Shannon in 1965
|Birth name||Charles Weedon Westover|
|Also known as||Del Shannon|
December 30, 1934|
Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States
|Died||February 8, 1990
Santa Clarita, California, United States
|Labels||Bigtop, London, Twirl, Berlee, Amy, Liberty, Dunhill, United Artists, Network, Island, Elektra, Silvertone|
Del Shannon (born Charles Weedon Westover; December 30, 1934 – February 8, 1990) was an American rock and roll and country musician and singer-songwriter, best known for his 1961 number 1 Billboard hit "Runaway".
Westover was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and grew up in nearby Coopersville. He learned to play the ukulele and guitar and listened to country-and-western music, by artists such as Hank Williams, Hank Snow, and Lefty Frizzell. He was drafted into the Army in 1954, and while in Germany played guitar in a band called "The Cool Flames". When his service ended, he returned to Battle Creek, Michigan, and worked as a carpet salesman and as a truck driver for a furniture factory. He found part-time work as a rhythm guitarist in the singer Doug DeMott's group, "The Moonlight Ramblers", working at the Hi-Lo Club.
When DeMott was fired in 1958 for drunkenness, Westover took over as leader and singer, giving himself the name Charlie Johnson and renaming the band the Big Little Show Band. In early 1959 he added the keyboardist Max Crook, who played the Musitron (his own invention, an early synthesizer). Crook had made recordings, and he persuaded Ann Arbor disc jockey Ollie McLaughlin to listen to the band. McLaughlin took the group's demos to Harry Balk and Irving Micahnik of Talent Artists in Detroit. In July 1960, Westover and Crook signed to become recording artists and composers for Bigtop Records. Balk suggested Westover use a new name, and they came up with "Del Shannon", combining Mark Shannon—a wrestling pseudonym used by a regular at the Hi-Lo Club—with Del, derived from the Cadillac Coupe de Ville, his favorite car.
He flew to New York City, but his first sessions were not successful. McLaughlin then persuaded Shannon and Crook to rewrite and re-record one of their earlier songs, originally called "Little Runaway", using the Musitron as lead instrument. On 21 January 1961, they recorded "Runaway", which was released as a single in February 1961, reaching number 1 on the Billboard chart in April. Shannon followed with "Hats Off to Larry", which peaked at number 5 on the Billboard chart and number 2 on the Cashbox chart in 1961, and the less popular "So Long, Baby", another song of breakup bitterness. "Runaway" and "Hats Off to Larry" were recorded in a day. "Little Town Flirt", in 1962 (with Bob Babbitt), reached number 12 in 1963, as did the album of the same title. After these hits, Shannon was unable to keep his momentum in the U.S. but had continued success in England, where he had always been more popular. In 1963, he became the first American to record a cover version of a song by the Beatles: his version of "From Me to You" charted in the U.S. before the Beatles' version.
By August 1963, Shannon's relationship with his managers and Bigtop had soured, so he formed his own label, Berlee Records, named after his parents and distributed by Diamond Records. Two singles were issued: the apparently Four Seasons–inspired "Sue's Gotta Be Mine" was a moderate hit, reaching number 71 in the U.S, and number 21 in the UK (where Shannon's records continued on the London Records label). The second single, "That's the Way Love Is", did not chart, and Shannon patched things up with his managers soon after. In early 1964, he was placed on Amy Records’ (Stateside label in the UK), and the Berlee label disappeared. 
He returned to the charts immediately with "Handy Man" (a 1960 hit by Jimmy Jones), "Do You Wanna Dance?" (a 1958 hit by Bobby Freeman), and two originals, "Keep Searchin'" (number 3 in the UK; number 9 in the U.S.), and "Stranger in Town" (number 40 in the UK). In late 1964, Shannon produced a demo recording session for a young fellow Michigander named Bob Seger, who would go on to stardom much later. Shannon gave acetates of the session to Dick Clark (he had performed in one of Clark's tours, in 1965), and by 1966, Seger was recording for Philadelphia's famed Cameo Records, resulting in some regional hits, which eventually led to a deal with a major label, Capitol Records. Also in late 1964 Shannon paid tribute to one of his own musical idols with Del Shannon Sings Hank Williams (Amy Records 8004). The album was recorded in hard-core country honky-tonk style, and no singles were released. Shannon opened for Ike and Tina Turner at Dave Hull's Hullabaloo club in Los Angeles, California, on December 22, 1965.
Shannon signed with Liberty in 1966 and revived Toni Fisher's "The Big Hurt" and the Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb". Peter and Gordon released his song "I Go to Pieces" in 1965. Shannon also discovered the country singer Johnny Carver, who was then working in the Los Angeles area. He got Carver a contract with Liberty Records' subsidiary Imperial Records, writing, producing and arranging both sides of Carver's debut single, "One Way or the Other"/"Think About Her All the Time". Carver went on to have nearly 20 hits on the country chart during the late 1960s and 1970s. The liner notes to his debut album for Imperial acknowledge Shannon's role in bringing him to the label.
In the late 1960s, not having charted for several years, Shannon turned to production. In 1969, he discovered the band Smith and arranged their hit "Baby, It's You", which had been a hit for the Shirelles in 1963. In 1970, he produced Brian Hyland's million-seller "Gypsy Woman", a cover version of the hit by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions.
During Shannon's tenure at Liberty Records, success on a national scale eluded him, but he did have several regional U.S. chart hits with "The Big Hurt", "Under My Thumb", "She", "Led Along" and "Runaway" (1967 version). That version (recorded in England and produced by Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham) also did well on the Canadian and Australian pop charts. In early 1967 Shannon recorded the album Home and Away in England, with Oldham at the helm. Intended by Oldham as the British answer to Pet Sounds, Home and Away was shelved by Liberty Records, although a handful of singles were issued. It was not until 1978 that all of the tracks were eventually issued (with three unrelated tracks) on a British album, And the Music Plays On. In 1991, all of the tracks were released in the United States as part of the CD Del Shannon; The Liberty Years. In 2006, 39 years after it was recorded, Home and Away was finally released as a stand-alone collection by EMI Records in the UK. This CD collected the 11 original tracks in stereo and five singles (released in the U.S., the UK and the Philippines) in their original monaural mixes.
In September 1967, Shannon began laying down the tracks for The Further Adventures of Charles Westover, which was highly regarded by fans and critics alike, despite disappointing sales. The album yielded two 1968 singles, "Thinkin' It Over" and "Gemini" (recently the subject of a Pilooski remix). In October 1968, Liberty Records released their tenth (in the United States) and final Shannon single, a cover of Dee Clark's 1961 hit "Raindrops". This brought to a close a commercially disappointing period in Shannon's career. In 1972, he signed with United Artists and recorded Live In England, released in June 1973. Reviewer Chris Martin critiqued the album favourably, saying that Shannon never improvised, was always true to the original sounds of his music and that only Lou Christie rivaled his falsetto. In April 1975, he signed with Island Records.
After he and his manager jointly sought back royalties for Shannon, Bug Music was founded in 1975 to administer his songs.
A 1976 article on Shannon's concert at the Roxy Theatre described the singer as "personal, pure and simple rock 'n' roll, dated but gratifyingly undiluted." Shannon sang some of his new rock songs along with classics like "Endless Sleep" and "The Big Hurt". The Los Angeles Times wrote, "Shannon's haunting vignettes of heartbreak and restlessness contain something of a cosmic undercurrent which has the protagonist tragically doomed to a bleak, shadowy struggle."
Shannon's career slowed greatly in the 1970s, owing in part to his alcoholism. The Welsh rock singer Dave Edmunds produced the single "And the Music Plays On" in 1974. In 1978 Shannon stopped drinking and began work on "Sea of Love", released in the early 1980s on his album Drop Down and Get Me, produced by Tom Petty. The album took two years to record and featured Petty's band, the Heartbreakers, backing Shannon. However, RSO Records, to which Shannon was signed, folded. Further work on the LP was done for Network Records (distributed by Elektra Records). Seven songs are Shannon originals with covers of songs recorded by the Everly Brothers, the Rolling Stones, and Frankie Ford, along with "Sea of Love" by Phil Phillips. It was Shannon's first album in eight years.
In 1986, Luis Cardenas, the drummer for the band Renegade, made his version of Shannon's hit "Runaway". The video for the song featured stop-animation dinosaurs, in which Shannon made a cameo appearance as a police officer.
In February 1982, Shannon appeared at the Bottom Line. He performed pop-rock tunes and old hits. Stephen Holden, a reviewer for the New York Times, described an "easygoing pop-country" style. On "Runaway" and "Keep Searchin'", Shannon and his band rediscovered the sound "in which his keen falsetto played off against airy organ obbligatos." In the 1980s, Shannon performed "competent but mundane country-rock". In 1986 he had a top-ten hit as a songwriter when the pop-country singer Juice Newton released her cover of Shannon's "Cheap Love" as a single, which reached number 9 on the Billboard Hot Country chart.
Shannon had a resurgence of popularity after re-recording "Runaway" with new lyrics as the theme for the NBC-TV program Crime Story. In 1988, Shannon sang "The World We Know" with the Smithereens on their album Green Thoughts. Two years later, he recorded with Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra, and there were rumors he would join the Traveling Wilburys after the death of Roy Orbison. Previously, in 1975, Shannon had recorded tracks with Lynne, along with "In My Arms Again", a country song he wrote and recorded for Warner Brothers, which had signed Shannon in 1984.
Suffering from depression, for which he was taking Prozac, Shannon committed suicide on February 8, 1990, killing himself with a .22-caliber rifle at his home in Santa Clarita, California. He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered.
Following his death, the Traveling Wilburys honored him by recording a version of "Runaway". Jeff Lynne also co-produced Shannon's posthumous album, Rock On, released by Silvertone Records in 1991.
|Year||Song Titles (A-side, B-side)
Both sides from same album except where indicated
|"Hats Off to Larry"
b/w "Don't Gild the Lily, Lily" (non-LP track)
|5||6||2||Little Town Flirt|
|"So Long, Baby"
b/w "The Answer to Everything"
|"Hey! Little Girl"
b/w "I Don't Care Anymore" (non-LP track)
|38||2||12||Little Town Flirt|
|1962||"I Won't Be There"||113||—||—||Non-LP tracks|
|"Ginny in the Mirror"||117||—||57|
|"Cry Myself to Sleep"
b/w "I'm Gonna Move On"
|"You Never Talked About Me"||—||—||96|
|"The Swiss Maid"||64||2||1|
|"Little Town Flirt"
b/w "The Wamboo" (non-LP track)
|12||4||1||Little Town Flirt|
|1963||"Two Kinds of Teardrops"
|"From Me to You" /||77||—||21||Non-LP tracks|
|"Sue's Gotta Be Mine"
b/w "Now She's Gone"
|1964||"That's the Way Love Is"
b/w "Time of the Day"
b/w "Stains on My Letter" (non-LP track)
b/w "Give Her Lots of Lovin'"
|"Do You Wanna Dance?"
b/w "This Is All I Have to Give" (non-LP track)
|43||—||27||1,661 Seconds with Del Shannon|
|"Keep Searchin' (We'll Follow the Sun)"
b/w "Broken Promises"
|1965||"Stranger in Town"
b/w "Over You"
b/w "Why Don't Your Tell Him" (from 1,661 Seconds with Del Shannon)
|"Move It on Over"
b/w "She Still Remembers Tony"
|1966||"I Can't Believe My Ears"
b/w "I Wish I Wasn't Me Tonight"
|"The Big Hurt"
b/w "I Got It Bad"
|94||—||44||This Is My Bag|
|"For a Little While"
b/w "Hey! Little Star"
b/w "Never Though I Could" (from This Is My Bag)
|"Under My Thumb"
b/w "She Was Mine"
b/w "What Makes You Run" (from Total Commitment)
b/w "I Can't Be True" (from Total Commitment)
b/w "He Cheated"
|1968||"Thinkin' It Over"
b/w "Runnin' on Back"
|—||—||—||The Further Adventures of Charles Westover|
b/w "Magical Music Box" (from The Further Adventures of Charles Westover)
b "You Don't Love Me"
|1969||"Comin' Back to Me"
b/w "Sweet Mary Lou"
b/w "Colorado Rain"
|1975||"Tell Her No"
|"Cry Baby Cry"
b/w "In My Arms Again"
|1981||"Sea of Love"
b/w "Midnight Train"
|33||—||—||Drop Down and Get Me|
|1982||"To Love Someone"
|1985||"In My Arms Again"A
b/w "You Can't Forgive Me"
|"Stranger on the Run"
b/w "What You Gonna Do with
That Beautiful Body of Yours"
b/w "Let's Dance"
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