In terms of his artistic significance, the early 1960s teen singer Bobby Vee may be a relatively slight and unimportant figure, but his place in music history is assured for reasons that have nothing to do with his modest chart accomplishments and charms as a performer. On this day in 1961, he reached the high point of his recording career when his recording of the Carole King-penned “Take Good Care Of My Baby” topped the U.S. pop charts. But the event that made that accomplishment possible—and assured Bobby Vee his place in history—came two-and-a-half years earlier, when a small plane carrying three young musicians crashed en route to his home town.
For songwriter Don McLean, February 3, 1959, was the Day the Music Died, but for 15-year-old Bobby Velline, it was the tragic day his star was born. The plane that crashed in an Iowa field early that morning was carrying musicians Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson north from Clear Lake, Iowa, to Fargo, North Dakota, for the next show on the Winter Dance Party 1959 tour. It was a show that young Bobby Velline, an avowed rock-and-roller, was planning to attend as a fan until fate intervened.
Just weeks earlier, Velline had formed his first band, and now, as news of the deaths of Holly, Valens and Richardson spread via local radio, so, too, did another shocking piece of news. Adhering to the old maxim that the Show Must Go On, the business-minded organizers of the Winter Dance Party tour announced that they would not be canceling that night’s show, despite the deaths of three out of four of the tour’s headline acts. Surviving act Dion and the Belmonts would still be appearing, and now radio station KFGO was asking whether any local group would be available to join them. Presented with this morbid yet undeniably exciting opportunity, young Bobby Velline, who could play the chords and sing the lyrics to nearly every song his idol Buddy Holly had ever recorded, stepped up and volunteered.
Appearing second on the bill that night, Velline and his band the Shadows caught the eye and ear of a local promoter, and soon began playing gigs throughout the region. Within 18 months of his tragic big break, the wholesome teenager from Fargo was in the capable grip of the music industry’s star-making machinery, recording the song that would give the husband-and-wife songwriting team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King its second #1 hit.