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  From the
  Mentioning Eminem may be a mistake
Sixties pop star prefers youngsters like Johnny Cash
  Sharon Dunn,
National Post

[Photo: Sharon Dunn,
National Post]

Bobby Vee had his second gold record with Rubber Ball in 1960.

I'm meeting Bobby Vee at Pearson Airport on his way to Casino Rama in Barrie. Let me refresh your memory. Vee's first hit was Devil or Angel in 1960 (when he was just 17). That was quickly followed by Rubber Ball (another million-seller), The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, Take Good Care of My Baby, and Come Back When You Grow up Girl, a pretty good string of hits for a teenager.

Casino Rama gets all the old- timers. Paul Revere & The Raiders, David Cassidy and Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons are all there in the next few weeks. Bobby Vee -- at the time performing with Fabian, another name from long ago -- shows up with an entourage that just keeps coming.

"This is my son Tommy", he tells me. "And this is my son-in-law B.J. and my daughter Jenny. And this is my son Jeff [he does drums] and this is Keirsten -- she's a music student at the University of Auckland [Vee tells me that Keirsten is something like his second cousin on his mother's side, twice-removed]."

The Fargo, N.D., Sixties singing sensation is obviously a family man. The only person missing today is his wife, Karen, to whom he has been married for 39 years.

"I'd like to talk about Gordon Lightfoot," Vee tells me first thing. "I got a Gordon Lightfoot DVD from one of my sons for Christmas."

I point out that Lightfoot is recovering from a serious illness. "He didn't look good in that DVD," Vee confides. The DVD was of a show that Lightfoot did in Reno a couple of years ago. "There was a lot of Canadian influence in North Dakota," Vee explains. "I grew up listening to Lightfoot, but also Bob Dylan and James Taylor."

Vee, who still tours (mainly to England and Australia), says: "I'm a Midwest conservative kind of guy." When asked his opinion of President Bush, Vee says unapologetically: "I like him. And I like the idea of people going on board and coming together. Let's declare ourselves one way or the other." This is maybe the first person I've talked to who isn't afraid of a war.

"I'll bet you made nothing for those hits," I say, waiting for the inevitable sob story. There isn't one. "I've done well," he assures me. "I've invested well, in real estate." Vee says he made about US$50,000 for each hit, the equivalent of about US$250,000 today.

"Paltry," I tell him. He points out that it was actually quite good, since it is the early Sixties we're talking about.

Vee, who now lives in Minnesota, says: "I lived in California for a time, but I just had to get out." His life, he says, is great. "I have a production company, and I can perform and walk around with anonymity," something he cherishes.

"Not like Little Richard," he says. "I ran into him in the airport not too long ago, and he was wearing a red suit with loads of jewellery, and someone turned around and said, 'Isn't that Chubby Checker?' "

Vee, who even has a new album, laughs. "The name of my new album is 'I wouldn't change a thing.' " He assures me that best describes his life.

But I wonder if anyone really wants to hear these Sixties sensations any more? I pose the question gently to Vee.

"Two years ago I was doing a show at the London Palladium -- it's owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber," he says. "Webber was there for the show, but when I looked out in the audience, guess who else I saw? Ron Wood," he says triumphantly.

"Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones?" I ask.

Vee nods. "He came backstage afterwards and said he loved the shows, particularly the band, The Vees.

"As a matter of fact," Vee tells me, because of that night, "Wood wrote some songs with my son Robbie who lives in California."

"Do you know who the No. 1 entertainer in all of North America was last year?" Vee asks me. I'm stumped. "Paul McCartney. And in the top ten were Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and The Rolling Stones. They're all performers who have been around for 35 years."

When I ask him why he thinks young people still like the old fogies he says it's because their music is "accessible -- it's simple music, not complicated."

Is there a young performer he admires? "Johnny Cash," he says quickly.

"I said young."

"Stompin' Tom?"

The truth is, he tells me, he's stuck for an answer. "I don't listen to the young performers," he says. "Not by choice, but I'm not exposed to it. My kids are in their thirties now. If they were younger I would be exposed to it."

What kind of music does he like? "Songs, stories, lyrics, melodies."

He asks me what young performer I think he might like. When I suggest Eminem because I like him, second-cousin-on-his-mother's-side-twice-removed Keirsten interrupts.

"He could never take the language," she says earnestly.

I have to agree. Eminem might not be the thing for a Midwest conservative guy who loves Paul McCartney and George Bush. I tell him maybe he'd better stick with the young 'uns, Johnny Cash and Gordon Lightfoot.

  Last update: May 6, 2009
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