Bobby Vee, who died on Monday at age 73 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease, might sound like an odd influence for Bob Dylan. However, Dylan got his start with the 1960s teen idol and even mentioned Vee in his memoir Chronicles: Volume One. Three years ago, Dylan even shocked an audience by performing a Vee song during a show.
During the 1960s, Vee and Dylan were on opposite sides of the spectrum. Although Dylan was two years older than Vee, it was Vee whose career launched first and he became a teen idol with “Rubber Ball,” “Take Good Care of My Baby” and other hits. On the other hand, Dylan became a folk singer with complex lyrics and imagery that has now earned him a Nobel Prize in Literature. Despite these differences, their mutual admiration showed how important roots are to musicians.
Here’s a look at their relationship.
1. Dylan Played in Vee’s Band Under the Name Elston Gunn
Dylan and Vee both “escaped” the Midwest, as Dylan wrote in Chronicles. Vee was born in Fargo, North Dakota, and Dylan was born in Duluth, Minnesota. Vee was still playing in the region when his backing group, The Shadows, thought they needed a pianist. Dylan met Vee in a record store in Fargo and heard they wanted a piano player. He introduced himself as Elston Gunnn (with three n’s).
According to Expecting Rain, Vee told Goldmine in 1999 that Dylan claimed he just came off the road with Conway Twitty. They were impressed, but later learned that he could only play in the key of C. They hired him for $15 a night, but the job didn’t last long. As Vee explained:
It was ill-fated. I mean, it wasn’t gonna work. He didn’t have any money, and we didn’t have any money. The story is that I fired him, but that certainly wasn’t the case. If we could have put it together somehow, we sure would have. We wished we could have put it together. He left and went on to Minneapolis and enrolled at the University of Minnesota.
In a 2009 interview with Goldmine, Vee also spoke about Dylan’s time in The Shadows.
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.
2. Dylan & Vee Met Again When Dylan Was Playing in Greenwich Village & Vee Was at the Top of the Charts
The next time Dylan and Vee met, their circumstances had changed greatly. They met in Greenwich Village, New York during one of Vee’s tours. Dylan was now a folk singer and Vee was a pop star. According to Vee, they met again in a record store.
“I was walking down the street. There was a record store there, and there was an album in the front window. And it said, ‘Bob Dylan.’ And I thought to myself, ‘Looks a lot like Elston Gunnn,'” Vee recalled.
In Chronicles, Dylan sounds like he regretted seeing Vee go from rockabily singer to pop star. He wrote that “Take Good Care of My Baby” was “as slick as ever.” Dylan wrote:
He’d become a crowd pleaser in the pop world. As for myself, I had nothing against pop songs, but the definition of pop was changing.
After their meeting, they didn’t see each other for 30 years.
3. Dylan Still Thought of Vee ‘as a Brother’
Despite their different career paths after that one meeting in Greenwich Village, Dylan said he still thought of Vee as a brother since they came from the same part of the country.
“I wouldn’t see Bobby Vee again for another thirty years, and though things would be a lot different, I’d always thought of his as a brother,” Dylan wrote in Chronicles. “Every time I’d see his name somewhere, it was like he was in the room.”
Vee also told Goldmine that he liked Dylan’s music, even though it was so different from what he was recording.
“I probably plugged into him on the second or third album, and the stuff was really unusual. It was so far removed from what I was doing. Not long after that, I started listening to his stuff and really became a big fan,” Vee said.
4. Dylan Performed Vee’s ‘Suzie Baby’ in 2013 & Called Vee the ‘Most Meaningful Person I’ve Ever Been on Stage With’
When Dylan performed in St. Paul, Minnesota on July 10, 2013, he decided to perform a cover of “Suzie Baby,” the song Vee had a regional hit with when he was still performing with The Shadows. (The song was recorded before Dylan’s brief stint with the band.) Vee, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease two years before that show, was in attendance.
Before Dylan performed “Suzie Baby,” Dylan said that of all the people he had ever been on stage with, Vee was “the most meaningful person.” He asked the crowd to give Vee a round of applause before performing.
5. Vee Was Also an Influence on the Beatles, Who Performed ‘Take Good Care of My Baby’ During Their Failed Decca Audition
Vee wasn’t just an influence on music fans in the U.S. His music was popular in England as well. The Beatles even performed Vee’s hit “Take Good Care Of My Baby” during their Decca audition in January 1962. “Take Good Care of My Baby” was written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, who were also favorites of the Beatles.
In 1999, Paul McCartney asked Vee to come to London and New York to help celebrate Buddy Holly’s music.
Vee had an unfortunate connection to Holly, who the Beatles idolized. As the Star Tribune notes, Vee and The Shadows were asked to play in place of Holly on February 3, 1959, also known as “The Day The Music Died.”
“There are so many synchronicities to the Buddy Holly connection that spread out all over my career. That has been absolutely enjoyable, because I was and still am such a fan,” Vee told the Star Tribune in 2004.
“It was very much a show-must-go-on situation,” he said of that day in 1959. “It really was an exercise in mixed emotions. But we had to put that aside and get out there and perform, which was frightening and thrilling at once.”