Strings And Things) and “How Many Tears” was part of that and eventually became a single. And on the break they sang two songs that they had just written, and that was the reason that they came out. And one of them was “In My Baby’s Eyes,” which is a great song, and the other was “Take Good Care Of My Baby,” and they did them in that order, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. A couple of weeks later we went in and cut “Take Good Care Of My Baby.”
Why wasn’t “It Might As Well Rain Until September” a Bobby Vee single? Did you do it before or after Carole King?
BV: As I understand it, her demo was her single. We got three of her songs at the same time. She sent “It Might As Well Rain Until September,” “Go Away Little Girl,” and “Sharing You.” I didn’t capture “Go Away Little Girl.” I really liked “It Might As Well Rain Until September,” and I LOVED “Sharing You.”
I thought that was great, the strings that Ernie put in there. I liked them all, but we had to make a decision, and the way Donny Kirshner at Aldon/Screen Gems Music operated was, “You know you’ve got a window of opportunity; if you’re not going to put this out as a single, we’ll get a single on it ’cause they’re all good songs, and somebody else will put it out,” and that’s what happened. We put out “Sharing You,” and of course, Steve Lawrence put out “Go Away Little Girl,” and then Carole came out with “Might As Well Rain Until September.” She was as good as gold. I like everything about it, and in retrospect, I wish we had put it out, because it had the ad-libbed introduction like “Take Good Care Of My Baby.” Unusual song.
It would have been a great follow-up. But “Sharing You” is a killer record though, an absolutely great record and it doesn’t get any airplay.
BV: I think of it as a fringe hit, although it was a Top 20 record. It’s kind of the “color” in my chart life.
You did all your own harmonies on those records, right? The Bobby Vee Brothers — “Please Don’t Ask About Barbara” is really tricky!
BV: Yes I did, just off the top of my head, we just did it. I had the ability to sing harmony parts, but that was a tough song. But there’s one place if you listen to it, where I drop into unison with myself. (sings the harmony part) “...tears tears go away, come again some other day,” somewhere within all of that I just couldn’t find the harmony, just for one note ...
BV: Right...and it’s fine!
Have you ever gotten tired of performing those hits?
BV: Rarely. It happens at times, with the exception of “Take Good Care Of My Baby” and “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes,” which I’ve never gotten tired of. There’ve been others that I just give ’em a rest, and then songs that I haven’t done in years [that] I’ll all of a sudden start doing those again — “How Many Tears,” “One Last Kiss” — and it’s a great piece of material, and I rediscover the joy of it.
When you were doing the sessions at Liberty, did you ever present any of your own stuff? How much input did they allow you as the artist into which records were made, [and] how they sounded?
BV: I was comfortable with the level of attention that my own songs got, and after the first couple of albums came out, I started ... I had always been writing. It’s an interesting thing. People talk about The Beatles, John and Paul and George Harrison often gets left out, and here’s a guy who had several major records, and they were amazing songs, and it’s almost the association, he was working with a couple of guys who were genius writers, and he became a sensational writer. I think when you’re working with people, they raise the bar, if we’re paying attention we can be better. So I learned a lot about songwriting. I’m not a prolific songwriter but I enjoy writing. And I think I became a better writer by being around songwriters and listening to them talk and being part of that process.
Some of the records that don’t get a lot of notice, “Charms,” “Never Love A Robin,” “Be True To Yourself,” do those titles generate any memories?
BV: You actually picked out a couple of them there. I still do “Charms” from time to time, I just think it’s a great record, early pop record, early ’60s, it’s a sweet song. I love the drums on it, the brushes, and it’s a good record, mixed nicely. “Never Love A Robin” I love. And “Armen’s Theme,” I like that, too. I was told that “Never Love A Robin” got played in Detroit on one of the powerhouse stations, I was excited about that ’cause I really did pay attention to who was playing the songs and I would call disc jockeys and introduce myself to ‘em, try to spur those records along. But “Never Love A Robin” is a wonderful song, a great lyric, like a movie, you could put it in a movie, I see images with it when I hear the song. It was another of those a capella or part a capella entrances, like “Take Good Care Of My Baby.” I also did a version of the Fleetwoods’ “Mr. Blue” where I did the a capella piece in front of that. I never really thought that much about it until quite a few years later I started adding up all the songs I did a capella opening, and I thought jeesh I should splice them all together. (Another great one, “Punish Her”) “Armen’s Theme” was such a wonderful thing. Ross Bagdasarian who was David Seville, that was his song, I think he had invested some money in Liberty, he was good friends with Si Warnoker, Lenny Warnoker’s dad who really had put the money up for the label. And it was just a great song. I think maybe great songs are just like that. You can visualize them. You can see the guy sitting in the café, drinking a beer, or a whiskey....whatever it is.
I could see somebody like a Michael Buble or a Harry Connick Jr doing that, with the big band — well, you could re-do it yourself of course! But even back then what came to my mind, wow this is Bobby Vee but it seemed to me like Sinatra or something.
BV: Oh, wouldn’t that be great? And it’s a great piece of material, that’s everything, it gives you a lifespan.
That was a big 2-sided record in my mind, I always thought.
BV: (Laughs) ... that did absolutely nothing! That’s not always ... well I love hearing that. People earmark songs ...
You had a lot of what I think were 2-sided masterpieces: 'Run To Him" / "Walkin’ With My Angel," "Stayin In" / "More Than I Can Say," "Rubber Ball" / "Everyday," "Punish Her" / "Someday" — lots of them. Most of them.
BV: Snuffy liked to record and so did I. There was a time when the B-side might save you. You put all that effort into making records and then not to give people an A-side and a B-side, I loved that. I used to go into someplace in Fargo and put the nickel in the jukebox, listen to Elvis Presley on the jukebox for 4 days and then flip the record over. A lot of my stuff was B-sides and I was glad to have them, they paid the same as the A-side.
Exactly, there’s nothing like having the B-side of a record that sells a million copies!
BV: Yeah, “Take Good Care Of My Baby.” Dick Glasser wrote “Bashful Bob” and bought a house with the royalties.
From listening to your new album (I Wouldn’t Change A Thing) it’s clear you also learned a great deal about production and how to make a record. It’s all over it. We were talking about “Whatever Happened To Peggy Sue.” You’ve got the plucked strings, you’ve got the bass part but then you have a tremeloed bass part over the top of that. You’ve got layers of things going on that are very simple little things that you can do in the studio.
BV: Yep, thanks. You know Ernie Freeman did that so naturally, here’s a guy that came out of the whole blues background and all of a sudden was making pop records. But he had a way of separating things, whether it be a guitar part that wove in and out, or just a rhythm part, or the piano licks in “Take Good Care Of My Baby” that are so important to that song. Or “Walkin’ With My Angel,” they’re just little things, but they re-occur and string lines that re-occur, and they became hooks.
I’ve learned over the years as a songwriter that trying to write something like a “Run To Him” with a naturally flowing hook, is really a trick. Something like that either comes to you or it doesn’t.
BV: I’m trying not to sound bitter, but you know, sandwiched in between the free-flowing years of rockabilly and rock 'n' roll, and then the unbelievable great songs and exciting era of The Beatles, and that little late 50’s & especially early 60’s time period, it isn’t either of those things, but what it is is so simple that it gets overlooked, I think.
This has been my opinion all along, even as far as Elvis goes. To me Elvis Presley’s best records came after he got out of the Army. I mean, just his delivery. "Are You Lonesome Tonight,” and “Surrender” and “Little Sister,” “His Latest Flame,” “She’s Not You,” even some of the early movie songs like “Follow That Dream” and “King Of The Whole Wide World” that I list among my all-time favorites. But, rock 'n' roll purists think that after 1957 there isn’t anything any good. I think this is so far off base it’s laughable.
BV: Unbelievable. He was fired up again. You’re right, just try to write one of those songs.
Listening to a lot of the material on Wouldn’t Change A Thing, it is about having a broken heart, losing your girlfriend, your wife, whatever. There’s a lot of sadness expressed in the lyrics, even in the songs that you wrote, and I’m wondering whatever happened to that cheerful Bobby Vee? But then I thought, go back and listen to the lyrics to “Run To Him,” “Stayin’ In,” “Take Good Care Of My Baby,” and “Please Don’t Ask About Barbara.”
BV: Never got the girl!
You never got the girl, but you always managed to put a happy face on all of these break-up songs!
BV: Yeah, “Breakin’ Up Is Hard To Do” ... Neil Sedaka, boy I’ll tell ya. You know, Del Shannon was different. You could hear the anger in his voice — “Runaway,” “Hats Off To Larry.” But yeah, it was interesting. “Take Good Care Of My Baby” with it’s little pizzicato strings ...
When did you first run into Del Shannon?
BV: The very first time I met him I was doing a “Murray The K Show” out in New York at the Brooklyn Paramount, and I was sharing a room with Dion. Those shows, we did five shows a day, and they would run a rock ’n’ roll movie in between the shows, clear out the theater, whatever. People could come and stay all day if they wanted to, and you know, 12 acts on the show. Dion and I were sharing a dressing room, and we were playing Chinese checkers. There was a cot in the room and some chairs. We had the Chinese checkers on the bed. Dion was sitting in a rocking chair. I remember this vividly. He had a cup of tea in his hand, and Del came into the room, like he always did. I’d never met him before. “Hey boys, Del Shannon, they put me in the room with you,” and he went over and sat down on the bed and the marbles went everywhere. Dion rocked the chair back and tea went flying, and that was Del Shannon, that’s the way he was. He was just a bull in a China shop, but just a great heart and boy, I’ll tell ya, it just killed me when he died. We were such good friends and had such great history together.
You did a lot of shows with Del Shannon in the ’60s, and many more over time. For this album you ended up picking out two of the most obscure Del Shannon songs. “That’s The Way Love Is” was the follow-up to “Sue’s Gotta Be Mine” on Berlee from ’64. It fits so well into your album, just because of the way you do it. And “Cry Myself To Sleep,” it’s got that doo-woppy swing that surely was intentional.
BV: I’ve got the single. It’s on my jukebox. He had a lot of great pop sensibilities, too, but the thing that was different about him was the fact that he made ... and I would call his songs pop songs cause a lot of them were, but he always had the rock ’n’ roll edge to it ’cause that’s how he made the records.
He made them with a rhythm section, with Max Crook doing the keyboard thing, and he was a lot of both. He had a lot of pop sensibilities, and he was a rocker. Del was such a good writer. He was really a solid writer. “Cry Myself To Sleep” is almost a Dion song. I could hear Dion doing that in the “Runaround Sue” shuffle kinda thing. Brian Hyland did the harmony vocals with me on it as he did on both of them. I always liked both of those songs. There was going to be a tribute CD coming out, and I spoke to Dan Bourgoise who was Del’s manager and best friend. I speak with him from time to time, and he said he was going to do a tribute CD and would I like to contribute a song. I said, “I’d love to,” and we just went in and recorded the songs. That CD never came to fruition. It may at some point, so that’s why we did it, did it my style.
“Keep Searchin’” is one of the great rock ’n’ roll records of all time.
BV: Four-on-the-floor, four-on-the-floor, and then he’d do a nice song like “Kelly,” a flip-side. He felt a lot of pressure about writing, and he wanted to write ... he said one time (laughs), “God it must be nice just to get all these Carole King songs. I gotta take a month off and go sit and drink beer in my garage and try to crank out some tunes (laughs).”
Or get in a fight with my girlfriend.
How about a real live album from the '60s? Was there ever an entire show recorded? I have Live On Tour.
BV: No, not actually.
Jumping to The New Sound From England ... Did you ever do, in ’64, “I’ll Make You Mine” or “She’s Sorry” live?
BV: I did “She’s Sorry” for a while, because that was the A-side. Never really did much from that album. That was an odd deal. It was just a theme album. I went to England and came home thinking, “Let’s do this.” Because of the impact of The Beatles, I got horrible reviews on it in England. I’m a singer, and we did The 30 Hits Of The ’60s and Meet The Ventures and ... Crickets, it was a theme and I enjoyed doing it cause I’m a fan of The Beatles too, but it was, you know, really would have been better off left alone.
But there are a couple of other great songs on the album that you wrote. “Don’t You Believe Them” ... I thought that album was a really great EP ...
BV: (Laughs) I wish you would’ve screened it for me back then. I had so much product out, and like the ... Live! On Tour a thing I wish had never come out. If I had to remove another one out of my collection it would be The New Sound From England. “Don’t You Believe Them” had a good feel to it. It was less ... kinda had that sound but wasn’t imitating the background vocals.
They did that to The Yardbirds, too. They took a really cool, complete live show and added bullfight cheers and stuff to it because there wasn’t enough live audience sound. They did that to you and a lot of people in the '60s, fake live albums, and they never work.
BV: Bad idea!
I Remember Buddy Holly —I’ve always thought that “Raining In My Heart” and some of those tracks were recorded and sounded better than the originals.
BV: They were certainly well-done. I was in England on tour around 1996, ’97, and I don’t think I’ve done an interview in which the Buddy Holly subject didn’t come up. And I was thinking about the 40th Anniversary and what I would like to do about that. I had gone to the musical “Buddy,” and the song I walked out of there with was “Blue Days, Black Nights.”
I hadn’t heard the song for a long time and was surprised they had put it in since it’s so obscure. Couldn’t get it out of my head and usually when that happens, I start singing it myself. I thought, “I’m gonna go back to refresh my memory,” and when I went back and started listening to his catalog, all sorts of things popped out.
That’s where “Tell Me How” came out. I listened to “Tell Me How,” and I thought, well this is a sad song sung with a happy face, as you said, and turned that around and enjoyed doing that. And then I took some liberties. If you listen to “Words Of Love” and “Listen To Me,” we were talking about groupings of songs. Songwriters tend to write songs in groups. Those songs were written about at the same time, and they’re really the same song. So I turned them into the same song. I go from “Words Of Love” into “Listen To Me” back to “Words Of Love” back to “Listen To Me,” and it’s just another way of presenting this wonderful, really sensitive side of Buddy Holly.
In the ’60s were you living in California or were you still in the Midwest?
BV: I was living in California. I moved out there. I had an apartment out there when I was 16 years old, but I spent so much time on the road, and I was out there really because when I came back to nest somewhere, it made sense to be out there because when I wasn’t on the road I was recording. So that was the purpose there, but I still considered myself a resident of Fargo. My parents lived in Fargo. I bought them a house, opened a little restaurant for my dad, and that’s when I really felt like I was at home, when I was back in Fargo. But I moved out there permanently in 1963, got married in ’63 and always came back to the Midwest in the summertime — never missed a summer. [We] came back to Detroit Lakes (Minn.). We had a lake cabin there, and we did that for 35 years until we moved back to the Midwest permanently. We live on a lake here.
When you were living in California, did you have much contact with the counter-culture as the years went by and the music scene changed?
BV: Only by association. My producer ... after Snuffy left Liberty and went out on his own, I worked with a couple of different guys, most successfully with Dallas Smith. Dallas produced “Come Back When You Grow Up” and “Maybe Just Today,” “Sweet Sweetheart” and he had recorded the Hour Glass, the Allman Brothers original stuff, the original band in L.A. And the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, he was involved with them initially. I could see the picture changing. Being in L.A., being in Hollywood, you’ve been out there, you get a pretty close-up look at what’s going on ... Frank Zappa, I’d finish my session and Frank Zappa and his guys would be waiting in the lobby and they’d go in to do their stuff. always late at night.
Were they still holding to these schedules, you’ve got a three-hour session and at 4 o’clock you’ve gotta get out?
BV: It was changing at that time. We worked at several different studios: Gold Star, which was a great studio; Sound Recorders ... Liberty Studios was a studio they owned on Robertson, that’s where I cut “Come Back When You Grow Up.” So we went to several places, and then it got to be Sunset Sound, and you’d say we want to come in and do some stuff and they would say the last two weeks we have [are] totally booked up, and we’d say, "Really, who’s there?" And they’d say something like "Paul McCartney is in. He’s rented the studio for a week to write," so that was changing.
From the outside looking in it looked like people were going in and using relentless amounts of studio time. Everybody was so indulgent throughout that whole period of time. It’s probably even worse now.
BV: Except the whole studio scene has changed so much. We’ve got a terriffic studio here in St. Joe, Minn., where our office is. We do live recording in there, and it’s a fun place. You know, the equipment, you’d go out and spend quarter of a million dollars on recording equipment. Today you can buy it for $15,000.
You can have an entire studio and carry it in a suitcase, practically. Since you’re recording digitally you can make a lot of a little.
BV: Exactly, so then the only requirement is that you know what you’re doing. And I think that separates a lot of stuff.
After “Come Back When You Grow Up” you were all over radio again with “Beautiful People.”
BV: There were two versions of it. The guy who wrote the song, Kenny Odell ... I think mine was 37 in the Top 40, and Kenny’s was 38, something like that. They basically went up the charts together and fell out together. It was really disappointing for me, ‘cause I didn’t need to put that song out, ‘cause I was just coming off of “Come Back When You Grow Up,” which turned out to be a major hit for me. Dallas Smith produced the song, and basically he said, just listen to this, and I said I don’t want to cover the song. I started listening to it and really just kind of fell in love with it; [I] thought well let’s just do it, and if it works it works and if it doesn’t, no harm done.
Having forgotten about the Kenny Odell version, yours is the one I remember. My impression was that it was an affirmation that even in the flower-power counter culture era that Bobby Vee optimism could translate into a hit record.
BV: It’s true. “Come Back When You Grow Up,” another example. I mean it was so far out of its era, and again I loved the song. It was just a nice piece of material. It was a hit out in Green Bay, Wis., and Billings, Montana. I remember all of this stuff, Charlotte, and Spartanburg, S.C. A distributor sold 5,000 copies of it, and on the strength of that we took out an ad in Billboard magazine and thank God for disc jockeys that read Billboard, ‘cause they wanna play hits. That’s what they’re looking for, and so then we reissued the record a second time, and by the end of the year, it had spent all it’s energy, but it was the biggest record I ever had sales-wise.
So “Come Back...” was actually issued twice. It was a hit in small markets and then went national?
BV: There are different B-sides. That’s the only way you’d figure that out. The first was my song, nice little record, “I May Be Gone.” The second was a theme song for a Chuck Conners television show. .
I didn’t know this. Record collectors love this stuff, Bobby!
BV: I really kind of shot myself in the foot. It was nice to have a theme song especially for television, 'cause it goes on and on, and it was a nice little record, but the series failed. They had like three shows, and it was all over with.
If you can indulge my attempted analysis for a moment, going back and listening to all of the Snuff Garrett era stuff and all the big hits, I think you can chart a sonic progression. Ozzie Nelson was a big part of the Rick Nelson records, how they sounded. The drums are there, but mostly what you’re hearing are high hat and snare drum. You don’t even really hear cymbal crashes or anything. The bass drum is almost non-existent. Ozzie used to say that he did that on purpose because AM radios and TV speakers would just be flustered by a bass drum plugging along. He didn’t care about that. He wanted the vocals out front. Analyzing the hits on Liberty, sure enough the bass drum sort of isn’t there, yet there’s all kinds of swing, all kinds of rhythm, and it’s coming out of the bass guitar, the guitar, the vocals and then the percussive sort of orchestration, but usually there isn’t really a rock drummer going on there. Even [with] the Elvis Sun records, the rhythm is driven by the percussion on the instruments, not a drummer. Then Snuffy comes along doing the same thing only taking it bigger with kettle drums and strings pushing things. Then Phil Spector with three of everything as loud as possible. Then Bob Crewe producing the Four Seasons, and there at the beginning of “Walk Like A Man” and stuff like that is the biggest drum kit I’d ever heard up until then. By that time here comes Motown and then it’s Katy bar the door. It’s big drums, big bass guitar, and The Beatles come along and eveything is as loud as possible. But if you listen to all of those records, not a single one of them suffers from the variations on that theme. You don’t miss anything that’s not present on the earlier records because the rhythm is so strong on all of them, and it’s right down to the artist and the producer I think.
BV: That’s right! Eddie Cochran, too. You’ve got a good progression there! If you take the walking bass out of "Devil Or Angel," it’s a different song; that’s how important that was. On the early records that I did with Liberty we also used a click-bass. That was something that was popular for a period of time, so the six-string Danelectro [is] playing along with and mixed in with the stand-up bass just to give it some edge, because you can’t get edge out of a stand-up bass unless you’re slapping it. It’s not obvious on "Devil Or Angel," but if you listen to the album, or Brenda Lee, when she recorded “I’m Sorry,” that’s a pretty predominant part in there. You’re right. That’s one of the observations I made, when I do that “Party Doll” thing on the box, it comes from that same way that you just described, because it’s not a drum, it’s a box! It’s a sound. When Elvis is doing “Don’t Be Cruel,” it feels huge, but it’s a guy tapping on a guitar! You know? When Eddie Cochran goes "dun-dun-du-du-du" (imitates "Summertime Blues" rhythm), it’s just balls to the wall, and you think, "Wow." But when you listen to it, it’s a bass guitar, and it’s a high hat and that’s it! And that was the charm of that time period. That’s the reason that I do that “Party Doll” thing, because when I was a kid I became aware of sounds. And it was fun. It was fun to listen to records and hear sounds. It was part of my training, part of your training, too!
That’s it! “That’s All Right” — there’s not a drum in the building, but it just chugs right along! The Beatles did that, too. They would go out of their way to find things that they could put on their records that were just sounds. It goes right back to them being fans and fanatics about their records, listening and analyzing — hand claps and such. I always found it to be thrilling to listen to a record and figure out what’s going on.
BV: And why’d they do that. Why would you have a guy tap on a guitar and call that a drum? They’re maybe rehearsing the song and the drummer or whoever is just tapping the guitar ...
...and the engineer says, 'Let’s do it just like that!" One big exception I found recently was listening to “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” in stereo. The drums are just cookin’. He’s just rockin’! Was that Earl Palmer?
BV: Yeah, that was Earl Palmer. You’re right about the mixes. They were kind of impressions, rather than trying to catch everything. It was sort of impressions. The lead vocal was always on top. You try to capture it all, but sometimes even now the videos that are being played, you can see the drummer playing like crazy, but you’re not getting all of that sound, because the mix is an impression. It’s like a painting. There’s always a focal point and balance. Your eye comes to a place that it’s meant to go, and music is basically the same.
That’s a really great term, “impression”, because the impression is that everything was big, but in reality it’s not.
BV: I went down to Nashville and stayed at Jerry’s house (Jerry Allison, The Crickets). We were sittin’ around. I was going to do “Love’s Made A Fool Of You,” and we went through that a couple of times. Somebody went for a cup of coffee, and by the time they came back we were doing “Blue Days Black Nights,” not planning on recording it. But the producer came in, and he said, "Why don’t you just do that? It sounds great." We were in the living room and the studio there, [and] he said, "Let’s just go outside. It’s a great day and let’s set it up on the porch," and we recorded it outside. It was Joe B. with his stand-up bass. Jerry Allison was playing brushes on a box, my son Robbie was doing a double part with Sonny Curtis on the guitar, and it was all done acoustic, and it was all done live. I never thought about the live part of it until it was over with. It was funny. We did several takes on it, and we stopped because there was an airplane, or the cow was mooing, or something. I wouldn’t trade that part of my life for anything. Being able to go in and record ... even the Soma stuff, it was done live, [and] it was a great experience. I didn’t think about it as anything special, but as time marched on that in a way has become lost.
It’s completely lost. You have to find somebody who is old enough to forget what they have learned since, ignore the technology and forget about it.
BV: You’ve got to be able to "hear" it, when engineers are doing stuff like that, but the baggage we carry along these days would say, "You can’t do that. There’s gonna be dissonance and stuff coming back at you that you don’t want ...’
You were with Liberty for a very long time. Apparently it was a good economic relationship. Whereas a lot of '50s and '60s artists tell horror stories about lost royalties and not getting credit where credit is due, apparently you avoided that sort of pitfall with Liberty ...
BV: I mean who really knows if they’re getting all their royalties, but I was fortunate enough that I had enough records that got played, and I really had nothing to complain about. In fact, I never did an audit on them. I could’ve. I did get royalties, and when the CD world opened and the records started selling all over again, that’s been wonderful for me. I mean most of my stuff has originated in England, and the reason they did that was I got paid a half a royalty in England. That was pretty common in those days, whatever your deal was... even today things for the last 10 to 12 years have originated in England.
Do you control the rights to your masters?
BV: I don’t. I don’t. Talk about a journey! I’ve been treated so fairly by EMI and even today, I talk to people at EMI as if I’m a current entity but I’m not. All of the albums have been reissued except for the 30 Hits Of The '60s. I mean my catalog is so deep, it’s been nice to see all that stuff come out. There aren’t any hits on there ... well there are hits. They’ve just fired all their ammo.
What we need is a Bear Family Bobby Vee vinyl box set with 100-page book!
BV: We did so much recording, doing four albums a year, which was kind of unheard of, too. A lot of the stuff we never went back to. We’ve got all the stuff. We’re in the process of mixing it; they sent us all of the tracks. We certainly won’t use everything, but we’ll use a good portion of it ‘cause a lot of them are good!
I’ve listened to your music my entire life it seems, even though we’re only three years apart in age. As a kid, Bobby Vee, Del Shannon, Ricky Nelson ... these were my heroes. You were one of them. After being such a huge star in the early '60s, with some of the biggest records ever, did you or ever wake up and wonder, "Good heavens what’s happening? Is it all over?"
BV: I’ll tell ya, I’ve never really had those thoughts. What happened for me, as I went through the '60s and music was changing, I was down in Australia playing a club down there. I was there for three weeks, and I was playing with charts and a 14-piece band — horns and everything. I had gone through the circuit in Canada and done the same thing, and what I realized while I was down there was how much I hated it. I just wasn’t having any fun. I’m a pretty simple guy, and fun enters a lot into the picture, good times. Music has been such a joy ride for me, when I started out, with "Susie Baby," playing with my brother and the Shadows. And I just wasn’t having a good time, and I didn’t quite know what to do about it, but I knew I didn’t want to go out on the road and work like that.
I had a contract with United Artists at that time, and I had an income coming in, and I had had a nice career and had saved some money. And I was thinking about what would it take for me to find the joy and the energy I had when I was 15 or 16 years old, which is really impossible. I thought about the fun I had in those days, writing songs and playing, and it was so much fun, you know. You can relate to that. I started writing songs, and I wrote an album called Nothing Like A Sunny Day, and it’s all my influences. Those are country, rock ‘n' roll and pop, and the country part of it has some folk overtones. The album wasn’t successful, but [it] got some great reviews. 1971 it came out I think, ‘71, ‘72. In fact, just a few years ago I picked up a Rolling Stone book from one of the book stores in town, and it was listed in the Top 100 overlooked album, and there was a nice write-up about it, and I thought, "Well, that’s great." But what it (the album) did for me was it reconnected me to where I came from, and that place in me that was just doing it for the joy of it. It was a real important time in my life, and from there I hired a band from Memphis and went out on the road, and what I’ve always enjoyed the most was working with a rhythm section.
Did you ever think about doing something else? Like, well I’m going to be a producer, I’m gonna sell shoes, or I’m going to do something other than this?
BV: I did some producing. Nothing of any consequence, just a few bands I took into the studio and recorded, all the way back to the early '60s, because I love being in the studio. [I'm] much more comfortable being in the studio than actually performing.
Stay tuned for the conclusion of our in-depth interview in Part 6!
by Craig Moore