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Veteran Rock & Rollers Tour Britain - 2002-12-07

Where were you in '62? If you are old enough to remember, you probably were tuned in to one of those then-newfangled transistor radios, listening to the pop hits of the day, hits which became the soundtrack for the lives of scores of post-World War II baby boomers on both sides of the Atlantic. Well, what is old is new again. The veteran artists of the All-American Solid Gold Rock n' Roll show are wrapping up a British tour this week.

They have dusted off the hits and bounced back on tour in Britain, just like they did 40 years ago. Led by Bobby Vee, the all-American entourage -including Brian Hyland, Chris Montez, the Chiffons and Big Bopper Junior - is on the road in England, Scotland and Wales. They have been packing in the crowds in a series of 40 one night stands crammed into six short weeks.

For the British fans, most of whom are in their 60's - about the same age as the artists, it is a trip down memory lane, a rock n' roll reminder of their youth and of a simpler, more innocent time.

Bobby Vee, who topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic four decades ago, first toured here as a 19-year-old heartthrob. "[It was] 1961, first tour with Dusty Springfield when she was in the Springfields," he said. "Tony Orlando was on that tour with me, Clarence Frogman Henry and I think there was a British guy, Heinz, Heinz I think it was."

He says the music of that time left its mark on his generation. "They are sentimental songs about falling love or falling out of love or looking for love and I think maybe that is the key to it," said Vee. "It is that it is simple and people can sing along and the messages are quick and I think that is probably the thing as much as it is the artists. There are song great writers from that time period in the Brill building and Carole King and Gerry Goffin and Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Doc Pomus, Mort Sherman and the list goes on and on. And if you really do sit down and look at the songs, there are some terrific songs. I mean Sealed with a Kiss, Brian Hyland's unbelievable song. It is a great lyric and there are so many songs like that."

Brian Hyland says the very process of making music 40 years ago was different than it is today… and that is why he believes his songs and others from the era are still fondly remembered. "When I started in the music business, it was a totally different business. It was 45 singles," he said. "That was the 'coin of the realm.' That was it. And all the producers and all the songwriters and people in the music business and the artists and everything worked on a particular song. And that was the goal and they would put everything in it, the kitchen sink if necessary. So they tried to make a masterpiece out of each of these singles. And so all of that preparation and care and being picky about everything has paid off over the years because there is something in the music too that was kind of naďve in a way too and so it was heartfelt and people respond to that."

And 40 years later, the response is the same. Case in point, just a couple of bars into Let's Dance, the fans in Bristol were on their feet. Chris Montez has performed in Britain a half dozen times, but it is that first tour back in 1963 that he remembers best. "The first time I got here with Let's Dance, I had my first tour in Europe and I toured with the Beatles for five weeks," said Chris Montez. "I was the headliner. Myself, Tommy Roe and the Beatles, so they were the warm-up group. They had Love Me Do at the time just coming out.

And he says some of those who saw him when they were teenagers have never forgotten the times and the music. "I think it makes them reminisce about their youth and the great times they had because that is what they would relate to me," he said. "They would say, 'You just brought me back to my young age again when I saw you.' So, it is something that they loved and they treasured at the time."

For Judy Mann and Ginger Commodore, who currently make up the Chiffons, good songs and memories seem to meld into one. "Memories, you know what I mean? That is part of your life," she said.

"In the sixties, that was the time to grasp those meaningful kinds of songs and the songs that were telling stories and that is what has kept it going," said Ginger Commodore. "It seems to be a little bit stronger in this part of the world than back home."

The man who made that song a hit, the Big Bopper, died in a 1959 plane crash along with fellow rock n' roll legends Buddy Holly and Richie Valens. But his son, J. P. Richardson Jr., is keeping the music alive. On his first ever tour of Britain, Big Bopper Junior says there's a simple reason why this music lives on. "There is just so many good lyrics out there," he said. "So you will hear a lot of '50s and '60s stuff that all these new groups are doing. So, you know, it is just good music." Another show done, another one lined up tomorrow. There's time for a few autographs, then it is back onto the tour bus for a ride through the night to the next gig. Just like their music, some things never change, regardless of the passage of time... and that seems to suit both the artists and the fans just fine.