Paul Ritzenthaler, St. Joseph
“My tears are falling since you’ve taken her away.” Nine words that were the preamble to one of the greatest ballads of the early rock ‘n’ roll era and a constant reminder of a terrific liaison I will affectionately dub “Bobby Vee and Me.”
Bobby doesn’t remember – by his own admission – the first time we met. It was a very long time ago when I was working at a radio station in Rochester, N.Y. How long? At the time we were introducing an unprecedented venue in broadcasting. We were actually committed to challenging the powerful AM music moguls who controlled rock ‘n’ roll by – wait for it – daring to move pop music to an FM setting. Back then, FM was what we called elevator music. Or alternatively, classical opera, extreme political forums (left and right) or whatever we could get advertising dollars for.
I believe our program director – a name I have thankfully forgotten (British accent and all) – spent more time talking to Bobby about the tragic plane crash of Buddy Holly that thrust Bobby onto the rock ‘n’ roll center stage than promoting Bobby’s musical talents.
Little did I know back then that chance meeting would lead to a wonderful relationship with a man whom I came to respect as one of the most genuine, caring and sharing pop stars of the great musical era.
Bobby Vee and me (what a fortunate radio windfall for yours truly) fell into each other when I elected to move to Fargo, N.D. I can’t even remember how we hooked up the first time. But throughout the years when I was on the radio and looking for someone to share some conversation interspersed with musical memories, I could always count on Bobby to be ready to talk to me (and my listeners). As I moved from station to station – Fargo, Fergus Falls, Grand Forks via Thief River Falls – I always found this guy (formerly from West Fargo) ready to talk and enjoy the musical reminiscences.
Over and above that, I found Vee had an ability to deliver some great rock-roll-and-remember-shows, including such great acts as the Crickets (they sounded just about as great without Buddy). Danny and the Juniors (without Danny), Chris Montez and (among others) Del Shannon who, in interview, confessed his lack of excitement over another expensive road tour that included a European excursion. In fact, somewhere in the musical messes of my basement, I have the last interview he did with the Thief River Falls/Grand Forks station for which I worked before he flew back to Las Vegas and ended his own life.
There are so many other delightful situations I could share regarding my fortunate acquaintance with Bobby Vee, like the time we did a three-stop North Dakota rock concert venue in Grand Forks, Grafton and Devils Lake. The Devils Lake performance was a Saturday-night show, and we stayed at a motel overnight before going our separate ways on Sunday morning. Three hours after we picked up and skedaddled from that guesthouse, it was blown away by a tornado.
There is one dream we (Bobby Vee and me) never got to deliver into reality. We would always talk about doing a show at the Maple Lake Pavilion (which doubled as a skating rink) a scant 20 miles from Crookston, where Vee (and I believe it was the Shadows) was loved for his musical talents long before he became a world renowned rock ‘n’ roll star.
I thought my friendship with Bobby had ended when – low and behold – we bounced off each other in a little Minnesota community called St. Joseph, which we both were now calling home. We would share some of those great memories while squeezing oranges at the old Loso’s Grocery Store or just casually chatting outside of his production studio in the center of town. But what sparked my yearly excitement was to hear all those wonderful musical Bobby Vee memories, in “center stage” vocal form, at the annual July 3 concert at the St. Joseph musical site. Year after year, the songs sounded so much more memorable. And, year after year, each performance reacquainted me with what I related to as a melodic montage that, sadly, is disappearing from our musical culture.
A few years back, my brother and sister-in-law visited us from Fort Meyer, Fla. during the July 4 holiday. We took them to the Bobby Vee concert, and I snuck her up to introduce her to Bobby. After a brief but cordial greeting, we returned to our seats with her, a 70-year-old quilter sounding like a 16-year-old teenybopper saying “Oh my God, I met Bobby Vee.”
Now, those annual stagings (which he did gratis for charity and/or community) are fading memories, not unlike the wonderful music he gave us. Yes, this year’s July 3 concert was terrific, but those memories of rubber balls bouncing off the stage, while another great Bobby Vee hit was being shared, still linger.
So I say, “Take care of yourself, Bobby Vee.” We miss you, not just for what you’ve done for music but for what you’ve done for our community. Or, (if I may be trite) in the words from an old television classic, “Live long and prosper.” In retrospect, we miss you “center stage.”