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Remembering Singer-Songwriter Bobby Vee, The Teen Idol Of The '60s

Vee, who died Monday, had 38 hit singles including, "Take Good Care of My Baby." During a 1999 Fresh Air interview, Vee explained how the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly got him started in music.


Other segments from the episode on February 1, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 28, 2016: Interview with Bobby Vee (obit); Review of film The Handmaiden



This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. Bobby Vee, the teen idol of the '60s who had 38 hit singles, died Monday due to complications from Alzheimer's. He was 73. Among his hits were "Take Good Care Of My Baby," "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes," "Rubber Ball," "Run To Him" and "Come Back When You Grow Up." He was born Robert Thomas Velline in Fargo, N.D., the son of a chef who played fiddle and banjo. He went on to become an accomplished guitarist and songwriter, as well as a singer. His career had a fairytale start. When he was 15, he and some local musicians were tapped to fill in at a Moorhead, Minn., concert after rock 'n' roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash. That led to a recording session and his first regional hit. Terry spoke to Bobby Vee in 1999 when he was still performing and had released a new album paying homage to Buddy Holly by performing some of his lesser-known songs. This one is called "Rock Me My Baby."


BOBBY VEE: (Singing) Well, put your arms around me now and try your best to squeeze me. Love me baby, you know how, rock me, my baby. Well, rock a-like hickory dickory dock (ph). Rock-a-bye my baby. Up and down, around the clock. Well, a-rock me my baby. Plant your kisses on my lips. Make me bubble brightly. Thrill me to my fingertips. Well, a-rock me my baby. Well, rock like hickory dickory dock. Rock-a-bye my baby. Up and down, around the clock. Well, rock me my baby.



Bobby Vee singing a Buddy Holly song from his new CD "Down The Line: A Tribute To Buddy Holly." Bobby Vee, welcome to FRESH AIR.

VEE: Thanks so much, Terry. Great to be here.

GROSS: You were 15 when you were asked to fill in for Buddy Holly right after Buddy Holly's plane crash. And I'm wondering, why you? Why did they choose you?

VEE: You know, it's such an odd story. It was the luck of the draw. I was - came home from lunch - or came home from school for lunch that day - and heard on the radio that he had died in a plane crash. And I was a sophomore in high school - went back to school.

And, of course, that was - everybody was in shock. That was the topic of the afternoon. And when I got out of school - turned on the radio. And they were asking for local talent to help fill in the evening. They just had made a decision to go on with the show, which consisted at that point - it was Dion and the Belmonts and the new Crickets, not the original Crickets, which also was a surprise to me - had a young singer named Frankie Sardo.

And they wanted to go on with the show. And they were asking for local talent. We called up the radio station. They said, come on down. And that was it. I mean, they didn't ask us anything. They didn't ask us, you know, what we played or anything. And we did - went down to the Moorhead Armory that night at, you know, 6:30 and waited. They said just wait in the wings. And we did. And yeah. You know, how - why do things happen like that? But...

GROSS: No audition?

VEE: No audition. We stood in the wings. And they took for granted that we were what we said we were. We were a band. And we were really a garage band. My older brother Bill was five years older than me. And he was really my idol when I was growing up. He was a great musician and a great guitar player.

And a couple of other guys from Fargo, Bob Korum and Jim Stillman - and we stood around and waited. And Charlie Boone, the disc jockey - host of the show that night. And it seemed like an impossible task to host a show like that because, I mean, the audience was - it was like a wake. And there were people, you know, from the outlying areas that came into the show and hadn't heard about the tragedy until they maybe got in line.

And so there were a lot of emotions floating around. And we ended up being - there was a little tribute that was done to the three stars. And then they kicked into the show. And we ended up opening the show.

GROSS: What about your emotions? How was your mix of being frightened and upset by the plane crash and the death mixed with the exhilaration of knowing this was your big moment? You were going to be performing.

VEE: Yeah, it was both of those things. I was absolutely in shock. And if I would've had time to think about it and the implications of it, I don't think I would've done it because we really weren't prepared to go out and stand in front of 1,200 people and perform. But there really wasn't any time. We offered our services. And they said, come on down.

And there was a spirit of, let's get together and try to get through this thing. And that's what was going on on my mind. You know, if there was a fire or something, you would do what you could do. You know, if there was a tornado in town, you would do what you could do to help people. So that's the way I answered the mission.

And - but that changed when we got on stage. And we didn't even have a name for the band. I mean, that's how green we were. I had been, you know, playing for three or four years. And I was a huge music fan. I was a radio fan from the time I was 4 years old and I could reach high enough to turn the radio on. And my brother and I used to play together all the time - play music at home.

So it was - you know, that was the only preparation that I had. But when Charlie turned around and said, what's the name of the band? - and I was the only one that had given it any thought - I said, The Shadows. And he said, ladies and gentlemen, here they are - The Shadows. All of a sudden, it was like, you know, let's do it. It's time to do it.

GROSS: It sounds like a rock n' roll movie (laughter).

VEE: Yeah. It was a - yeah. All of a sudden, I was, like, launched into hyperspace, you know? All of a sudden, the nobleness of, you know, helping to get through this thing - that ceased. And it was, like, time for me to perform. And I didn't know if I could.

GROSS: Now, were you already influenced as a singer by Buddy Holly? Do you think you were more or less influenced by him after you played at this concert?

VEE: I don't think I knew how much I was influenced by him. I loved his music. And our voice had a similar timbre. And his music was easy for any rock n' roll band in the world to reproduce. I mean, it was guitars and drums. And I never - I didn't think of it as the start of my career. I mean, I didn't have a career.

GROSS: You were 15 (laughter).

VEE: I was 15. I was in school and didn't think of anything other than what it was. We were - you know, we ended up filling in that night and did a pretty good job. A guy came up after the show and said, great job, boys.

He said, if you're looking for a manager or agent - he said he was a local booking agent - give me a call. We thought, hmm, interesting. We could actually do this some more. And we gave him a call. And a couple weeks later, we had our first job. And that was a disaster.

But, you know, you learn from all those things. And that was the stepping stone into Bobby Vee and The Shadows and, eventually, "Suzie Baby," my first record, which came out in 1959 in June. And I always thought of that as the start of my career.

GROSS: Let's play your first record, "Suzie Baby." You were, I think, 17 when this came out.

VEE: Just 16.

GROSS: Sixteen.

VEE: I was just - yeah - barely 16.

GROSS: Well, let's hear "Suzie Baby." This is my guest Bobby Vee's first recording.


VEE: (Singing) Suzie, baby, where are you? Have you left me for someone new? Is your lovelight shining bright? Will you love me or leave me tonight? Suzie, baby, don't you know that I love you and want you so? Come back, baby, come back home. Say you love me and never again roam. Suzie, baby...

GROSS: I think I can definitely hear a Buddy Holly influence in your singing style there, including the kind of Buddy Holly hiccup (laughter).

VEE: The little hiccup, right.

GROSS: Yeah. So did you think of yourself as being very influenced by Buddy Holly when you were recording this or when you were writing the song and wondering, even, if you were nudged in that direction a little bit by your producer?

VEE: We actually didn't have a producer. We...



VEE: We weren't lucky enough to have a producer. We went to Minneapolis and spent $500, recorded it at 9 o'clock in the morning. I've never recorded a song since at 9 o'clock in the morning. We had a three-hour session from 9 to noon. And it was one of - it was a package deal. It was a - Soma Records, which was - up to that point, it was pretty much a polka label. We used to kid that we are the only act on the label that didn't wear lederhosen.


VEE: And - but the record came out. And it was just interesting the way that it went up the charts. It just took off the summer of 1959. And...

GROSS: It was a regional hit.

VEE: It was a regional hit in the tri-state area in the upper Midwest, went to No. 1 everywhere. And by the time it hit Minneapolis and reached No. 1 there, we were getting calls from record companies all over the world.

And I didn't think that it - never occurred to me that it sounded like a Buddy Holly record when I recorded it. But I started getting feedback from people. And one of the people was a producer for Liberty Records, Snuffy Garrett, out in Los Angeles. And I was really impressed with him. He had been a friend of Buddy Holly's. He was a disc jockey in Lubbock, Texas, for a while, loved music.

We had a lot in common, talking about our interests. And I signed with Liberty Records. I signed a contract with them. And that was where I spent, really, my entire career. They finally became United Artists and EMI Records. But I was there for a total of about 17 years. And it was a great place for me.

GROSS: By the way, was that your brother playing the guitar?

VEE: Yes. That's my brother Bill. And it just - I love hearing him play. He passed away a couple years ago. But...

GROSS: Sorry to hear that.

VEE: Yeah, thanks. We were - he was a great inspiration for me. He used to - he turned me on to so much great music. And...

GROSS: Did he stay in music?

VEE: No. He hated it. He just hated it.

GROSS: What? The performing and all that?

VEE: Hated traveling, hated the business of music, didn't want to talk about anything but playing. And, of course, there's a lot more to it than that. You just have to deal with it - you know, bookings. And we ended up out in New York.

And he said he was going to quit the tour and go home. It was, like, 1961. And I talked him into sticking around. But that was the last tour that he did with me. He just hated the business of music, didn't want to travel, just wanted to be in Fargo. And that's what he did.

DAVIES: Bobby Vee speaking with Terry Gross in 1999. Vee died Monday. We'll hear more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're listening to Terry's 1999 interview with Bobby Vee. He died Monday at the age of 73.


GROSS: I have another question about your very early career. Before Bob Dylan became Bob Dylan, you hired him as the pianist in your band. He wasn't using the name Dylan yet. But he also wasn't using his birth name, Robert Zimmerman. What name was he using? And do you know why he chose it?

VEE: It's a funny story. My brother Bill was in Sam's Record Land in Fargo, where we used to go down and buy all of our - all those hot records. This little guy approached him. We were looking for a piano player. And he knew that. He introduced himself to Bill as Elston Gunnn with three N's - G-U-N-N-N.

And that got Bill's attention. And he said, I hear you're looking for a keyboard player. He said, I just got off the road with Conway Twitty. And that got Bill's attention because Twitty had toured the Midwest a lot. And, you know, he had "It's Only Make Believe." And he was, you know, one of the early rockers.

Bill went over to the radio station with him and auditioned him. They had a piano in there. And he came back home. And he said, I think we found a piano player. He said, the guy plays pretty good in the key of C. And we're...


VEE: And we found out the first night that he only played in the key of C. He could play three chords. So it was funny. We picked him up for the job. And we bought him a shirt to match ours. And he didn't have a piano. We said, where's your piano? He said, I don't have one. So we thought, well, we got a piano player without a piano.

And it just so happened that there was a - it was a church basement or something that we were playing in. There was an old piano in there - rickety, old, out-of-tune thing. And he played that. And then, if we were playing in a song in any other key, he would come up and sing background parts.

GROSS: (Laughter).

VEE: And he would do sort of handclaps. And so he was a wary, funny guy, you know?

GROSS: Did you have to get rid of him 'cause he only played in C?

VEE: (Laughter). We couldn't afford to buy a piano. And he didn't have any money. He was a busboy in a restaurant, a little place called the Red Apple Cafe in Fargo. None of us had any money. And we knew that it just - it was not going to work out. And so the story goes that I fired him. And I certainly didn't do that.

But he - it just was an unmanageable situation. He left and went back to - went down to Minneapolis - University of Minnesota - and went to school. And then two years later, I was walking through Greenwich Village. And I saw a familiar face in a record store window. And I went over. And there was an album by Bob Dylan. And I thought, boy, looks a lot like Elston Gunnn.


GROSS: Do you know why he chose the name Elston Gunnn? I mean, Dylan's such an enigmatic figure. It is hard to tell who he really is. So what did that name - that early pseudonym - say about who he is?

VEE: I don't know. I mean, you know, it sounds like it might be some old rhythm and blues name.

GROSS: Not with three N's - I doubt (laughter).

VEE: Not with three N's. Yeah. Yeah. That'd be a first. But he was a first. And yeah, I don't know. I ran into him in 1990. He came through the Midwest. And I sent a letter backstage. I knew all the sound crew. They were people that I work with. And I was coming through. And I gave it to one of the guys. And I said, if you see him, give him a letter.

GROSS: Speaking of names, your birth name is Robert Velline?

VEE: Right.

GROSS: And who named you Vee?

VEE: That was the manager that we took on after the Buddy Holly show. He thought Velline was too confusing. And there were a lot of short names and little showbiz names at that time - so part of the package.

GROSS: Let's get to your career with Liberty Records. What was their roster like when you were signed?

VEE: Well, it was a young company. They had, really, only a couple of acts. They had Julie London. They had The Chipmunks...


VEE: ...Which pretty much paid the bills for them. The Chipmunks - I think that was - they were most excited about. And they had Eddie Cochran. So it was a young label. And they were looking for talent. And because of my connections with Snuffy on our mutual interests, it seemed logical for me to go to Liberty Records.

And it was a great move for me. They also then signed Johnny Burnette. They had Gene McDaniels and Jan and Dean and Johnny Rivers later on. It was a great company. In the early '60s - 1962 - they were probably the most successful company in the business. And everything was just - I mean, they were great records. I don't mind saying that about my own product, but it was the best studio in Los Angeles and Hollywood and the best musicians - Ernie Freeman, one of the top arrangers. It was the best of everything, best engineers.

GROSS: How were you matched - how were you matched up with songwriters?

VEE: Yeah, that early '60s time period I - sometimes I think gets a bad shake because it was sort of sandwiched in between, you know, Elvis and The Beatles. But it was a time period of songwriters, and I think of it as the Brill Building era. Great songwriters like Carole King and Gerry Goffin and Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil - the list goes on and on. I was - the first hit, really technically a hit, that I had was a song called "Devil Or Angel," which had been a hit for The Clovers in the mid-'50s - a great kind of doo-wop rhythm and blues song that hadn't been exposed to the pop market. And it was a song that kind of crept up the charts, and that was my entrance into the top 10, the Billboard charts. And after that, we followed that up with "Rubber Ball" and then I got a song called "How Many Tears," which was a Carole King-Gerry Goffin song. And Carole and Gerry flew from New York to be at the session. And on a break, Carole said, let me play a couple of songs that we just wrote, and she sat down at the piano and played a song called "In My Baby's Eyes," which is a wonderful song I recorded later on. And the second song was "Take Good Care Of My Baby." And it was - it was amazing to hear this song with her sitting there playing it because it sounded like a hit song as she was playing it on the piano. And we recorded it a few weeks later, and it was indeed a hit song. It became my first number one record.

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear it? This is "Take Good Care Of My Baby."


VEE: (Singing) My tears are fallin' 'cause you've taken her away. And though it really hurts me so, there's something that I've got to say. Take good care of my baby. Please don't ever make her blue. Just tell her that you love her. Make sure you're thinking of her in everything you say and do. Take good care of my baby.

Now, don't you ever make her cry. Just let your love surround her. Be a rainbow all around her. Don't her let her see a cloudy sky. Once upon a time that little girl was mine. If I'd been true, I know she'd never be with you. So take good care of my baby.

GROSS: That's Bobby Vee - "Take Good Care Of My Baby" - and that's one of the tracks featured on his new 50-track CD of his greatest hits - and then some - on EMI Records. So you did a couple of Carole King-Gerry Goffin songs. And you did - you did a Gene Pitney song, "Rubber Ball," one of your big hits. But he had to apparently submit that under a pseudonym. I think he used his mother's maiden name. Why couldn't he do that under his own name?

VEE: It was a writer's affiliation. I think he was a writer for BMI and the - or ASCAP, and it was one of those deals where he was signed with ASCAP and his co-partner was a BMI writer. And so he put his mother's name on it. And his - he used to tell me that his mother was concerned that the BMI police were going to come out and ask her to play it on the piano. So...


VEE: And I always had this vision in my mind of Gene Pitney's mother sitting at the piano playing "Rubber Ball" and it's (laughter) kind of a fun image.

DAVIES: Bobby Vee speaking with Terry Gross, recorded in 1999. Vee died Monday at the age of 73. After a break, we'll hear him talk about working with Burt Bacharach and learning to lip-sync, and David Edelstein reviews "The Handmaiden." I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.


VEE: (Singing) Rubber ball, I come bouncin' back to you. Rubber ball, I come bouncin' back to you. I'm like a rubber ball, baby, that's all that I am to you.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy.

VEE: (Singing) Just a rubber ball 'cause you think you can be true to two.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy.

VEE: (Singing) You bounce my heart around.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) You don't even put her down.

VEE: (Singing) And like a rubber ball, I come bouncin' back to you. Rubber ball, I come bouncin' back to you. If you stretch my love till it's thin enough to tear, I'll just stretch my arms to reach you anywhere.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. We're listening to Terry's 1999 interview with Bobby Vee, the teen idol of the '60s who had 38 hit singles. He died Monday in Minnesota due to complications from Alzheimer's. He was 73. Here's a Bobby Vee recording from 1961. This is "More Than I Can Say."


VEE: Oh, oh, yeah, yeah - love you more than I can say. I'll love you twice as much tomorrow. Whoa, whoa - love you more than I can say. Whoa, whoa, yeah, yeah - I miss you more every single day. Why must my life be filled with sorrow? Whoa, whoa - love you more than I can say. Don't you know I need you so? Tell me please. I've got to know. Do you mean to make me cry? Am I just another guy? Whoa, yeah, yeah - love you more than I can say. I'll love you twice as much tomorrow. Whoa, whoa - love you more than I can say.

GROSS: When songwriters wrote for you, did they write specifically for Bobby Vee, or did they just take stuff out of the trunk and say, how do you like this one?

VEE: I think that there was a lot of each. After I established a relationship with Carole and Gerry, they did write for me. And I've recorded more Carole-King-Gerry-Goffin songs I think, probably, than anyone other than Carole, herself, with her own material. But it was a great relationship. And I - the thing I liked about the early '60s was I loved the songs. I loved The Drifters and Gene Pitney and Neil Sedaka. And there's some great songs, and I got to do a lot of them. And to be able to stand up on stage and sing "Run To Him" every night - it's a great, great lyric.

GROSS: Oh, I'm so glad you mentioned that because that was the next song I was going to play (laughter).

VEE: Oh, wonderful.

GROSS: So this is a perfect segue. I particularly like this record. I think it's a really good song and a really good arrangement. Tell me how you got this song.

VEE: It was written by Gerry Goffin and Jack Keller. And I believe it was - well, it was a follow-up to "Take Good Care Of My Baby." This is an interesting little story about it - Snuffy, my producer, was in New York, and he had gotten a call from Don Kirshner who was the head of Screen Gems - Aldon Music at that time. Snuffy, he said, I've got some songs for Bobby Vee. I'm not going to be in the office. But if you would just stop by, I'll leave them on the desk, on the receptionist's desk. There'll be a stack of records, and it'll say Bobby Vee on top. And just take them back to LA with you, and give me a call.

Snuffy stopped by the office. And sure enough there was a stack of records that said Bobby Vee. And right next to it, there was a stack that said The Everly Brothers. And he took them both. And (laughter) "Run To Him" was in The Everly Brothers' stack.

GROSS: (Laughter).

VEE: So we recorded the song about two weeks later. And Snuffy called him on the phone and held it up to the speaker. And I'm sure he didn't mind in the long run. But if you think about it, it would have been a - there was some nice harmony parts on there. It would've been a nice song for The Everly Brothers. And I'm glad I got it.

GROSS: Yeah, yeah, yeah, you did good with it. This is "Run To Him" featuring my guest, Bobby Vee.


VEE: (Singing) One, two - one, two, three - if you found another guy who satisfies you more than I do, run to him. I'll step aside. If you think his lips can kiss you better than my lips can kiss you, run to him. Forget my pride. If someone else's arms can hold you better than my arms can hold you, go to him, and show to him all your devotions. If somebody else can make you happier than I can make you, run to him. My tears will dry. If someone else's arms can hold you better than my arms can hold you, go to him, and show to him all your devotions. If somebody else can make you happier than I can make you, run to him.

GROSS: That's Bobby Vee. "Run To Him" was a really well-produced record. I'd like to talk about the production style that was used on your records at Liberty in the 1960s. How were the arrangements handled? Once you and your producer chose the song you were going to do, how was that farmed out to the producer?

VEE: Well, Ernie Freeman arranged all the songs.

GROSS: All the songs?

VEE: And he would come by Liberty Records. And we would, the three of us would sit down - and Snuffy and myself and Ernie. And Ernie would be at the piano. And we would figure out what key it was going to be in and talk about the arrangement. Often, with the Carole King demos - she made wonderful demos. And she would indicate string parts and even, by muffling the upper strings of the piano, she would indicate the Pizzicato strings. So she was quite talented in making demos.

And so if parts weren't indicated, then Ernie would - he would sit there, and he would just kind of come up with stuff. And sometimes he would say, what do you think of this? And other times he would just, you know, in his little workshop, he would come up with these parts. And so all of the hits, up until about '64, were done live in the studio. And I think that's part of the charm.

GROSS: When you say live, you mean that all the parts were recorded at once including your vocals?

VEE: Right, everything was done live. And so it was pretty unforgiving. I mean, we didn't - and it seemed very expensive to make records in those days. And I'm sure it does today, too. But, you know, you're sitting around with 22 people in the studio, and everybody is a union musician. And you have a three-hour session, and our goal was to try to get four songs in three hours. And we almost always did that.

GROSS: Wow, that's really - because there's so many opportunities for somebody to make a mistake when there's an orchestra plus a singer all working in real time.

VEE: Right. And we thought less about mistakes. And if you go back and listen to those old rock 'n' roll records, I mean, there's all kinds of clams in there, wrong bass notes and - listen to the Buddy Holly stuff, and it's kind of amazing when you put headsets on. So it really isn't about that.

But in the case of Liberty Records, again, you know, they were all studio players. And so they would do a couple of run-throughs. And there were occasional mistakes. I sang a wrong word in "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes." Ben Weisman, the writer that was at the session, he almost had a heart attack.

GROSS: (Laughter).

VEE: He said, oh, you've got to do another take. And - but it was such a great take, and it was like the seventh take or something like that after a few warmup takes. And he said, well, you know, we can't do it. He said oh, geez, you know, it's going to make all the difference in the world. Didn't make a lick of difference - no one even noticed it. And the song became a hit anyway.

GROSS: OK. Now, before I play the song, what's the wrong word?

VEE: In the last verse, one of these days, you're gonna be sorry, I sang sorry. And the word is one of these days you're going to be cryin', and you'll find out without really tryin'. So there was the rhyme there. And, you know - big stuff, important stuff. People don't think so much about that today, you know.

GROSS: (Laughter) Well, let's hear "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes" - My guest, Bobby Vee.


VEE: (Singing) They say that you're a run-around lover, though you say it isn't so. But if you put me down for another, I'll know if you leave me, I'll know 'cause the night has a thousand eyes. And a thousand eyes can't help but see if you are true to me. So remember when you tell those little white lies that the night has a thousand eyes.

You say that you're at home when you phone me and how much you really care. Though you keep telling me that you're lonely, I'll know if someone is there 'cause the night has a thousand eyes. And a thousand eyes can't help but see if you are true to me. So remember when you tell those little white lies that the night has a thousand eyes.

One of these days, you're going to be sorry 'cause your game, I'm going to play. And you find out without really trying each time that my kisses stray 'cause the night has a thousand eyes...

GROSS: Ruined - my enjoyment was totally ruined by that change of word.


GROSS: Just kidding. I never, ever noticed that.

VEE: No, you never would. And it's amazing. People that make records, we have the ability to make them perfect now, and I'm not sure that that's such a good idea. I think what we're really looking for is just some matters of the heart.

GROSS: Now what were the session guys like? On the one hand, you probably had classical music string players. On the other hand, I know you had some great jazz musicians like the guitarist Barney Kessel.

VEE: Right.

GROSS: ...Who did a zillion rock 'n' roll sessions during his career.

VEE: Yeah. They could play everything. And one of the things that I discovered is that, for the most part, with the exception of the string players, all the other players were - they could play anything. And they would give themselves to anything. It didn't make any difference if it was pop music or rock 'n' roll or jazz or country.

GROSS: But the string players?

VEE: The string players were difficult. And they were the most likely to complain if the session went over a half a minute or a minute. You know, they would say - well, you know, we're into another time frame here. Now it's the union, you know. And we even had a violin player stand up in the middle of a take and start packing up his violin. And of course, the session came to a screeching halt.

GROSS: And then Ernie Freeman explained to this guy, this red-faced guy, that you can start a take up to 30 seconds before the clock hits the end of the session and technically finish it. And of course, he was embarrassed about it. But what that did was it started - one of the violin players, Sid Sharp, came up after the session and he said, I'll find you some guys that want to play this stuff. And he did.

And he put a group of people together, and it was the - he became the contractor in Los Angeles for the violin players, Sid Sharp. And they all showed up with smiles on their faces. And they - you know, there were a lot of session work. They made a lot of money.

DAVIES: Bobby Vee speaking with Terry Gross in 1999. Vee died Monday. We'll hear more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're listening to Terry's 1999 interview with Bobby Vee. He died Monday at the age of 73.


GROSS: I want to play a session that you did with Burt Bacharach. This is a Burt Bacharach-Hal David song...


GROSS: ...Called "Be True To Yourself." You know, Burt Bacharach is so highly regarded now for not only his songwriting but for the arrangements that he did for his songs and the way that they were produced. How much did Bacharach actually handle this session?

VEE: Burt arranged the session. He basically directed the session. I mean, he literally directed the session. He arranged it and directed the orchestra. And it was a departure for us because Ernie Freeman had done everything up to that point. I remember it being a very good session. There was - I did two of his songs, "Be True To Yourself" and another song - it was called "That's The Way I'll Come To You" - which was never issued. It's out on this new collection, the "Essential Bobby Vee" package. But it was wonderful working with him, and I am a big fan of his music and Hal David, the writer - the lyricist has been one of my favorites.

GROSS: And the time signature in this - I can't figure out what it is, but it seems kind of unusual. Was there anything in this song that seemed tricky?

VEE: No. Other than the range was - it got me on both ends. It was - mainly on the high end - it was probably about a half a step too high for me. But it's a great lyric, and it's a good sounding record. It's a straight ahead, you know, 4/4 record. But the way that he did the flugelhorn in there, it's like a counterrhythm.

GROSS: Let's hear "Be True To Yourself." This is my guest Bobby Vee.


VEE: (Singing) Be true to yourself, and you'll always be true to me. Be true to yourself, and you'll be the girl that I want you to be. Remember that if some other guy catches your eye, just follow your heart. I know your heart won't lead you wrong. Our love is much too strong. I'm not afraid of losing you. I have faith in you. Can't you see? Darling, be true to yourself and you'll always be true to me.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la.

VEE: (Singing) Remember that if some other guy catches your eye, just follow your heart. I know your heart won't lead you wrong. Our love is much too strong. I'm not afraid...

GROSS: That's Bobby Vee, and that's one of the songs included on "The Essential: Bobby Vee," his new collection of greatest hits and other records, including someone unreleased tracks.

VEE: Thanks for playing that. I never...

GROSS: This is good, isn't it?

VEE: I never hear that song, and it's one of my favorite songs. I think it's just a great, great lyric.

GROSS: And you didn't sound like you were straining. You said the high notes were kind of out of reach for you. Did Bacharach want that? You know, some people really like hearing singers reach for their lowest or their highest notes 'cause the strain of that sometimes sounds like an emotional strain, like an emotional tug...

VEE: That's right.

GROSS: ...In interpreting the lyric.

VEE: Every record producer I've ever worked with wanted me to sing at the very top end of my range. And there's a lot more going - I mean, I suppose the contrast of that is I could have done a tribute to Johnny Cash. But I...


VEE: I do have a low voice. I always have had - even when I listen to "Suzie Baby," you know, my first record...

GROSS: Yeah.

VEE: ...It's set in a low key for me.

GROSS: So did Bacharach want you to reach all the way up?

VEE: Yes, he did. He wanted me to get to the very - get on my tiptoes and do that, right? And I did.

GROSS: You were popular in the Dick Clark era. What was it like to go on his show? Did you lip sync? Did you play live ever?

VEE: No, they were all lip sync. I don't know that anyone ever sang live on there. It's possible but not that I recall.

GROSS: Were you taught to lip sync, or did you just have to pick it up?

VEE: It's a little bit tricky because after you record a song and then go out and start performing it live, it will vary a little bit. And so I would always have to listen to the records and kind of, you know, brush up on them to not embarrass myself. I mean, it was embarrassing enough going out and doing a lip sync. I actually did a live show. It was a show out in Seattle back in that time period. And it was - I didn't realize it was a live show. I thought it was just a television show and I was going to go in and lip sync.

And it was a live show. There was an audience there. And the record started skipping.


VEE: And there were some tense moments there. It seems like...

GROSS: What did you do?

VEE: ...It skipped for a year, you know? And I just - I did what I'm doing right now as I'm talking to you. I put my hands up in the air. You know, you can't proceed from there. And then I heard all of a sudden (imitating skipping) and it came back on again and finished the song. And I - it was sort of an out-of-body experience for me.

GROSS: What was the impact of the British Invasion on your career?

VEE: Well, if you look at it from a - put it on paper, it looks like it was the end of my career. But in actual fact, the biggest record of my career came late in the '60s. It was an innocent little song that came out during the heyday of The Beatles during the San Francisco flower power thing. It was a song that was - it seemed the least likely to succeed. It was such a soft little innocent tune. And it kind of crept up the charts. And by the end of 1967, it was the biggest selling record of my entire career.

GROSS: This was "Come Back When You Grow Up, Girl?"

VEE: Yes, "Come Back When You Grow Up."

GROSS: So you're playing with your sons now. Tell us more about what your career is like now.

VEE: Well, I do everything. We're kind of all over the place. But we do fairs and festivals and, you know, I could be on a proper stage one night and out in Montana on a flatbed truck the next night. So it's pretty interesting, and I like that about it. It's really - and really in the end, it's for the people. And it doesn't make any difference what they're sitting on. It's just rock 'n' roll.

GROSS: Bobby Vee, it's really been a pleasure. Thank you very much.

VEE: Oh, thanks, Terry. It was just wonderful to spend some time with you and - yeah.

DAVIES: Bobby Vee speaking with Terry Gross recorded in 1999. Vee died Monday due to complications from Alzheimer's. He was 73. Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new film "The Handmaiden." This is FRESH AIR.


This is FRESH AIR. Film critic David Edelstein has a review of "The Handmaiden" by Korean director Park Chan-wook. It's a major reworking of the Victorian-era erotic thriller "Fingersmith" by Welsh-born novelist Sarah Waters. The BBC adapted the novel into a miniseries in 2005. Here's David.

DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: The Korean Park Chan-wook would be the last director I'd have figured could make a lush, romantic melodrama like "The Handmaiden," which he adapted from the well-known British novel "Fingersmith" by Sarah Waters. Park is the auteur behind some critically lauded and exceedingly cruel quasi-horror films. Among them, "Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance," "Oldboy," "Lady Vengeance" and the English language "Stoker." I was one of those critics who lauded the first three, but I got tired of the director's reflexive nihilism and his reliance on empty shocks.

He started to remind me of lesser punk rockers. But the formal constraints of "The Handmaiden" do wonders for him. The surface is gorgeous while the director's perversity bubbles up from beneath. Park has shifted the story's setting from England to Korea in the 1930s under Japanese occupation. That's crucial because the main characters, all Korean, are either pretending to be Japanese or, out of a wish to rise in society, embracing Japanese culture. Different colored subtitles help us non-Asian-language-speakers follow the movement back and forth between Japanese and, often in secret, Korean.

Different languages, different personas, different ways of styling oneself. The title character, Sook-Hee, played by Kim Tae-ri, is a fraud. She's been enlisted by Ha Jung-woo's Count Fujiwara, who is neither a count nor, as his assumed name would suggest, Japanese. He's a Korean con artist with a scheme to marry the niece of a rich Korean book dealer, a man who's aping Japanese ways. Then he'll commit the girl to an asylum and take off with her sizable inheritance. Sook-Hee is meant to serve the lady, Hideko, played by Kim Min-hee and push her into the arms of the devilishly handsome bogus count.

So far, so simple. But "The Handmaiden" is in three chapters, each told from a different point of view and each of which fills in gaps we've missed in the previous go-round. I found the first chapter beautiful but slow, a bit of a narcotic. It's when the twists began and then the twists on the twists that I started to get excited. There's little romantic chemistry between the fake count and Lady Hideko and even less between him and the handmaiden Sook-Hee. They loathe each other.

But, wow, are there sparks between the women. Hideko is very young and as we come to realize, much abused by the uncle who raised her. He trained her harshly in Japanese manners and exposed her to the sadomasochistic pageants he staged for guests. Sook-Hee becomes Hideko's only confidant, a sister and then a lover. Park still has his punkish spirit only it's channeled here with un-punkish discipline and style. The demonic uncle's house is a riot of architectural influences, Western and Japanese. The shoji screens create what look like puppet stages within puppet stages on which the characters play their parts.

The sweeping score by Jo Yeong-wook is indispensable to the mood. It turns the movie's undercurrents into crashing waves of melody. Above all, "The Handmaiden," after its slow start, is fun. The violence is spare, nonexistent until the end. But the emotional violence is always palpable thanks in part to female leads who seem exquisitely sensitive to each other's presence. The wind up is wonderfully satisfying. I still can't believe that goremeister (ph) Park Chan-wook has made the year's most irresistible love story.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.


DAVIES: On Monday's show, hospice chaplain Kerry Egan tells us about helping patients who are close to death.


KERRY EGAN: People who are dying, of course, are still living. And if you think about how different every single person who's living you know is, well, people are just as different in the dying process.

DAVIES: Her new memoir is "On Living." Hope you can join us. Fresh Air's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer today is Sam Briger. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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