There are just not that many newer releases that I like enough that I can listen over and over again and not get tired of it. But your I Wouldn’t Change A Thing has got all of the various elements of your greatest hit recordings, yet it’s all even more understated, which I think is a lost art.
BV: I think a lot of that came from the comfort level, because I’m a pretty understated person. I mean I can get pretty vivid on stage performing, [but] generally I’m understated and I like understatement in music, too. I love pop music, but I like the understated pop music. You can listen to it and take it in easily and quickly, and that’s why it becomes so popular. I hear it as a pop album, but it’s understated, it’s not so in your face. Also, this is a time in my life when I don’t feel any pressure at all. It was made over a period of time with some songs that were recorded earlier that we just went back into, and we thought, "Well, [let 's] see what they sound like," and we thought, "Well, let’s see if we can make them sound like the other stuff that we’re doing," and it wasn’t that difficult. There’s really something to be said for not being on the charts, and not being in the limelight, because you really have nothing to lose. And it’s not about winning or losing. This is what I do. This is what I’ve been blessed [with] in my life. Even as a kid I felt that stirring inside of me, and I got excited about music, and I loved listening to music and I loved making records. I loved making records, even the bad ones; it’s a great process. I was always more comfortable in the studio than performing live. If there’s one person that’s going to like the record I want it to be me.
You need to be able to take yourself both with a grain of salt and seriously at the same time. What prompted you to do the remakes of your songs?
BV: Just, they were thoughts that rambled around in my head for years. When I recorded Sonny’s song “How To Make A Farewell” I was aware of what a sophisticated lyric it was. It wasn’t just a typical pop song. It was a very thoughtful song written by a guy who was like 22 years old — and I would think to myself, "How does he know these things?" at 22. How do you know that much about relationships that you can write a song about saying goodbye? While the record that I recorded was OK for the time period, it was approached sort of like “Run To Him” in depth and width, with that big string sound. I always thought it was an intimate song. It’s on The Essential. Or maybe [it] came out as a B-side on one of the records that wasn’t a hit. You can check the discography on the Web site. We basically used his demo as a reference point — on the old one — and used that as the starting point and then put strings on it.
When I came around to doing it again, like we touched on earlier, a lot songs from the early '60s were sad songs. “Take Good Care Of My Baby” is about a guy who’s losing the girl. I’ve always taken songs and liked to turn them around a little bit. Like “Tell Me How” on the Down The Line CD, if you listen to “Tell Me How” I turned it into a ballad, and Holly’s version was just rockin’. I always loved the song and thought if he would have put that out it would have been a hit, but he didn’t. It was a B-side. But I did it as a ballad, and I think it works really well as a ballad. 'Cause I love songs, and I think that a good song can be done in a lot of different ways, and that’s how I came to “How To Make A Farewell." I’d do it at sound-check and just do it on my own time. Then I thought, it occurred to me after I’d done the “Blue Days Black Nights” thing, that that song, what a wonderful thing that would be if you had a woman singing it with you, and that’s where Nancy Griffith came in.
That song gives me chills. For one thing, the way you’re singing it it sounds like you know the subject matter very well.
BV: Well, I do. My wife and I have been married for 45 years, and you go through those things in a relationship.
You go through them as a teenager, too. Just because you’re 16 doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt you. You feel those things. As you get older you understand more about what it was you felt ... The piano, the playing it slow, it’s a blues song. I could hear Joe Cocker doing that song this way, the way you’ve arranged it. “You’ve learned how to smile when we meet and I’ve had to learn how not to weep.” These are things that are universal. A tremendous song and the recording is incredible.
BV: There y’go. It gives you a chance to ponder the story.
The original '60s recording I thought was pretty good, but the flutes or piccolos destroy it.
BV: They take you out of the game. It’s too cute for the song. I think it’s a good piece of material, songs that ring true continue to ring true.
How did you come to meet and become friends with Tim Rice?
BV: When I was over in England, it was called the Rock ‘N Blues Reunion. It was Rick Nelson, Bo Diddley, The Marvelettes, Del Shannon, Frankie Ford, and myself. I don’t think I’ve left anybody out, and it was Richard Nader, the guy who started the oldies thing in New York at Madison Square Garden, [who] had a client over there that put this tour together. We went over, and it was a very successful tour, and the two last shows that we did were at the Albert Hall. And I had met Julian Lloyd Webber, Andrew’s brother, on a previous trip, and we became friends. Julian said, "I’m going to have a little tour-ending party after the show at my place."
So Del and I went over to the party, and Tim was there. I chatted with him, and you’d love to talk to this guy. He’s written books on that time period, and he’s just such a fan. And we became friends, and we had a great friend in common, an Englishman that ended up working for Liberty, still a great friend of mine and Tim’s, Alan Warner. So on subsequent visits we would get together and go out to dinner, and Julian became a friend, and we performed at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 50th birthday party. We were invited to do that. That was just a great fun, and it is a great relationship with all of them. When Tim came over to the United States to do the “Aida” kickoff, right then in England he said I’m coming over in March, and I’d love for you guys to come. And we came to the show, and it was at that point we went out to dinner — he loves Buddy Holly and Clovis, and all that stuff. And we were talking about Buddy Holly and some of the characters, the Picks and the Roses and stuff like that. He’s very interested in that, and he said to me, “Whatever happened to Peggy Sue?” And I laughed, and five months later he sent me that lyric. What kind of gift is that!?! The guy has received grammys and everything else.
I went back and listened to the original “Maybe Just Today” a few times. I like it alright, but this one blows it away. The way you have re-worked it on this album it sounds like it could have been written last night.
BV: Well thank you, it’s such a good lyric. And like the Sonny Curtis song, you just take a few liberties with it and all of sudden you’ve got something new. That was another song that I wasn’t happy with when I recorded the original — in fact we recorded the original twice, two different sessions. It felt like I didn’t get it the first time. I thought, "Well this is a good song" and went in and did it again and still didn’t get it, but we put it out anyway. It’s another one of those songs that I thought, "This is a wonderful lyric." It’s about letting go and just getting rid of the baggage and just coming together as a couple.
It’s a Zen song ...
BV: Yeah, let’s start today. The lyric pretty much says it, the title says it. All that matters is today and tomorrow... So that was another of those things that rolled around in my head, and I thought, "I’m gonna try this again." I think it would be a good country song. I’d like to see a country artist take that and really do a treatment on it ‘cause I really think it’s a great lyric. They both evolved again the same way “Maybe Just Today” did, and “How To Make A Farewell,” they were songs I would sing at home or if I was out on the road maybe use them as a sound-check. Again, the contemplative part of the lyric had a little bit more room to breathe. I’d been doing the slow versions of both for about 10 years and never even thought about recording them.
To heck with the country artist, what about Bobby Vee? Let’s see Bobby Vee on CMT!
BV: Well.. (laughs)
You could fake people out just picking up this CD and reading the credits on the back. They’re going to get something quite different than what they might expect just from reading the track listing. You’ve given these songs a whole other life.
BV: That’s good! It would be impossible for me to go back in — you can never go home again with a hit song. That song is going to live on with its errors and mistakes and wrong lyrics, and that’s the way you want to hear it. And I know that I want because I hear new versions of other people’s songs, Fats Domino or somebody, and I want to hear the wow and flutter on “Blueberry Hill.”
That Canadian label Silver Eagle had Rick Nelson go back in and redo all of of his hits, and even though they’re well done and the band is great, I didn’t see any point. I would have been just as happy to have all the original recordings and then throw in the “You Know What I Mean” and any new tracks as bonus tracks.
BV: When we were in England on that tour he had made peace with his past, and he went out and did a greatest-hits show, and it was amazing. Such a wonderful show. The only original song he did was “You Know What I Mean.” But yeah, I know what you mean, and I’ve done it myself. I’ve re-recorded my songs myself, but it doesn’t work. You want to hear the things that you’re not hearing that you grew up listening to. It’s really hard to trick people.
Yeah, you want to hear Joe Osborne flub that fourth bass note or whatever. But with your CD I just played it and this was all a pleasant surprise.
BV: The stuff is so different, and my hope was that people wouldn’t be irritated.
These fit in perfectly with the concept. I’ve been describing this as a singer/songwriter album rather than anything they might automatically expect out of Bobby Vee.
BV: I was concerned about that, too. It’s kind of all over the place, but yet there seems to be a thread that ties it all together. I’m aware too, from songs I write. I write things in groups and use one of them. Some of the songs I wrote for this CD, I used them all. “One Way Or Another,” we’re both so much alike, is one of the happier tunes on there.
“One Way Or Another” is a Top 40 song waiting to happen. It’s got all of the elements of a Bobby Vee hit: the doubled vocals, harmonies, the works.
BV: I love to do backgrounds. If I could’ve been a background singer exclusively I would’ve been thrilled. I love to do harmonies and all of that stuff. Building vocal parts is the most fun.
“Think About That” is almost a '50s rock ‘n roll record. It’s so simple, but it has this authority about it. It’s a very powerful song somehow yet there’s almost nothing there!
BV: I don’t know where that came from! It’s got a lot of energy. That’s Robbie on guitar. “Wink Of An Eye” that was the oldest song. I recorded it five years earlier but just hadn’t used it. It was so much different than anything else. But it works here. The one song I approached as a '60s song was “Storybook Ending.” [I] wondering if I could take that formula and write a new song.
It’s great, too. It’s your reggae song. It has that bounce.
BV: (Laughs) never thought about it like that! “I Wouldn’t Change A Thing” and “Wink Of An Eye” were written back in 1995. We went back and pulled all of the synthesizer stuff off of “Wouldn’t Change A Thing” and put on real strings, added the piano, and I think we made it a much better song. Technically my album isn’t even released in America! At least with satellite radio there is all kinds of stuff being played, so get ready.
Do you have any plans for a follow-up album? It’s about time!
BV: We’re going to start recording later spring, this summer. We do these gatherings, discipline ourselves to come in every Tuesday night and put our cards on the table, and then do it again. And we’re never too far away from it.
Have you ever had the opportunity to perform all of your new stuff live in a concert situation?
BV: I haven’t, no.
I see you and your boys going out and doing an "Elvis Comeback Special" sort of in-the-round acoustic performance with your new stuff, and the acoustic versions of “Take Good Care Of My Baby” and so forth, talking and telling stories and joking with the boys. Maybe even throw in a couple of other things that you think might be appropriate, take a break and then come back and give ‘em what they expect, all the big hits? For one thing, I think it’s an absolute crime that people aren’t hearing this yet. Did you ever think about doing something like that?
BV: Not until you brought it up! I’ve been doing what I do for so long. I mean I’m amazed that people come to my shows, and to sit down and play 45 minutes of something that they’re not geared up to hear might be difficult. I’d like to do something like that. I’m at a point in my life where I’m wanting to do a different presentation, and that would fit into that thought. The Christmas shows that we started doing a few years ago, I’ll be five or six songs into the set before I do a hit and mix it up. And that was interesting to me, 'cause I’m used to coming out and opening up with a hit and something familiar, and reversing that was really uncomfortable for me. But it worked. It was fine. One of the best shows I’ve seen in years was Brian Wilson. He did a lot of really interesting stuff in the first half, and then opened the second half up and did the entire Smile album, and then ended up with “Help Me Rhonda” and “Dance Dance Dance” and just tore the roof off the place. So it’s possible to do that stuff; it was just most enjoyable.
It seems to me you could do it as an event, promote it as an event, and film it. Do like the runway out onto a small stage out in the middle of the crowd, where you have a much more intimate setting. Do the whole Wouldn’t Change A Thing, and talk to people and tell stories, take a break, head back to the stage, which is set up like a '50s show, and come back on and just do everything — the whole nine yards, all the hits and more. Call it “An Evening With Bobby Vee” or something.
BV: I can see myself doing it. It’s certainly possible, though my mind immediately goes to cost. But that’s changing. It’s like the record business, the film industry — there’s a lot of people working with film, a lot of good product, there’s good cameras ... but it’s possible to do. I’m in the music business. It’s like the Christmas shows we do; it’s taking an idea and making it happen. The majority of the shows we do are retro in design. But the Christmas stuff we market ourselves, and we sell the show and it is what it is. It’s a holiday season show, and it has the hits, and I put some unusual stuff in there, too. There’s a couple of songs on the Christmas CD that I wrote that I put in there, too. And if we’re producing the shows, we can do whatever we want to do. In England the Vees opened the set, did three songs before I came on, and they opened with “Flying High” and the people went nuts. It was so authentic, really set the table! I did a thing in Louisville. I hadn’t done this in a long time; it was like a non-job. We went in, it was for a horse-breeder, race horses, [who] booked us to come in and asked if we could do it acoustic. I had been thinking about doing that, and we talked about it so I was receptive to the idea. And then when I thought about it for a day or two I thought, "Yeah, let’s just do it. That’d be great." So we did, it was an acoustic show, and we played the arrangements at the piano, and we used the strings. The strings were wonderful. I had such a good time doing the whole thing, and the audience was so good that we just started singing old songs. I did "Bye Bye Love." I hadn’t done that in years. It’s not a song I would put in my set, and yet we talked about it. [We] didn’t even rehearse it, just talked about it. Everybody in the audience was singing along, so I really got something out of that, that there’s another way to do a show and I’m ready to do that. I think that is the way to go, be able to tell stories and sing songs, like a fireside. I found that out. It takes it to a different place. You take out the show business part of it.
How did the Dick Clark American Bandstand Theater run in Branson come to be and how did it go?
BV: We were there for two and a half years. I had gotten a call from Bill Medley and Paul Revere, and they were gonna be at the theater as well. They were really excited about it. I know them well enough to be able to read their excitement. And I was glad to get the call; it was something different. It was a brand new theater, Dick Clark, American Bandstand Theater. I grew up with all of that stuff and was proud to be part of it. So then we started talking about putting a show together and called a number of people, called Fabian [and] got him on the phone and told him what we were doing, and he was right on it. So we basically owned our part of the show together, [and] we were there two weeks at a time, and Bill Medley and Paul Revere & The Raiders were there the other two weeks. So we were on two weeks and off two weeks. It was terrific.
We had Chris Montez. We basically hired our friends; Brian Hyland, Judy Mann of the Chiffons... it was a dream come true; it was fun every night. At the end of the two and a half years — well at the end of two years — I could tell that the economy was getting weird and the crowds were shifting. Something was going on it was clear to me and also I was getting tired of ... I’m kind of like a free-range chicken. I like to move around and do different things. It started getting to be like "Ground Hog’s Day" and that’s not a nice feeling if you’ve ever experienced it. [It] started getting harder and harder to get my energy up for it, and yet I loved working. I loved doing the show. We didn’t have a bad [one]. It was nothing but good energy 'cause we’re all friends, everybody rooting for everybody.
So anyway we’re not doing that any more, but I would go back. I just wouldn’t want to spend that much time there. I like being in Branson. I like the people. I like the hills and the valleys and fishing and all of that stuff. It was the right thing for us to do, and we’ve taken the show out on the road about 12 times with the same group, same cast of people.
OK, well "50 Winters Later" at the Surf Ballroom — I was one of those "kids" freezing in line waiting outside every day, and it was worth every minute. It must have been a whirlwind of emotions and people reminiscing with you.
BV: We had been working on this thing for a year and half before it ever happened. I was just dreaming about it. I think I just wore myself out! I was there the whole week, and it was just to the walls. I was looking at some of the footage this morning. We’ve got some good footage. At one time they had nine different cameras on the stage! And the energy was wonderful. Even though we didn’t come up with the Paul McCartney thing or whatever, it was a great show, and the people that were there act-wise and audience-wise wanted to be there, and you couldn’t ask for more than that. Every act that got up on stage wanted to be there. They had a personal reason to be there. Graham Nash, he was one of the first guys that I called, sent him a nice little invitation card. About three weeks later [I] got a call back, and he was on board with both feet. He wanted to be there. It’s not one of those things you can explain or need to explain; it’s so personal. He had his son with him, and he was having a great time, and every one of them had a story to tell.
You were involved with the entire event with The Vees and your Rockhouse Productions. How much input did you have into getting that line-up there?
BV: We basically got them there. It was so fluid. We’d get people that would call up and say, 'Yeah I can do it. I wanna do it," and then call back and say, "Well I’m gonna be in Amsterdam with one day off and don’t think I can do it," so it was always in flux right down to the wire, really. There were some other names that expressed sincere interest, but it just didn’t work for them for whatever reason.
I’ve been to a lot of concerts but there couldn’t have been a better week for any baby boomer; it’s just not possible. I was standing right in front of Shirley Alston and when she did "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" I was crying like a little girl. And Jason D. Williams was just unbelievable. I understand why they brought in Kenny Aronoff and those guys. God bless 'em. And it was really cool to see Chuck Leavell and Bobby Keys. That was great, but just from the standpoint of a band playing behind all of those acts, they didn’t hold a candle to your boys. It’s a shame that PBS won’t have The Vees. Tommy came out and did a bass solo. My mental picture of him ... I can’t remember if his bass was right side up or upside down, but I think his bass was upside down. Whatever it was, he did a bass solo on his doghouse bass that a bass player on an electric would play hell to pull off. I’m a bass player, and I’m watching him and thinking, "God I need to get lessons." I’ve only been playing 45 years I need to go back to school. No matter what was going on, Tommy and Jeff and Ar and Jeff on piano were right there in the pocket. Every act that walked across the stage should have kissed The Vees. And then Tommy was even running the stage on Monday. It just killed me to see all of this. To use your word, the impression was perfection. They filmed the wrong night. They should have filmed Saturday night with your full set.
BV: We talked about it, and in fact I think we did do some filming of Saturday night. It’s live music, and there’s nothing better than live music. It disarms you and takes you wherever you want to go.
Obviously you were not aware that Terry Stewart and Jeff Nicholson were going to come out on stage and present you with the mounted Surf photograph and the plaque from the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. That had to catch you by surprise.
BV: Well it did. Terry was kind enough to say, "I would like to do something for you," and I said, "You know, I don’t want this to be about me," ‘cause it’s my 50th Anniversary, too, and that made him uncomfortable. So I knew something was going on, and he said it would be inappropriate to not spotlight you somehow, and that’s kind of where it was left. And I understood them too. But no, they blind-sided me when they came up on stage and it was as uncomfortable as could be! (laughs) I have such respect for Terry and what his life is like and the demands that are made on him. A super guy.
The next time they hand you something it should be at an induction ceremony at the Waldorf or the Hall Of Fame ...
BV: The first time I met Terry I was in New York at the Roseland Ballroom. Paul McCartney had invited us to come in to do the 1999 tribute to Buddy Holly, and so I was kind of moving through the audience. There were a lot of celebrities in the audience, and McCartney showed up and I chatted with him for a while, and then I went down to the second level where the customers were and die-hard fans were, and I ran into Terry. I had never met him before. And he said, "I’m so sorry. I know you should be in the Hall Of Fame. I know it. Lots of people know it," and it was such a sweet thing to say. He was so down to earth and so genuine, and it was the sentiment of that plaque that he presented to me. It’s such a nice thing. It’s the sentiment of those things that give me personal value.
Any last thoughts on your 50th Anniversary — the 50th Anniversary of your career beginning, Buddy Holly’s career ending? 50 years ago, as much as one may be missed, the other is still ascending.
BV: It’s hard to take in, because it’s my life. And I do re-live those years. I still love the music. I know my story and what it means to me, but I don’t over-think it. It was nice to be there, but again, I was there because of my connection, I guess. But the Buddy Holly thing has been real for me in my life. I’ve done tributes to him in every show I’ve ever done, and he’s still my Elvis; he’s still the guy. That story has traveled with me so much in my life, it’s been a joy ride. Some people ask me if it’s been an albatross, but it really hasn’t. The Down The Line CD, I put that out myself to mark my 40th Anniversary. Paul McCartney, owning the publishing to that stuff, has invited us to England a couple of times to be part of Buddy Holly Week over there, and that association has been fun. He’s a fan of the music — not only owns the publishing, but he’s a fan and Buddy Holly was an inspiration to him. He’s always been generous, and he always gets up at the end of the evening and sings “Rave On”or something. Those are some of the spices of the life that I live, and other than that the whole "oldies" business is a relatively invisible business. But, as I said earlier I’m always amazed that people show up, but they do, so this is really a great time in my life to go out and do what I do and work with my family, and to have the sort of rhythm that goes along with it.
SIDE NOTE: Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame CEO Terry Stewart on Bobby Vee
You are a long-time fan of Bobby Vee as an artist. How would you describe the impact of his music specifically, and the early ’60s pop scene in general?
Terry Stewart: He was one of the leading hit-makers in the U.S. and around the world during that almost decade of when his music was so popular. So countless people around the world were influenced by him. He sold millions and millions of records, and he was really one of the premier recording talents in that time, and he remains so, because he continues to be very popular particularly overseas.
Do you have any favorites among Bobby’s discography?
TS: Lots of them! “Susie Baby,” “What Do You Want,” “Stayin’ In” and “More Than I Can Say." The 2-sided stuff, “I’ll Make You Mine,” the British sound ... I loved them all!
The historical connection between Bobby Vee and Buddy Holly can’t be denied or overstated. Do you see a musical connection as well?
TS: He did start there obviously. His music sounded like that and took off from there, evolved over time with new producers and songwriters. Over the years he never really lost anything, except for maybe a little along the British side (laughs). His music always harkens back to it and never got that far away from his roots. He even recorded with The Crickets!
You are personally acquainted with Bobby and made an emotional presentation to him as an artist and as a person on behalf of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame at the Surf Ballroom on Feb. 2, 2009, celebrating Bobby’s 50-year career on the national scene.
TS: I’m a big fan from many points of view, not only because of the role he’s played in the music scene and his role in keeping the Surf going, but also his integrity and goodness as a man and a father and the musical and professional legacy he has passed on to his sons and the Vees as a band.
Do you have any feelings, thought s or opinions you can express as to the general absence of late '50s/early '60s teen idols in the Rock Hall? Gene Pitney, Ricky Nelson and Del Shannon are about the only inductees to fit that general category. Do you think it’s perhaps a matter of perception as to the musical validity of pop music? Isn’t pop music by definition the soundtrack of our lives and those artists therefore worthy?
TS: I don’t think it really has anything to do with pop music, although that might raise it’s head. It’s really a matter how much did they create as opposed to being run through them and interpreted, in the sense of what did they have to do with songwriting, arranging, producing ... actually creating the product, not just coming through their voice. Not that their voice isn’t important. The issue mainly concerns what their real role was in what they created. Some people get hung up on the difference between pop music and rock ‘n' roll, but I fail to see that particular divide. The discussions aren’t very often about pop vs. rock ‘n' roll or vs. hip hop. Everybody writes a pop song from time to time. They do a ballad. Their ballads tend to be more pop-ish. You can say, "Well, it’s a 'power ballad' now." Well no, it’s a pop ballad, all that sort of stuff.
The realities are what did an artist create. Usually the validity, real heritage or legacy of an artist is not just what they sang, although sometimes people have been the great interpretors — Jerry Lee Lewis, considered to be one of the great interpretors of all time, he likes to talk about himself, Hank Williams and Al Jolson as the great interpreters. He uses a different word. I forget what it is. But more often than not when we’re getting into discussions about who should be in, who shouldn’t be in, it comes down to: OK did they write their music; did they arrange it; did they produce it; what did they do besides just sing it; did somebody bring them songs from the Brill Building or whatever. OK? Not that it isn’t important to sing it and the Brill Building is very important, too, but it’s how people look at it.
How would you relate that very definition to Bobby? Would you connect him to that?
TS: Well no, he’s written some, but more often than not he didn’t write it. That could be a difference. Yeah, I don’t know. People don’t necessarily ... what they say is, they start talking about somebody, people listen, and nobody’s going to attack anybody. So what happens is then people vote, and they either vote for or they don’t vote for.
I think I know how you vote ...
Specifically, Bobby Vee’s place in rock 'n' roll history is long established. Do you feel that the Rock Hall membership will eventually vote to include him?
TS: Well ... yeah, and I hope he does. He has a tremendous catalog, and I’m going to do everything I can to get him in.
Wording on the plaque presented to Bobby Vee Feb. 2, 2009 from the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame:
“Bobby Vee broke into the ranks of rock and roll through a tragic twist of fate and went on to become one of the biggest rock and roll stars of the pre- Beatles era. With a career that has lasted five decades, he has landed 38 singles on the Billboard magazine 100 chart, ten of those singles reaching the Top 20, six of them gold. He has appeared in four feature films and countless television shows. As a testament to this tremendous track record, Billboard magazine named him “One of the Top 10 most consistent chart makers ever.” The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is proud to honor Bobby Vee, celebrating his career, music and spirit 50 Winters Later.”