Bobby Vee braves Alzheimer’s to record once more
He is still a skilled rhythm guitarist. During his interview with AP, he broke into an impromptu jam session with his sons Jeff, 49, on drums and Tommy, 47, on upright bass.
Vee has tried unconventional methods to alleviate his Alzheimer’s symptoms, from chiropractor visits to acupuncture, without success. He does daily exercises and speech therapy and has renewed his passion for painting.
And of course, there is music.
Vee and his family didn’t plan to make an album when they set up drums and amps in his adobe garage north of Tucson, Ariz., after his diagnosis. They just wanted to make music.
"Our mantra from that point forward has been, ‘Don’t turn down any parties.’ We’re going to make every day as good a day as it can be," Jeff Vee said.
His father described recording again as "a feel-good kind of thing."
For the 18-track album, Vee chose songs he would sing on family campouts while strumming a guitar: "Save the Last Dance for Me," Gordon Lightfoot’s "Walls" and Townes Van Zandt’s "If I Needed You." His three sons helped — Jeff on drums, Tommy on bass and Robby, a guitarist — and daughter Jennifer added some lyrics.
The album also includes Vee’s cover of Bob Dylan’s "The Man in Me," a nod to the folk-rock legend who got his start in Vee’s band in Fargo.
Dylan grew up in Hibbing on northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He was going by the name Elston Gunn when he hammered on the piano at a couple of The Shadows’ gigs. It was Dylan who suggested Bobby Vee change his last name from Velline to Vee.
And he didn’t forget his old bandmate. In his "Chronicles: Volume One" memoir, Dylan says Vee "had a metallic, edgy tone to his voice and it was as musical as a silver bell." When Dylan performed in St. Paul last summer, he saluted Vee in the audience and performed "Suzie Baby."
Vee said he hopes being open about his disease helps others coping with the same fate.
Sometimes, he acknowledges, he wishes he could do the things that once came easily.
"But I’m not going to cry about it," he said. "God brought me home. And that’s the deal."