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Music of Bobby Vee lives on

Matt Velline sings most of the vocals for Killer Vees, the band that keeps Bobby Vee's hits going and going. The Killer Vees return to the Sheldon Dec. 29 with “Remembering Bobby Vee” – a program spotlighting their father, uncle, grandfather and mentor. Submitted photo

Rock 'n' Roll legend Bobby Vee has been gone for two years, but for many people — including sons Tommy and Jeff, nephew Matt and grandson Bennett — he lives on through his music.

Nobody could love his music more or perform it with more heart than the four, who will get together as The Killer Vees to perform "Remembering Bobby Vee" at the Sheldon Theatre. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 29.

They have only performed the show a handful of times, Tommy Vee said. "It's a rather hard show for us to do," even though it's very familiar music.

"We were all on the road with him," he added — some of them for the better part of 25 years. "It's his band playing his show, but he's not there."

At the same time, Tommy said, "playing his music live kind of brings him back into the room."

Matt Velline feels his uncle's presence, too.

"I'm singing most of the lead vocals — Bobby's tunes," he explained. During a decade or more performing on the road with Bobby Vee, Matt was lead guitarist and the backup singer who would harmonize with his uncle.

"It's wonderful, and different, to be able to sing his songs" as the lead. "It's an honor and a privilege."

Technology makes it possible to keep Bobby Vee a part of the performance in another way, too. The multi-media show will include plenty of video him on stage, Tommy Vee said.

In addition, the band members will tell stories about him, his life and his career, which dates back almost 60 years.

Matt explained that his father, Bill Velline, started up the band that gave Bobby his start. The group, which did not yet have a name, had been practicing and let Bill's "annoying" little brother Bobby sing along.

Then on Feb. 3, 1959, the group volunteered to help fill in when a plane crash took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper in Moorhead. The band became the Shadows and Bobby Vee launched an international career.

"Dad always remembered that night as kind of surreal," Tommy said. "He said it was kind of like a rock and roll wake. ... Everybody was in shock."

Bobby Vee landed 38 songs in the Top 100, prompting Billboard to declare him one of the most consistent chart-makers in all of rock 'n' roll. He was a driving force in the pre-Beatles music era, Tommy said, and he continued to be influential into the late 1960s.

At the Sheldon, The Killer Vees will be singing "all of the big ones" that put Bobby Vee in the Top 10, including such hits as "Devil or Angel," "Rubber Ball," Take Good Care of My Baby," "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" and more, plus other favorites from the Top 100.

Matt and Tommy's son Ben play guitar, Tommy plays bass and Jeff plays drums. Mark Levandowki will join them on piano and keyboards, and there'll be a four-piece string section that was part of the Bobby Vee tours and is heard on many of his recordings.

Another special feature will be some cast members from "Teen Idol: The Bobby Vee Story," which just completed a run at the History Theatre in St. Paul. Tommy and Jeff collaborated with the playwright to create that musical.

It's not an all-male show, the group noted. Matt's wife, Julie Velline, will be singing, and a segment of the show will spotlight hits by female groups including the Shirelles, the Ronettes and Little Eva.

They were among Bobby Vee's early peers, Tommy said, explaining that when his father was young he participated in Dick Clark's Caravan of the Stars, which brought together dozens of acts on "barnstorming" tours. Many became lifelong friends.

The group looks forward to a return visit to the newly refurbished Sheldon, Tommy said. They brought a different show — featuring Neil Diamond music to Red Wing last winter. "We love the Sheldon," he said.

Matt agreed, "We're looking forward to a fun, rockin' night in Red Wing."

The Dec. 29 concert will launch a limited tour of "Remembering Bobby Vee." The group is doing about 10 shows in the coming six weeks in the Midwest, including the Surf Ballroom. The tour ends Feb. 8 in Fargo, N.D., Bobby Vee's hometown.

"My dad loved his Midwest roots," Tommy Vee said. "This is where it all started for him and the fans meant the world to him, so this feels important to us. I know it would make Dad smile."

Tickets are $28 to $33. Visit the box office, call 651-388-8700 or go online to www.sheldontheatre.org.