08/02/2018

Del Shannon

Today we remember the late great Del Shannon (born Charles Weedon Westover; December 30, 1934 – February 8, 1990) an American rock and roll singer-songwriter who is best known for his 1961 No. 1 hit "Runaway".
Westover was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and grew up in nearby Coopersville. He learned ukulele and guitar and listened to country and western music, including 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 in a furniture factory. He found part-time work as a rhythm guitarist in singer Doug DeMott's group called Moonlight Ramblers, working at the Hi-Lo Club.
When DeMott was fired in 1958, Westover took over as leader and singer, giving himself the name Charlie Johnson and renaming the band into The Big Little Show Band. In early 1959 he added keyboardist Max Crook, who played the Musitron (his own invention of an early synthesizer). Crook had made recordings, and he persuaded Ann Arbor disc jockey Ollie McLaughlin to hear 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 on the Bigtop label. 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 #1 in the Billboard chart in April. Shannon followed with "Hats Off to Larry", which peaked at #5 (Billboard) and #2 on Cashbox 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 #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 continued his 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 "From Me to You" charted in the US 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[4] and distributed by Diamond Records. Two singles were issued: the apparently Four Seasons-inspired "Sue's Gotta Be Mine" was a moderate hit, attaining #71 in the US, and #21 in the UK (where Shannon's records continued on the London 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 (Stateside 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'" (#3 in the UK; #9 in the US), and "Stranger in Town" (#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 (Del was on one of Clark's tours in 1965), and by 1966, Bob Seger was recording for Philadelphia's famed Cameo Records label, resulting in some regional hits which would eventually lead to a major-label deal with 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 hardcore country honky-tonk style and no singles were released. Shannon opened with Ike and Tina Turner at Dave Hull's Hullabaloo in Los Angeles, California, on December 22, 1965.
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.

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