Sixties Music Secrets

  IN PRAISE AND CURIOSITY : Robert Velline and Elston Gunnn!…

Written on February 5, 2018   By   in Do You Want to Know a Secret?

“I punched my buddy in the nose after lunch”…Wha?…Hunh? Yep, that’s what the man said, that man? Robert Velline! However you know him as Bobby Vee, and that is the opening line of lyric from his fourth hit single “Stayin’ In” you may not remember him as well as some of the other Bobby’s, Jimmy’s Billy’s, or Frankie’s but Bobby Vee enjoyed 38 chart hits, 10 of them hitting the Top 20….And between 1960 and 1967 that’s more than the other Bobby’s, Jimmy’s and Billy’s combined….But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.   By the time you heard about Bobby “Cold Cocking” his best friend “In the cafeteria” Bobby already had 2-3 international smashes and it’s only 1962…Yeah in a little less than two years Bobby, was a certified international “Teen Idol!…Yes, the girls were swooning and fainting, but we all privately couldn’t resist the infectious quality and consistent appeal of the songs he would choose to record! Check this out, and admit it, you have at least one of these in your collection…Devil or Angel…”Rubber Ball”… “Take Good Care Of My Baby”…The nose punching “Stayin’In”…..The night has a Thousand Eye’s…”Run To Him” and in the later years “Come Back When You Grow Up Girl” “Please Don’t Ask About Barbara”and “Love you more than I can Say”  Yes, way before Leo Sayer!….Staggering and we owned all of them!…Bobby Vee alone paid the rent and kept the lights on at the Brill Building! His earliest hits were penned by Gene Pitney and John D. Loudermilk with the great Carole King and Jerry Goffin delivering his later smashes…

Ah, but the plot thickens, Bobby’s Idol and influence was the great Buddy Holly, In fact the B-Side to “Rubber Ball was Bobby’s cover of Holly’s Everyday”….With many radio programmers believing it was Buddy, they  began playing it confusing matters and distracting record buyers from “Rubber Ball” Bobby’s incredible A side! Furthermore Bobby’s hit “More Than I Can Say” was written by two of the members of Buddy’s band The Crickets, Sonny Curtis  and Jerry Alison!

But here is the saddest, ironic and most important connection between Bobby Vee and Buddy Holly. You are all familiar with “The Day The Music Died” when a plane carrying Buddy, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens crashed after takeoff in a winter storm in Feb. of 59! Killing all four passengers on board. The plane was en route to  Moorhead Minneapolis for the first of a 24 day tour called “The Winter Dance Tour. At that point Bobby had released a regional record he wrote called “Susie Baby” a  record that was clearly inspired by Holly’s “Peggy Sue,”

as you can imagine the promoter of The Winter Dance Tour was panicking…24 dates to fill and NO BAND! But the promoter heard “Susie Baby” on the radio and called Bobby ( although he was still Robert Velline) and offered him the job, Bobby and his band “The Shadows”  we’re in Fargo North Dakota, so they  packed up their gear and headed to Moorhead where they headlined the second night of the ill-fated tour and several nights thereafter. These dates are considered the most important period in young , 15-year-old Bobby Vee’s career for two reasons. He was offered a record deal on the spot by Liberty records and he met a piano player named Elston Gunnn…yes, that’s Gunnn with 3  N’s…Gunnn had  heard about this incredible band called The Shadows with a front guy who did a mean Buddy Holly, Elston was out of work and he approached Bobby to be the piano player for The  Shadows. Total Strangers Bobby asked who Elston had worked with? Elston replied by saying he just got off a tour with Conway Twitty!. Bobby needed a piano player, but he was also familiar with who was on tour and where, and he was sure that this odd guy  Elston may not be telling “The Whole Truth” but…..Bobby hired him regardless, Elston Gunnn was now the piano player in Robert Velline and The Shadows. The two quickly became friends with Elston, fresh out of high school and nearly three years Bobby’s senior became a kind of mentor to Bobby and his musical direction. Things went well, but didn’t last for more than six months, ya see Elston could only play in the key of “C”

Yes dear reader, here’s the payoff Elston’s real name is Robert Allen Zimmerman…YES! Bob Dylan!

Through the years Dylan has sung the praises of Bobby Vee and on  several occasions performed Bobby’s “Susie Baby”….

Bobby spoke infrequently but respectfully about his relationship with Dylan and they remained friends until we lost Bobby Vee from complications due to Alzheimer’s in 2016……Here’s “Stayin In”


Were you a Bobby Vee fan?…We know you love Dylan!….Strange bedfellows, INDEED!

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7 comments on “IN PRAISE AND CURIOSITY : Robert Velline and Elston Gunnn!…

  1. Julie says:

    I was definitely a fan of Bobby Vee and owned and listened to his music often. Who could not like, ” Love you more than I can say” or “The night has a thousand eyes”. One that came out in 1965, “Sharing You” started my love of his music although I was not aware of the backstory…thank you for sharing it! Dylan on the other hand was an artist I could, maybe, listen to for a couple of songs however his monotone nasal quality did nothing for me even though he is an icon in the music industry.

  2. Rick says:

    Hey Joooooooools,
    Great to see you back on the site! Yeah “More than I can say” Brilliant and written by two Guy’s from Buddy Holly’s band The Crickets, and how about “Run to Him”?
    It was literally hit after hit after hit….But “Stayin’ In” was so TEEN AGE! Punching your friend in the nose cuz he bad mouths your girlfriend….Great stuff!
    Always great to hear your thoughts!

  3. ron wood says:

    Thanx for the GREAT BIO!!! Bobby was ALWAYS A HUGE part of the background music I listened to in my room after school!!! As I read this I kept hearing his songs coming over my 6″ transistor radio.

    I had read Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles Vol. 1” and still never knew the deeper history of Bob and Bobby!! The piano in C Major only!!! WOW!!

    Bobby Vee WAS a big part of my music inspirations.
    thanx “Shoe”…..the wood

  4. Rick says:

    Hey Ron,
    Great to hear you’re as big a fan of Bobby Vee as I am!….Futhermore, I recall when I first heard “Meet The Beatles, I thought “some of these songs sound like Bobby Vee records” makes sense as both Bobby and “The Fabs” sight Buddy Holly as their primary influence! “Whoa Whoa, Yaye Yay”!

  5. Peggy says:

    I am a big fan of Bobby Vee and always enjoy finding others who like him. Great to read your enthusiastic comments! All the people mentioned here are part of Bobby’s history, but I wanted to comment regarding some of the details. No offense intended, but there is a lot of misinformation on the web, and things that are incorrect regarding Bobby tend to get repeated when others seek out information. There is a bio on Bobby’s webpage if you want to check it out.

    Bobby and his brother and 2 others had been playing together in a garage band, at the time of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and the others on 2-3-59. That tour had started a few weeks earlier on January 23 and the plane crash was shortly after takeoff following the show in Clear Lake Iowa. Buddy had hired a plane to travel to Fargo, ND, due to the terrible travel conditions on an unheated bus going hundreds of miles most days in frigid conditions.

    Bobby was 15 years old, being the singer and rhythm guitarist in his band. Bobby and his friends had tickets to go to the show. They lived just a couple miles from Moorhead in Fargo. The radio station promoting the concert put out an announcement seeking other bands or acts to fill in due to the loss of the 3 stars. A few other acts also volunteered. One of the members of Bobby’s band called the radio station, and they were invited to come to the show without even being asked about their band. They had never even performed in public. They ran to a store to buy matching ties and sweaters. Bobby named the band The Shadows on the spot before going on stage at the show when asked the name of the band. They played covers of some popular songs of the day, but not any of Buddy’s as even though they knew his songs, they felt it would not be respectful to do that. Their performance drew the attention of a promoter at the show who offered to get the band paid engagements in the area. Their first paid performance was at a Valentine’s Day dance a few weeks later. There was no record deal at that point. The promoter also suggested Bobby call himself Bobby Vee instead of Velline, so that is how he got the name.

    The Shadows did not perform at any of the other concerts on the Winter Dance Party tour, as other known acts were brought in instead. And Bobby was really an unknown at that time.

    The Shadows saved money from their jobs and on June 1, 1959, they paid 500. to have a recording session of 4 songs which Bobby or his brother had written. Suzie Baby was Bobby’s composition, credited on the record to Bobby Vee and The Shadows, and they promoted the record by going to local radio stations and asking for it be played while handing out copies. The song eventually went to number one in the Upper Midwest area.

    Sometime in the summer, the Shadows hoped to find a piano player and met Robert Zimmerman aka “Elston Gunnn” aka the future Bob Dylan at a restaurant in Fargo where he was working as a busboy. Bob was from several hundred miles away. He said he had been on the road with Conway Twitty which as you said was not true. He could only play in the key of C again as you said! He only was part of the band for a few weeks, but things were not meant to work out as he also didn’t have a keyboard, the pianos where they played were well out of tune, and they couldn’t afford to buy a keyboard. They paid him for the gigs he performed at, and they parted amicably. He left to go to college in Minneapolis at some point not long after.

    It was in that fall that Bobby got a contract with Liberty Records, and then began recording in Los Angeles. His career took off a number of months after that.

    Bob Dylan performed Suzie Baby and gave tribute to Bobby at a concert in July 2013 when Bobby was in attendance with family. There is a nice description about them under this video that was put together by Bobby’s son-in-law from tapes others took at the show. It also includes some great vintage pictures of Bobby and Bob. The picture you posted of the two of them was taken that night when they met up after the concert. Bob would have been in the Shadows band at the point after Suzie Baby was released, and he mentioned in this video that he had performed it with Bobby. If you haven’t seen this, hope you enjoy it!

    1. Rick says:

      Hey Peggy,
      First and foremost it is so very great to hear from someone who is as knowledgeable, passionate and as excited as we are about Bobby Vee! And we appreciate you taking the time to share your knowledge and help refine some of our details regarding Bobby and his incredible music..
      Additionally, Huge thanx for posting the great video of Dylan doing “Susie Baby”. NO! We have never seen it, but we think it speaks volumes about “Both Bobby’s” and their relationship!
      Our favorite moment in the clip comes just as Dylan is introducing the song, as Dylan begins speaking and the band begins playing someone on stage murmurs “What a treat”!
      Indeed it was!…
      Thank you Peggy, please come back and join us again, we believe you surely have more great Bobby Vee stories and we’d love to hear ALL OF THEM!

      1. Peggy says:

        Hi Rick! Thanks for the great reply, and I am so glad you enjoyed the video. I like that moment you mentioned also, the whole thing really IS a treat. By the way, Bob Dylan virtually never says a word at concerts, and it was a big deal among Dylan fans that actually spoke and then gave this tribute to Bobby. He knew Bobby was coming to the show and as was mentioned in the description under the video, Bobby and family were invited to watch the show on the side of the stage, pretty amazing in itself. The words in Bob’s wonderful intro were as follows, by the way:

        “Thank you everyone, thank you friends. I lived here a while back, and since that time, I’ve played all over the world, with all kinds of people. And everybody from Mick Jagger to Madonna. And everybody in there in between. I’ve been on the stage with most of those people. But the most beautiful person I’ve ever been on the stage with, was a man who is here tonight, who used to sing a song called “Suzie Baby”. I want to say that Bobby Vee is actually here tonight. Maybe you can show your appreciation with just a round of applause. So, we’re gonna try to do this song, like I’ve done it with him before once or twice.”

        Although I was a fan from the early years, I had no idea until the internet how many recordings Bobby had. 25 early albums, and many unreleased rarities that eventually came out. All of his albums but 2 are on CD. He later had his own recording studio and kept touring and recording long after the hit years, with 5 later albums, the final one being in 2014, called The Adobe Sessions. He recorded it in his garage at his winter home in Tucson with his 3 sons, all of whom are accomplished musicians, shortly after his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s. Bobby did a unique version of Dylan’s The Man In Me on that album, and the scenes of that live recording are at the end here. I would happily share lots more, but don’t want to inundate you! I have certain favorites and can speculate that you and most people have likely never even heard of them. I never got to see Bobby live, but I do have almost all of his recordings, hundreds actually. So any questions, please ask. I could keep going for a while!

        Here is The Man In Me. Much different than Dylan’s version! Be aware that Bobby’s voice is quite different than his teenage voice, he sounds older but as always very soulful.

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