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“Rockhouse” music reaches the whole world

by MaryAnne Block

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A gem hiding in plain sight is Rockhouse Productions, located in downtown St. Joseph on Minnesota Street across from the Catholic Church. The gem “shines” with its high-tech sound equipment, acoustics, the musicians who record there, and the history of the building.

On July 3, the Rockhouse hosted an open house where the public had the opportunity to enter the building and view the piano room, guitar room, bank vault, music posters from decades past, historical memorabilia and more.

The current owners are brothers Tommy and Jeff, who go by “Vee” although their real last name is Velline. Their cousin Matt Vee and Tommy's son Bennett form the core of the band called the “Killer Vees”. This local group has been singing across the country and internationally for decades.

The Bobby and Karen Velline family lived near Richmond for many years and developed close ties to people and places in the nearby St. Joseph area.

The Vees seem to have “inherited” their musical talent from Bobby Vee, an American teen idol of the 1960s and father of Jeff and Tommy. Born in Fargo, North Dakota, Bobby got his first big break as a singer when he was just 16.

After a Buddy Holly concert in Clear Lake, Iowa, on February 3, 1959, three musicians and a pilot took off from the local airport. The rest of the musicians traveled by bus, but Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and JP “The Big Bopper” Richardson decided to fly. The plane crashed shortly after takeoff and all four died.

The following evening, the band was scheduled to perform in Moorhead. Rather than cancel the concert, they decided to go ahead with it. However, since support acts were needed, they contacted the local radio station for volunteers. They chose Bobby Vee and his brother, who were opening for Buddy Holly's band that evening.

This was a huge opportunity for Bobby, who became a prolific songwriter, singer and musician. He became a teen idol not only in the United States but also internationally in the 1960s.

Years later, when Bobby's two sons, Tommy and Jeff, toured and performed with their father, they had the opportunity to meet some well-known musicians in person.

“Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and many others have told me and my brother how much they were influenced by our dad's musical abilities,” said Tommy. “Not only did Dad perform on stage, but he also worked with some really big names throughout his career. It was really cool to travel internationally and sing and perform with him all those years.”

Bobby, born in 1943, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2011 and died in 2016. Over the course of his career, 38 of his songs made it to the top Billboard Hot 100 list, including “Take Good Care of My Baby.”

On the interior walls of Rockhouse Productions there are many large posters with the names of famous musicians and Bobby Vee can be seen on each of these posters.

Rockhouse is located in the old First State Bank building, which was built in 1917. In 1982, the building was added to the National Register of Historical Places, in part because of the unique Egyptian Revival style architecture (very rare in the state) that adorns the exterior of the building.

“Rockhouse started in the 1990s,” Tommy said, “and we moved to St. Joseph in 2000. We were happy to find the old bank building, which had been vacant for several years. The acoustics were truly phenomenal. We did very little structurally to the building other than putting up a wall to separate the lobby area.”

“(Over) the years, we have worked with several thousand performers and artists. From March 2020, things became very quiet due to COVID. Music production stopped almost everywhere. Then in 2022, it started to come back to life.”

The band Killer Vees has performed far and wide. They are currently performing three tribute concerts – Neil Diamond Hits, Remembering Bobby Vee and The Golden Era of Country.

From 2022 to early 2023, they modernized the interior of the Rockhouse Productions building and added state-of-the-art recording technology. This was an investment of about $200,000, mostly in equipment. Their high-tech recording equipment and skills are in demand across the country.

“Today, many recordings are made digitally,” said Tommy. “MP3s are popular, but some CDs are making a comeback and there is a growing interest in vinyl. The sound quality of vinyl cannot be compared to digital.”

Rockhouse has three basic business areas. The first is recording, mixing and mastering music for artists from all over the country. The second is providing everything for large outdoor music festivals, including all sound equipment, stage and power hookups for every venue throughout the Midwest. Mid-May through August is a very busy time for festivals, Tommy said. The third area is run by Jeff. He handles the management and booking of many big-name groups. He plans concerts, venues and performances and does the pre-promotion. Plus the “Killer Vees” concerts around the country.

The best way to contact Rockhouse Productions is to use the website rockhouseprod.com and leave an email. The office phones and voicemail fill up very quickly, making it difficult to reach them this way.

Photo by MaryAnne Block
Tommy Vee, co-owner of Rockhouse Productions, is seen on the upper floor in the sound engineering area.
Photo by MaryAnne Block
This is one of the many music posters hanging on the walls of Rockhouse Productions in downtown St. Joseph. This special musical extravaganza took place in Chattanooga, Tennessee and
showed Bobby Vee as an “additional attraction”.