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December 14, 2006

HEADING: Rockin' on, The Hum by Bob Doran, photo of Bobby Vee and band

He's on an old record album cover in the window of The Works in Arcata, a carefully coiffed guy with a smiling face framed by a Christmas wreath. A faux tag on the wreath says, "Merry Christmas from Bobby Vee."

Unless you are of a certain age you probably have no idea who Bobby Vee might be. He comes from the era of pop rock before the Beatles et al., before singer/songwriters, when a decent voice, a handsome face and a few good breaks were all that was needed to make it in the rock `n' roll world.

Robert Velline, aka Bobby Vee, came out of the freezing wastes of Fargo, N.D., along with a band of schoolmates who worked as Bobby Vee and the Shadows. Their big break was slightly macabre, since it was directly related to "The Day the Music Died" (at least according to Don McLean's song "American Pie"). On Feb. 3, 1959, a plane crash in the Midwest took the lives of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and "The Big Bopper," who were all part of a "Winter Dance Party" national tour. The teen rock show's next stop was in Moorhead, Minn., and, as they say in the business, the show must go on. A replacement was needed for Buddy and his band, The Crickets. Bobby Vee and the Shadows got the gig. The rest is history.

I'm not sure what happened to the Shadows, but Vee went on with a big career, landing hits with Brill Building pop songs like "Devil or Angel" and "Take Good Care Of My Baby," which went to No.1 on the Billboard charts, followed by modest success with "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes," "Run to Him" and others. Unfortunately his moment in the spotlight was at the beginning of the '60s, and before long American rock's supremacy fell under the British Invasion.

Vee marshaled on, playing parts in a few movies and eventually working the oldies circuit. Lately he's been one of the featured artists in a Branson, Missouri, stage show called "The Original Stars of American Bandstand," where he shares the stage with Fabian and The Crystals, among others. He also hits the road with a band playing the casinos. This Friday, Dec. 15, he's at Cher-Ae Heights for a show that includes two sets: one with his classic hits, and another with a holiday theme, harkening back to the days of that Merry Christmas from Bobby Vee record.

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Don't expect any holiday music at the Alibi Saturday night, when The Broken Hearts celebrate the release of their new CD, which I presume is their debut. Hearts' lead vocalist/songwriter Julie Cupp (formerly of The Ian Fays) dropped off an advance version of a few of the new songs last week. Mostly tales of bad boyfriends and love gone wrong, the songs showcase Julie's clear strong voice -- imagine someone like Patsy Cline or Peggy Lee, but more in the alt. vein, with xylophones and harpsichord in the background. When I ran into Julie at the Dead Meadow show at Synapsis and complimented her, she visibly blushed, then apologized, reiterating that what she'd given me were works-in-progress, rough demos, and the instrumentation was changing. I'll be interested to hear the finished product. Sharing the bill at the Alibi, the always fine The Buffy Swayze, who according to the itinerary posted on their MySpace page are embarking on a January blast northward with the film Rural Rock `n' Roll, with The Blue Dot joining them for a couple of shows, The Monster Women for another.

Friday night at Sacred Grounds it's another edition of Speakeasy, the beat poetry/jazz/funk project headed by spoken word artist Dr. David Gans (who also appears in his doctorly role elsewhere in this week's paper). Not sure what happened with Tim Randles, who used to play keys for the band, but the equally talented Mike Kapitan is now in that seat, with Shannon West on vocals, Matt Miele on guitar and vocals, William Mitchell bass and Mike LaBolle on drums and percussion.

Indigo shifts into live hip hop mode Thursday, Dec. 14, with an appearance by Dirty Rats from Fortuna, with special guests Nac One and Ink. Same night at Humboldt Brews it's the monthly bluegrass night with the Compost Mountain Boys.

Along similar old timey lines, Devil's Dream String Band plays at Café Mokka Friday night, where unfortunately there's not enough room for square dancing.

Friday at Muddy's Hot Cup catch Ding Dang, with Jay Dirt from Slewfoot and friends playing dirty folk. The same night, the Riverwood Inn introduces a new country/honky tonk outfit called Rooster McClintock, featuring members of Slewfoot String Band. (Coincidence or not? Does this mean Slewfoot is done?)

Across town that night at the Jambalaya, a solo set by Deric Mendes (who by all accounts was brilliant as Hedwig). He shares the bill with Universalia Jane and her "avant cabaret rock."

For the jamband set there's Acacia at the Red Fox, an outfit from Marin that includes Bobby Vega with special guest, Arcata's guitar jam master Ruben Diaz, aka The Weather Man.

Saturday night at the Jam, pianist Rebekah Downey from HSU performs her songs along with her friends Emily Stoller and Nick Downey. (I'm guessing that's Rebekah's brother.)

Saturday at Muddy's it's an evening of world music with the polyrhythmic WoMama and their friends, the a cappella women of AkaBella. Good stuff.

A rather disconcerting e-mail showed up in my mailbox last week with the subject line: "Fathom Canceled Tonight."

The note from long-time Placebo volunteer Julie Ryan explained the cancellation: "Here is the deal: Last night while [the Bay Area punk band] And a Few to Break was playing their excellent set, the neighbors who live in the tow yard complained about noise at the Placebo and then proceeded to call the cops. The cops issued the Placebo a written warning and said if they get [another] complaint within the next 24 hours, they will fine the Placebo $500. The Placebo cannot afford this, so no Fathom, sorry!

"I explained to the cops what the Placebo is about and that we moved to this area because it is NOT a residential area, it is a business/industrial area. (Hmmm ... Why are there people living in the tow yard?) The cops took my name (yep, it's Julie) and also took Leslie from Synapsis' name."

Julie went on to plead, "If you like the fact that Placebo, Synapsis and Empire Squared put on cool all-ages events, you need to help," suggesting letters to the city council and supplying a link to the city of Eureka website (

You may recall a cover story I wrote back in spring of 2004 -- "The Placebo Odyssey" (North Coast Journal May 27, 2004) -- detailing the troubles the youth group has had over the years: Driven from their original space in Arcata to the Manila Community Center, where, at the time, they were once again facing pressure from neighbors worried about noise. They were ultimately forced out of their space in Manila, and after a long search landed in the Empire Squared space in Eureka's industrial zone, which, along with their neighbors Synapsis, they have brightened considerably.

And now they're being threatened by sleepless junkyard dogs? Where else is there left for them to go? Forgive the soapbox speech, but spaces providing a drug- and alcohol-free environment for under-aged youth should be encouraged -- hell, they should be funded by the city -- they shouldn't be threatened with fines. My suggestion: Buy the tow yard guys some earplugs and, to quote Pink Floyd, "Leave those kids alone!"

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