dedicated to bobby vee/bob dylan, st paul, 10 juillet 2013
... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .... BOBBY VEE: after we cut suzie baby, which was about five months after buddy holly's death, we started working in the [North Dakota] area and the record looked like it was doing well, and we had a vision of success in the group. And we worked June, July, August, somewhere around there and we thought to ourselves that maybe we should add a piano, y'know, to the band. It was just a rhythm section at that time, and in doing that we would probably have the ultimate rock 'n' roll band.
So we sort of asked around the Fargo area and a friend of ours suggested a guy that had been staying at his house, and was working at a café as a busboy -- the Red Apple Café in Fargo -- and so my brother met him and they went over to the radio station to use the piano and they sort of plunked around a bit and played "Whole Lotta Shakin'" in the key of C, and he told my brother that he had played with Conway Twitty, which was a lie, but for openers he thought, "Phew!" He didn't even want to audition the guy -- he got the job.
He was Bob Zimmerman at the time -- that was his name. He wanted us to use the stage name of Elston Gunn for him. And we went out and bought him a shirt; it was a small investment to make him a member of the band. So he was identical to us -- looked like he'd always been there -- and went out and played a couple of small jobs in North Dakota, just tiny places... One was in a church basement, the other in a little pavillion.
He was kind of a scruffy little guy, but he was really into it. Loved to rock 'n' roll. He was pretty limited by what he could play. He was pretty hot -- in the key of C. He liked to do handclaps, like Gene Vincent and the Bluecaps, who had two guys who were handclappers. He would come up to my microphone and do that every now and then, and then scurry back to the piano.
But we realized that... he didn't have a piano and we weren't in a position where we wanted to buy one; lug a piano around with us... that was really too much of a hassle. So we decided to work as a four-piece band and we told him that, er, y'know, we decided not to use the piano. And he was a bit disappointed at the time, and eventually left Fargo... We paid him $15 a night, so we paid him $30 and he was on his way.
He left Fargo and went down to Minneapolis and went to school, and then, about a year later, we were out in Long Island or Staten Island, playing. And one of the guys in the band saw him in the audience -- this was before he was popular -- and he said, "I saw Bob Zimmerman, in about the second row." And we all said, "No kidding? I wonder how he got so far east." 'Cos he was just a spacey little guy, y'know, just sort of worming his way around. And then about a year after that I was in Greenwich Village and I saw an album -- his first album cover. And I realized that was him.