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Bobby Vee: Rubber Ball

Pop legend Bobby Vee was a teenage heartthrob whose career took off under tragic circumstances - after a plane crash killed three of his idols.

The American singer was just 15 years old when the three big rock ’n’ roll stars of the 1950s - Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and Jiles Perry "JP" Richardson, alias The Big Bopper - died. Their pilot, Roger Peterson, also lost his life when the aircraft taking them to a show crashed near Clear Lake in Iowa on 3rd February 1959.


Plane crash mystery

Although he was only 21, Peterson was an experienced pilot with 711 flying hours under his belt when he took off in the 1947 Beechcraft 35 Bonanza aircraft. The singers had finished a show and were taken to Mason City Municipal Airport, where the weather was fine when they took off.

However, they never made contact and the plane didn't arrive at its destination. The wreckage was found only six miles from Mason City airport, and no explanation regarding the crash has ever been unearthed - although the weather conditions had changed mid-flight and light snow was experienced. The singers' deaths were described as a great loss to their families and also to the world of music.


Vee's debut

Young Bobby Vee was a fledgling musician at the time, having formed a band only two weeks earlier. He came from a musical background, as although his father Sydney was a chef by trade, he also played piano and fiddle.

A vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Bobby answered a call that went out for any local acts who wished to play at short notice at the Moorhead National Guard Armory, where Holly had been scheduled to headline the gig.

In an interview in 1999, he described how he had no fear in those days, volunteering to play the concert, even though his band was so new it didn't yet have a name. The show's MC, Charlie Boone, asked the teenager what his band was called and he replied "The Shadows" on the spur of the moment - his inspiration coming from the band's shadows on the floor!


Life "milestone"

Vee described this moment as a "milestone" in his life and the start of his "wonderful" career. Within months, his band had a recording contract with Soma Records of Minneapolis, recording their first hit single, Suzie Baby, which was a commercial hit in the region.

Later, Vee went on to sign for Liberty Records and between 1959 and 1970, he had an amazing 38 top 100 hits, including a number one with Take Good Care of My Baby in 1961 and a number two with the follow-up single, Run to Him.


Rubber Ball

Perhaps his most famous hit was the catchy Rubber Ball in 1961. Reaching number six in the US singles chart, it was co-written by American icon Gene Pitney, using his mother's maiden name of Orlowski on the credits.

It was Vee's breakthrough hit in the UK, reaching number four in the singles chart - it was also number one in Australia. Cover versions were later released by British singer Marty Wilde in 1961 and by American rock and pop group Gary Lewis and the Playboys in 1966.


Teenage angst

The "rubber ball" of the title referred to the singer feeling like a rubber ball, in that he kept "bouncing back" to a two-timing lover. Although a seemingly light pop song, the lyrics were actually much deeper, with the vocalist proclaiming, "You bounce my heart around," and adding, "You think you can be true to two."

It was a song of teenage angst and heartbreak, with the singer declaring, "If you stretch my love till it's thin enough to tear, I'll just stretch my arms to reach you anywhere."

The singer also had two records that achieved gold and silver status in the UK - The Bobby Vee Singles Album in 1980 reached number five in the album charts and was certified gold, while The Very Best of Bobby Vee, released on 12th May 2008, achieved silver status.


Alzheimer's diagnosis

The artist continued to perform live until 2011. Sadly, Vee began forgetting his lyrics during live performances in the 2000s, and in 2011 he was diagnosed as having Alzheimer's disease. At the age of 68, he announced his retirement that year, playing his final live show (a community fundraiser) at St Joseph, Minnesota.

He announced his medical condition a year later. Despite the diagnosis, he went on to release a new album called The Adobe Sessions in 2014. It was released to coincide with the 55th anniversary of the plane crash tragedy of 1959.

Bobby Vee died at the age of 73 on 24th October 2016. Family members praised his bravery, saying despite the increasing difficulties he faced due to Alzheimer's affecting his memory, he had always maintained he "wasn't going to cry about it."

Here at Coruba, we can’t offer you a rubber ball, but as one of the UK's leading providers of high-quality rubber products and rubber matting, we can supply a multitude of solutions for commercial and residential use. For enquiries, please call 01702 560194.

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