by Taylor Reaves
“My body is bent and broken
By long and dangerous leaps
I can’t work the fields of Abraham
And turn my head away
I’m not a stranger
In the eyes of the maker.”
— “The Maker” by Daniel Lanois
The voice that sings this is a familiar one. We first welcomed him into our homes in the 1960s, a time between rock ‘n’ roll’s birth and the British Invasion, and then we watched him make his way around the world before settling among the St. Joseph community with his wife Karen and four children.
Over a half-century later American artist and entertainer Bobby Vee returns to us for a final performance, but he’s not alone. To share in his ultimate collection, he invited his Brothers.
He was not searching for backup vocals or bass players. The Brothers in the St. John’s Abbey Gregorian Chant Schola, including Br. Richard Crawford, Br. Lew Grobe, Br. Nick Kleespie, Br. David-Paul Lange, Br. Nicholas Moe and Br. Paul Richards, were chosen for something more personal – spirituality often is.
Three years ago at the age of 67, Bobby Vee was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Shortly afterward, his entire family traveled to Tucson, Ariz. to be together as they made sense of the news. As always, music was their outlet.
“There was only so much you could talk about these things,” said Jeff Velline, Bobby’s son. “Making music was how we could turn the energy into something positive.”
With no audience, no spotlights and no stage, they played for seven days. They recorded songs that had meanings, memories and familiarities among them all. Some the family had written over the years and others they took from the legends. They explored their new reality in the only way they knew how.
“We made music every day for a week, just for us,” Bobby Vee said in a letter to his family, friends and fans. “For the joy of making music. For the joy of being together. For all of the reasons I ever picked up a guitar or sang a tune in a Fargo garage back in ’59. I have truly come full circle.”
In the garage of his newly built adobe home in Tucson, Bobby Vee and his family cut live records for what is now titled “The Adobe Sessions,” including 16 tracks and two bonus songs.
“There is an interesting parallel as ‘adobe’ building is essentially taking something from the ground and shaping something substantial that lasts,” Jeff said. “I think we were essentially doing the same thing metaphorically.”
A song that followed them on the road was “The Maker,” originally written by Daniel Lanois and covered by artists including Dave Matthews and Willie Nelson. Thematically centered around John the Baptist, the story describes a transition and renewal from being a stranger to one who is not in the eyes of God.
“’The Maker’ was chosen for most of the same reasons as all of the other songs. It was a piece of material that connected to memories,” Jeff said. “It also happened to have a deep spiritual connection that felt almost cathartic in light of everything going on as we played it together for the first time ever that night in Tucson.”
For this tune, Bobby Vee had a particular vision, not seen but heard – a chant. Making a special connection with S. John’s after coming to call St. Joseph home, Bobby Vee reached out to the chant schola at the neighboring Abbey as production began.
“We were not sure exactly what we were getting into when we agreed to take on the project,” Schola Director Br. Nick Kleepsie said. “But their excitement helped us to recognize this would be a good experience. All of the monks who took part really enjoyed recording and adding our style of music to Bobby Vee’s style.”
Br. Nick selected the chant “Ut Queant Laxis” or “Hymn to St. John the Baptist.” For three hours the schola recorded with the Rock House Production team run by the Vellines. “So that your servants may, with loosened voices, resound the wonders of your deeds, clean the guilt from our stained lips, O Saint John,” they chanted in its original Latin form.
“We chose the particular chant because if fit well with the lyrics of Bobby Vee’s song, ’The Maker,’ which makes references to St. John the Baptist, Br. John, and has an array of baptismal imagery,” Br. Nick said. “Of course, St. John the Baptist is also the patron saint of St. John’s which connects the music in a special way to this place.”
“We gave them no direction,” Jeff said. “We had suggestions if they asked, but they never did, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the final product.”
This track won’t resemble earlier versions of “Suzie Baby,” “Take Good Care of My Baby,” one of his 36 other record hits, or the other 17 on the collection. However, it will not disappoint. Instead, this song will remind audiences of the spiritual side of the legend who has lived next door to us for so long.
“Everything you do in the way of art can live forever,” Jeff said. “This CD leaves something behind. This is the stuff that outlasts us.”
The CD was released digitally Feb. 3 on CD Baby and iTunes. That date marked the 55th anniversary of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper and the anniversary of Bobby’s first show – filling in for his idol Buddy Holly that fateful night along with his band The Shadows in Moorhead, Minn.
You can find the story of “The Adobe Sessions” on youtube.com.
For more information go to: www.bobbyvee.com or www.saintjohnsabbey.org.