Music is therapy as Bobby Vee battles Alzheimer's

Music is therapy to Bobby Vee's ears.

ST. JOSEPH, Minn. - Fingers still find the frets on the well-worn guitar in the former teen idol's hands, but the words no longer come easily for Bobby Vee.

In the 1960s, Vee produced a string of gold records, including "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes," "Rubber Ball" and "Take Good Care of My Baby."

Now 70-years-old, Vee is battling Alzheimer's disease.

"I didn't know what was going on," says Vee, looking back.

He first noticed the memory lapses during a series of media interviews in England, where his music remains popular. When he started forgetting lyrics during performances back home, his family knew something was wrong.

"We were all in the room when they gave the diagnosis and it was a devastating thing to sit and hear that," says son Tommy Vee.

In their shock and grief, Bobby Vee, his wife Karen and their children and grandchildren, packed an RV and retreated to Bobby and Karen's retirement place in Tucson, Ariz.

With no way to make sense of it all, the family found comfort in music.

Over several nights, Bobby Vee and his family played and recorded the songs that meant most to them. They played tributes to singers with whom Bobby Vee had shared stages.

"Save the Last Dance for Me" was his go-to sound check song.

Others were family favorites from road trips and campfire sing-a-longs.

"It turned what could have been a really, really down time, into really as positive as it could be," said Jeff Vee, another of Bobby's sons.

What started as therapy is now a collection of songs being released as Bobby Vee's last album.

On Monday, "Bobby Vee, the Adobe Sessions" became available for download. CD copies will go on sale in a few weeks.

"Ultimately we did this for ourselves and now we get to share it with anyone that's interested," said Jeff Vee. "It really is a memory trip. It's a very personal thing. It's a scrapbook of sorts."

The album was produced by Vee family friend Mark Stockert, who teamed Vee with a chorus of monks from St. John's Abbey for a spiritual song called "The Maker."

Faith has been an important part of Vee's Alzheimer's journey.

"I believe in God," he said. "Otherwise, it wouldn't be very much fun."

Vee last performed publicly at his 2011 retirement show in St. Joseph, his longtime home.

The North Dakota native got his break as a 15-year-old singer with a garage band who filled in when the plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper crashed on a flight to Fargo, forever known as the day the music died.

A career that started under tragic circumstances, is now also coming to a close in a way Bobby Vee never would have chosen.

"The hardest part for me was watching him lose his confidence as his reality changed," said Tommy Vee, about his father's forced retirement from music, "and so this record was really great in it showed you can still do that."

Though he sometimes struggles to find the right words, Bobby Vee has no trouble summing up his final musical project. "It's just been so wonderful."


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