Bobby Vee, who became a teenage idol in the early 1960s with infectious hits like “Take Good Care of My Baby” and “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” died on Monday in Rogers, Minn. He was 73.
The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, his son Jeff Velline said.
Mr. Vee was one of a crop of dreamboat singers promoted by the music industry in the late 1950s and early ’60s, joining Ricky Nelson, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell and others on the charts.
His career had a fairy-tale start. His show-business baptism came when he was 15 and filled in for Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper after they died in a plane crash in 1959.
He went on to place 38 singles in the Billboard Hot 100 from 1959 to 1970, notably “Take Good Care of My Baby,” written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, which reached No. 1 in 1961. He continued recording until 2014, when his last album, “The Adobe Sessions,” was released.
Among his other hits were “Run to Him,” “Come Back When You Grow Up,” “Rubber Ball” and “Walkin’ With My Angel.”
Sweetly sincere, an accomplished guitarist and songwriter as well as a singer, Mr. Vee wangled his way into his older brother’s band as the lead vocalist because he was the only one who remembered the lyrics to their songs.
They had practiced together only a few weeks when they responded to a radio appeal and were recruited to substitute for Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson), whose death en route from Iowa to a concert in Moorhead, Minn., was immortalized in 1971 by Don McLean as “the day the music died” in his hit song “American Pie.”
On their way to perform at the National Guard Armory in Moorhead, the band members dropped by J.C. Penney to buy black peg pants, sleeveless sweaters and Angora ties. Mr. Vee also improvised when the M.C. asked his band’s name. Inspired by silhouettes cast on the stage by the spotlights, he pronounced them “the Shadows.”
“The fear didn’t hit me until the spotlight came on, and then I was just shattered by it,” he told The Associated Press in 1999. “I didn’t think that I’d be able to sing. If I opened my mouth, I wasn’t sure anything would come out.”
It did, but the band did not get paid and was left at the Armory as the surviving members of Holly’s Winter Dance Party Tour decamped for Sioux City.
Four months later, they scraped enough together for their first recording session, which included Mr. Vee’s first hit, “Suzie Baby.” That led to Hollywood, a contract with Liberty Records and a breakthrough song, “Devil or Angel.” It made the Top 10 in 1960, when Mr. Vee was just 17.
“During a period when flash-in-the-pan, one-hit-wonder teen idols often ruled the charts, Bobby Vee was a consistently reliable chart-topping singer,” Robert Reynolds wrote in his book “The Music of Bobby Vee,” published this year. “He was a talented musician who was as comfortable crooning a heart-wrenching ballad, or belting out a bass-driven rocker, as he was singing a light and breezy teen ditty.”
Robert Thomas Velline was born on April 30, 1943, in Fargo, N.D. His father, Sidney Velline, was a chef who played fiddle and piano. His mother was the former Saima Tampinila.
Mr. Vee’s wife, the former Karen Bergan, died in 2015. In addition to his son Jeff, he is survived by two other sons, Robby and Tommy; a daughter, Jennifer Velline-Whittet; and five grandchildren. Mr. Vee and his three sons performed together in a band, the Vees.
“It was rural America,” Mr. Vee said of Fargo in the 1950s. “It certainly was not a place you would go to get into show business.”
Mr. Vee played saxophone in his high school band, but with savings from his newspaper route he bought a $30 Harmony guitar after his brother Bill taught him a few chords.
A few months after their Moorhead performance, the band recruited a fledgling pianist who went by the name Elston Gunn (sometimes spelled with three n’s). It was his first gig with a professional group that had actually released a record. While their collaboration was short-lived — cramped by a decrepit piano, he left to enroll at the University of Minnesota, moved to New York and changed his name (again; he had been born Robert Zimmerman) to Bob Dylan — it was transformative.
Mr. Vee abbreviated his surname at the suggestion of Mr. Dylan, who was taken by Mr. Vee’s graciousness and later described him as “the most beautiful person I’ve ever been on the stage with.”
“I’d always thought of him as a brother,” Mr. Dylan was quoted as saying. Mr. Vee’s voice, he said, was “as musical as a silver bell.”