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In the shadow: Bobby Vee and The Shadows adored by local, national fans alike

Bobby Vee rose to fame "the day (after) the music died," filling in for Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and Jiles (The Big Bopper) Richardson Jr. after their plane crashed on the way to the Moorhead Armory.

A career which boasted a four-decade run, producing 25 albums, 38 songs on the Billboard top 100 charts, six gold singles, 14 top 40 hits and two gold albums came to a sad ending Monday morning when Bobby Vee passed away from Alzheimer's complications in a Rogers, Minn. care facility.

Bobby Vee had close ties to Detroit Lakes, and he will be missed by many area locals who remember his career, from when he ironically made his big break "the day (after) the music died," to his last shows, one of which he played at the Historic Holmes Theater.

Beginnings and career

Though many remember Bobby Vee's music career beginning Feb. 4, the day after that fateful plane crash, which killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and Jiles (The Big Bopper) Perry Richardson Jr, along with the pilot, Roger Peterson, Thomas Conoboy, on of Vee's closest (and oldest) friends, remembers seeing the signs of a rising star much sooner.

"It all started back in grade school," he remembers, "We would hang out at Deveau's (now Schmidt's) Music Store in Fargo...when us little fellas would be hanging around the store dreaming about those instruments we couldn't afford."

Eventually, Vee and his brother pulled a band together--just a week before Holly, Valens and The Big Bopper were set to play at the Moorhead Armory.

When the plane crashed, and the local radio station put out a request for local talent to audition to fill the empty spots on stage, Bobby Vee and The Shadows grabbed their instruments and Vee did his best Buddy Holly impression.

"Bobby went up and did a couple of Buddy Holly songs," Conoboy remembers. "They were so impressed, they wanted to sign him...he sang quite well and he looked great."

Taking the stage "the day (after) the music died," Bobby Vee and the Shadows carved out a career for themselves.

Although some Detroit Lakes locals, like Andy Lia, had forgone the concert at the armory to mourn the loss of the three stars, many quickly realized they had missed out on a rebirth of a musical talent.

"That's the first time I heard about Bobby Vee," Lia recalled, thinking back to Vee's first show.

Lia had purchased tickets to see Holly, Valens and The Big Bopper, but decided not to go when "the music died."

But Lia and his wife, Sandy Lia, were able to meet Vee later and see him perform at the Holmes Theater and The Pavilion in Detroit Lakes.

"We used to see him quite often," Lia recalled.

Lia got a disc jockey gig with KDLM and he played "Suzie Baby" on the radio, which is when he remembers Vee's career really taking off.

"I played a lot of his records over the years," Lia said.

Ties to Detroit Lakes

Originally from Fargo, ND, Bobby Vee made ties in the Detroit Lakes area when he was 16 and attended a dance at The Pavilion where he laid eyes on one Karen Bergen, daughter to the owners of Bergens Greenhouses. The two fell in love, and it proved lasting, as they were married a few short years later and remained so until Karen passed away in August 2015.

During their marriage, and even during a long stint of his music career, Vee and his wife held a summer cabin on Big Detroit Lake and often returned to the area to visit family and friends.

In the later years of his career, Vee told the Detroit Lakes Tribune, "We got to enjoy the best of both worlds," referring to their lake cabin.

Conoboy remembers getting together with Vee whenever he could. Conoby and Vee had grown up together in Fargo, both had lived near one another in Los Angeles, Calif. and both later returned to Detroit Lakes.

Conoby shared a lot in common with Vee: both musicians--although interested in different genres--both inducted into the Mid-America Music Hall of Fame and both were born in April of 1943.

Although the two never recorded together, due to differences in musical career paths, Conoboy says they consulted each other a lot.

When they both lived in Hollywood (only a few miles away from each other), Conoboy asked Vee for "moral support" on his first album and Vee sent Conoboy his demos, looking for feedback.

"He'd come to my place, or I'd go to his, and we'd sit around and listen to music, drink a few beers," Conoboy remembers.

Then, Vee and Karen moved back to Detroit Lakes.

"They moved here to get out of that Hollywood craziness," Conoboy said.

But Conoby remembers coming back to the area to visit his pal in music.

"We'd get together whenever possible," Conoboy said. "Whenever either of us got a new car, we'd go grab the other and take them for rides."

One of the last times Conoboy saw Vee was at one of Vee's last shows.

"The last time I saw him (Vee), Jimmy Bergen and I got together at one of the last concerts he did, which was at the Holmes Theater," Conoboy said, remembering visiting Vee in his dressing room to wish him luck before the show. "Maybe a year after that, Alzheimer's got to him."

After Vee became sick, forcing him to retire from music, Conoboy, who had since moved back to the area, kept in touch, calling Vee periodically.

"I got to talk to him a few times whenever he had a good day," Conoboy said--and he said Vee remembered his friend up to the end. "I'll miss him dearly."

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