By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
Visitors from all parts of the United States and beyond have made their way to this year’s Clovis Music Festival thanks to their fascination with the songs that were produced at Norman Petty’s studio.
Bobby Vee sounded exactly like those people before he hit the stage on Friday night.
Vee was the headliner as several rock ‘n’ roll hitmakers from the 1950s and 1960s played at Marshall Junior High. Before Vee rolled out his old hits like “Take Good Care Of My Baby,” “Run To Him” and “Devil or Angel,” the Marshall Auditorium was graced by the presence of acts like Johnny Preston, Chris Montez and the Chiffons.
As for Vee, this wasn’t his first time playing at this music festival.
“Like a rubber ball, I keep coming back (to Clovis),” said Vee, referring to another of his former hits. “I have a lot of levels of interest and it all started with Buddy Holly, figuring out one day when I was a kid — 14, 15 years old — where Buddy Holly made his records.
“I was interested in stuff like that. Found out it was Clovis, New Mexico and, I don’t know, I just have this affinity for the Tex-Mex sound,” Vee added. “”I love all the stuff that came out of Buddy Holly’s studios. It’s an amazing history in a very unlikely place. I sometimes think it was well-planned, even though Norman was from here, because there are no distractions.”
Vee, inspired by the studio, actually recorded at Norman Petty’s facility as well although his initial hits in 1960 came from sessions produced in Los Angeles.
Two of Vee’s sons were part of his backing band, which also served as the musical group for the preceding acts.
That included Preston, who also had a tangential link to Buddy Holly. Preston’s hit “Running Bear,” which he performed with an accompanying video from when he was 20 years old (in 1959), was written by J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson — who was also in the tragic airplane crash that took the life of Holly.
“The Bopper actually gave it to me before he died. We had it in the can finished, but we had to wait until the will went through probate,” Preston said. “We did it in ‘58 and it wasn’t released until ‘59. He told me that he thought it would be a hit – if not for me, then for someone.”
Montez and Chiffons’ lead singer Judy Craig-Mann said they didn’t have much familiarity with Clovis before coming to town although both were favorites of a crowd that filled up most of the estimated 1200 lower level seats at Marshall.
“I think I have more fun now than I did when I was younger,” said Craig-Mann, the only original member of the group still singing with the Chiffons. “It’s a lot nicer. Back than, they didn’t treat the acts that great. It’s a lot of fun.”
Not only were paying spectators anticipating hearing the hitmakers of their youth, some of the workers were as well.
Lonzo Lassiter of Portales is 57 and currently completing a master’s degree in broadcast production at ENMU. On Friday, he was operating one of the spotlights from the upper deck.
“They played that a lot (on the radio) back in those days,” Lassiter said. “And they still play it a lot on oldies stations. I love that music.”