Del Shannon

  • Rock & Roll singer, guitarist and songwriter born Charles Westover in 1934 in Grand Rapids Michigan. Died in 1990 from a gunshot wound by suicide.
  • Westover learned the ukulele and guitar and listened to country music in the 40s and early 50s. He was drafted and while in the Army he played in a band called The Cool Flames. He returned home after his discharge, and worked as a carpet salesman and truck driver, while playing part-time in a local band called The Moonlight Ramblers. In 1958, the leader of the band was fired, and Westover took over leadership of the band. He changed the band’s name to The Big Little Show Band, and he changed his own name as frontman to Charlie Johnson. The following year, he added keyboardist Max Crook to the band – Crook played an instrument called the Musitron, an early synthesizer that Crook invented. Crook made recordings of the band, and soon a DJ heard them play. The DJ connected them with a Detroit-based talent manager, who signed them to a recording contract. The manager suggested that Westover assume a different name, and Del Shannon was chosen – Del from his favorite car, the Cadillac Coupe de Ville, and Shannon from a wrestler who used to work at a club that The Moonlight Ramblers performed at.
  • Shannon went to New York to record, but his first sessions were not successful. His manager suggested that Shannon and Crook re-write a song that they originally developed several years earlier – Little Runaway was reworked into Runaway, and it was recorded in early 1961, complete with Shannon’s signature falsetto vocal and Crook’s creepy Musitron solo midway through the song. It was released as a single in February, and by April, it was #1 on the Hot 100 chart, as well as charts in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The success of the song led to Shannon’s debut album, Runaway with Del Shannon, released in the summer of 1961.
  • He released 3 more singles in 1961 – Hats Off to Larry reached #5 in the U.S. and So Long Baby and Hey! Little Girl were top 10 hits in the UK. An album, Hats Off to Del Shannon, was released in 1962 in the UK and Australia (but not in the U.S.), and the following year, the Little Town Flirt album was released. The title track reached #12 in the U.S., and charted in the top 5 in the UK and Australia – Shannon frequently was more popular in these markets compared to the U.S.
  • In 1963, he was the first American to record a cover version of a Beatles song – Shannon’s version of From Me To You charted in the U.S. before the Beatles’ version charted. Alas, the Beatles and The British Invasion led to Shannon’s decline in popularity in the U.S. Six albums were released between 1964 and 1968 but Shannon would only crack the top 40 with 3 more songs between – Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow the Sun) peaked at #9, and Handy Man and Stranger In Town were top 30 hits.
  • By the late 60s, no longer recording hits himself, Shannon turned to producing for other artists, working with country singer Johnny Carver, the band Smith, and Brian Hyland. In the 70s and early 80s, 3 more albums were released and in 1981 he had a surprise hit with a cover of Sea of Love, which was his last song to chart at #33. As the 80s progressed, he continued to perform country-rock shows, and in 1990, he recorded with Jeff Lynne, which led to rumors that he would join The Traveling Wilburys after the death of Roy Orbison – Shannon’s falsetto was nearly as famous as Orbison’s. Shannon’s suicide in February that year ended those rumors. The Traveling Wilburys honored him with a recording of Runaway after his death, and Lynne produced Shannon’s final studio album, Rock On!, released 20 months after Shannon’s death.
  • While famous for only 1 mega-hit, Shannon is considered important as rock & roll transitioned from the 50s to the British Invasion. So much so, that he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Watch this early 60s vintage video of Shannon performing Runaway.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *