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Bobby Vee braves Alzheimer's to record once more

Bobby Vee Braves Alzheimer's to Record Again

ST. JOSEPH, Minn. (AP) - Bobby Vee still has the infectious smile, bright eyes and boyish good looks of his 1960s pop idol days, when he scored such hits as "Take Good Care of My Baby," ''Rubber Ball" and "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes."

Alzheimer's disease forced Vee to stop performing in 2011, but the 70-year-old Vee - who helped a young Bob Dylan get his start - is now releasing what may be the capstone to his career.

"The Adobe Sessions" is a loose jam session recorded with his family. It features some of Vee's favorite songs from Townes Van Zandt, Gordon Lightfoot and Ricky Nelson.

"There's some songs I liked," Vee told The Associated Press on a recent sunny winter day while at Rockhouse Productions, his and his sons' recording studio in Minnesota. "I wanted to do some more music."

The album is set for release on Feb. 3, the 55th anniversary of the plane crash that killed rock 'n' roll pioneers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. The tragedy also launched Vee's career. That night, as a 15-year-old named Robert Velline from Fargo, N.D., he stepped on stage at the Moorhead National Guard Armory to take Holly's place.

Within months the young singer and his band, The Shadows, which included his older brother Bill on lead guitar, recorded Vee's "Suzie Baby" for Soma Records in Minneapolis. It was a regional hit, and Vee soon signed with Liberty Records.

He went on to record 38 Top 100 hits from 1959 to 1970, hitting the top of the charts in 1961 with the Carole King-Gerry Goffin song "Take Care Good of My Baby" and reaching No. 2 with the follow-up, "Run to Him."

"I always wanted him to do well. He became like a little brother to me," said producer Snuff Garrett, 75, who produced Vee's early Liberty hits and went on to produce hits for Gary Lewis and the Playboys and Cher. "I thought I did good when I picked him up."

Vee kept recording into the 2000s. But a few years ago, while in England, he felt something strange. He said he couldn't really describe it.

"But it just came one time, and I thought, 'Gee, this is an odd thing.' And it never came back again," Vee said.

Then in 2011, doctors diagnosed him with Alzheimer's disease, a degenerative and incurable brain disorder that currently afflicts more than 5 million Americans, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

"The primary way it's affected us is just pure sadness," said Vee's wife of 50 years, Karen. "Because he brings so much joy and music and fun."

Vee performed his last show that same year, billed as his retirement, during a community fundraiser that his family holds near their home in St. Joseph, about 65 miles northwest of Minneapolis. The annual event draws thousands of fans.

But he didn't announce his diagnosis until a year later on his website. Vee said he knew his abilities were diminishing and he didn't want to put his family through a public decline.

"It's not getting any better, I can tell you that," Vee said. "But I'm doing the best I can."

Family members said his memory hasn't been affected so much as his speech. Vee gamely answers questions but becomes tongue-tied as he searches for the right word.

But he is still a skilled rhythm guitarist. During his interview with AP, he broke into an impromptu jam session with his sons Jeff, 49, on drums and Tommy, 47, on upright bass.

Vee has tried unconventional methods to alleviate his Alzheimer's symptoms, from chiropractor visits to acupuncture, without success. He does daily exercises and speech therapy and has renewed his passion for painting.

And of course, there is music.

Vee and his family didn't plan to make an album when they set up drums and amps in Vee's adobe garage north of Tucson, Ariz., after his diagnosis in 2011. They just wanted to make music.

"Our mantra from that point forward has been, 'Don't turn down any parties.' We're going to make every day as good a day as it can be," Jeff Vee said.

His father described recording again as "a feel-good kind of thing."

For the 18-track album, Vee chose songs he would sing on family campouts while strumming a guitar: "Save the Last Dance for Me," Gordon Lightfoot's "Walls" and Townes Van Zandt's "If I Needed You." His three sons helped - Jeff on drums, Tommy on bass and Robby, a guitarist - and daughter Jennifer added some lyrics.

The album also includes Vee's cover of Bob Dylan's "The Man in Me," a nod to the folk-rock legend who got his start in Vee's band in Fargo.

Dylan grew up in Hibbing on northern Minnesota's Iron Range. He was going by the name Elston Gunn when he hammered on the piano at a couple of The Shadows' gigs. It also was Dylan who suggested Bobby Vee change his last name from Velline to Vee.

And he didn't forget his old bandmate. In his "Chronicles: Volume One" memoir, Dylan says Vee "had a metallic, edgy tone to his voice and it was as musical as a silver bell." When Dylan performed in St. Paul last summer, he saluted Vee in the audience and performed "Suzie Baby."

Vee said he hopes that being open about his disease helps others coping with the same fate.

Sometimes, he acknowledges, he wishes he could do the things that once came easily.

"But I'm not going to cry about it," he said. "God brought me home. And that's the deal."



Bobby Vee: http://www.bobbyvee.com

Rockhouse Productions: http://www.rockhousepro.com

Alzheimer's Association: http://www.alz.org


Follow Jeff Baenen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jeffbaenen.

Join the discussion

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propackage February 02 2014 at 10:35 PM

keep fighting, its all we can do. an inspiration for all of us

Flag Reply +1 rate up
bcrnbs2 February 02 2014 at 3:39 PM

he played music people listen to.. not rap crap

Flag Reply +6 rate up
Tracy February 02 2014 at 2:43 PM

I grew up listening to him; he looks great and sounds great!

Flag Reply +10 rate up
deanslist2 February 02 2014 at 2:33 PM

Bobby Vee was one of the few teen idols from that time who could actually SING. He was more than just another pretty face. He had great range and the ability to do tricky vocal gymnastics, plus his songs' lyrics were meaningful and touching. Hopefully he's still got some of his old stuff left in him and I hope this new record does well for him and his family.

Flag Reply +13 rate up
1 reply
sutt202 deanslist2 February 02 2014 at 3:00 PM

You hit the nail on the head deanlist. He could actually sing. I was never a big fan (bubblegum songs). I just thought his voice was great.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
tnjmini February 02 2014 at 2:30 PM

So sad to hear that Bobby Vee is ill. He was my favorite singer back in the 60s. Good Luck. Terry

Flag Reply +8 rate up
Ken February 02 2014 at 2:26 PM

I think it's great that he's releasing an album, but somehow choosing to release it on the anniversary of the plane accident - even if that is the "fluke" event that launched his career, and probably because of that - just rubs me the wrong way. Wasn't there some other anniversary he could have picked, perhaps the release of his first Top 100 hit, that was further removed from undertones of tragedy?

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Sunny February 02 2014 at 2:23 PM

Good luck to you, Bobby.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
Ken February 02 2014 at 2:19 PM

Very sorry to hear he has Alzheimer's. My best friend's father had it and my stepmother's two sisters and mother all had it, (although thank the Lord she seems not to). One thing I learned is that family has to stick together. You and the patient get so much better response from the community, the doctors, and any residence involved. My friend was an only child, his mother was deceased when his father was diagnosed, and there was no extended family. Everything was an uphill battle just to get people to believe him instead of his father. My stepmother's family stuck together and worked together and things were completely different.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
tinybug66 February 02 2014 at 2:02 PM

Love you Bobby....always have! Be well.

Flag Reply +9 rate up
jazzsyc February 02 2014 at 1:59 PM

Bobby, I have been a fan for many ayear and I pleased to know that you are still making lovely music and at the same time, battling this cruel disease. Blessing to you and your wife and family and you all are in my prayers. I am a singer myself and I do a differnt take on your wonderful' The night has a thoudand eyes'

Flag Reply +8 rate up
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