DEL SHANNON Biography - Musicians


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Name: Del Shannon                                                                       
Birth name: Charles Weedon Westover                                                     
Also known as Charlie Johnson                                                           
Born: 30 December 1934 Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.A.                                   
Died: 8 February 1990 Santa Clarita, California, U.S.A.                                 
For Dell Shannon, the pen name of a police procedural novelist, see Elizabeth           
Del Shannon (b. Charles Weedon Westover in Grand Rapids, Michigan, December 30,         
1934, - d. February 8, 1990 in Santa Clarita, California) was an American rock         
and roller who launched into fame with the No. 1 hit "Runaway" in 1961.                 
Charles Westover grew up in Coopersville, a small farming community near Grand         
Rapids. There he learned ukulele and later guitar, and listened to country and         
western music, including Hank Williams, Hank Snow, and Lefty Frizzell. In 1954,         
he was drafted into the U.S. Army, and while in Germany played guitar in a band         
called the Cool Flames.                                                                 
When his army service ended, he returned to Battle Creek, Michigan, and worked         
in a furniture factory, as a truck driver, and selling carpets. He also found           
part-time work as a rhythm guitarist in singer Doug DeMott's group, working at         
the Hi-Lo Club. When DeMott was fired in 1958, Westover took over as band               
leader and singer, giving himself the stage name Charlie Johnson, and renaming         
his band the Big Little Show Band.                                                     
In early 1959 he added keyboardist Max Crook, with his invention the Musitron,         
an early synthesizer, to the group. Crook had already made recordings, and             
persuaded Ann Arbor disc jockey Ollie McLaughlin to hear the band. In turn,             
McLaughlin took the group's demos to Harry Balk and Irving Micahnik of Talent           
Artists, Inc. in Detroit. In July 1960, Westover and Crook signed a contract to         
become recording artists and composers, recording for the Big Top label. Balk           
suggested that Westover use a new stage name, and they came up with "Del Shannon",     
combining a friend's assumed surname with "Del" from his favorite make of car,         
the Cadillac Coupe de Ville.                                                           
He was immediately flown to New York City, but his first sessions did not               
produce results. However, McLaughlin persuaded Shannon and Crook to rewrite and         
re-record one of their earlier songs, originally called "Little Runaway", using         
the Musitron as the lead instrument. On January 21st, 1961, they recorded "Runaway",   
which was released as a single in February 1961. It immediately climbed the             
charts, reaching #1 in the Billboard charts in April.                                   
Shannon followed his first hit with "Hats Off to Larry", which peaked at #5 (Billboard) 
and #1,on Cashbox, and the less popular "So Long, Baby," another song of breakup       
bitterness. Both "Runaway" and "Hats Off to Larry" were recorded in a single day.       
"Little Town Flirt", released in 1962, also reached #12 in 1963, as did the             
album of the same name. After these hits, Shannon was unable to keep his               
momentum in the U.S., but continued his run of success in England, where he had         
always been more popular. In 1963, he became the first American artist to record       
a cover version of a Beatles song. It was with "From Me to You", which charted         
in the US before the Beatles first ever hit.                                           
Shannon returned to the charts in 1964, with "Handy Man" (a 1960 hit by Jimmy           
Jones), "Do You Wanna Dance" (a 1958 hit by Bobby Freeman), and two more               
originals "Keep Searchin'" (#3 in the UK; #9 in the US) and this single was to         
be Shannon's final Top 10 hit in both countries in early '65, and "Stranger in         
Town" (1965), both themed about flight from pursuit in a dangerous world.               
Shannon opened with Ike and Tina Turner at Dave Hull's Hullabaloo, in Los               
Angeles, California, on December 22, 1965. The teen-age nightclub was formerly         
named Moulin Rouge.                                                                     
A 1966 chart offering was Shannon's cover of the Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb".     
Peter and Gordon released the Shannon composition, "I Go To Pieces," in 1966.           
In the late 1960s, after a dry spell of hits, he turned to production. In 1969,         
he discovered a group called Smith and arranged their hit "Baby, It's You,"             
which had previously been a smash hit for the Shirelles in 1963. He then               
produced his friend Brian Hyland's million seller "Gypsy Woman," a cover of             
Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions' original, in 1970. "Crocodile Rock" 1973 by         
Elton John was an update of the Runaway sound.                                         
In June 1973, Live In England was released. The music was recorded the previous         
year. Reviewer Chris Martin critiqued the album favorably, saying that Shannon         
never improvised, and was always true to the original sounds of his music. His         
deadpan delivery was evident on both "Runaway" and "Hats Off To Larry." Only Lou       
Christie rivaled his falsetto voice. In April 1975 Shannon signed with Island           
A 1976 article on Shannon's concert at The Roxy Theatre described the singer's         
performance as "personal, pure and simple rock 'n' roll, dated but gratifyingly         
undiluted." Shannon sang some of his new rock songs along with classics like "The       
Endless Sleep" and "The Big Hurt." Writer Richard Cromelin said "Shannon's             
haunting vignettes of heartbreak and restlessness contain something of a cosmic         
undercurrent which has the protagonist tragically doomed to a bleak, shadowy           
In the 1970s, Shannon's career slowed down greatly, owing mostly to alcoholism.         
English rock singer, Dave Edmunds, produced the Shannon single, And The Music           
Plays On, in 1974. He finally put the bottle down in 1978, and he was able to           
return to mainstream audiences with "Sea of Love" in the early 1980s. This song         
came from Shannon's album Drop Down And Get Me, produced by Tom Petty. The album       
took two years to record and featured Petty's Heartbreakers backing up Shannon.         
During this time Petty was involved in legal wrangles with his record company,         
MCA. RSO Records, which recorded Shannon, folded. The LP was recorded by Network       
Records and distributed by Elektra Records. Seven of the songs are Shannon             
originals with quality cover renditions of tunes by the Everly Brothers, Rolling       
Stones, Frankie Ford, and "Sea of Love" by Phil Phillips. It was Shannon's first       
album in eight years.                                                                   
In February 1982 Shannon appeared at the Bottom Line. He performed a mix of pop-rock   
tunes and his old hits. New York Times reviewer, Stephen Holden, described             
Shannon as possessing an "easygoing pop-country" manner. He was not an "anachronism,"   
yet there seemed no comparison with the newer songs and the best of his vintage         
material. On "Runaway" and "Keep Searchin," Shannon and his band rediscovered           
the sound "in which his keen falsetto played off against airy organ obbligatos."       
The 1980s Shannon performed "competent but mundane country-rock"                       
In December 1983, Shannon served as Grand Marshal of the Coopersville, Michigan,       
Christmas parade and also performed a benefit concert at Coopersville High             
Shannon enjoyed a resurgence in audience interest after re-recording a portion         
of his song "Runaway" (with new lyrics), as the theme song for the television           
program Crime Story. Producer Michael Mann felt that this was one of the               
definitive songs of the era in which the program was set.                               
In 1990, Shannon recorded a comeback album with Jeff Lynne of Electric Light           
Orchestra and there were unconfirmed rumors he would join The Traveling Wilburys       
after Roy Orbison's death. Previously, in 1975, Shannon recorded some tracks           
with Lynne, along with In My Arms Again, a self-penned country song. This               
tune was recorded by Warner Brothers, which signed Shannon in 1984.                     
In all, he recorded for Big Top, Berlee, Amy, Liberty, Dunhill, United Artists,         
Island, and Elektra.                                                                   
On February 8, 1990, Shannon committed suicide by shooting himself in the head         
with a .22 caliber rifle. Shannon's wife, Bonnie, found his body at 11:25 P.M.         
in their Santa Clarita, California home, 35 miles north of Los Angeles. The             
rifle was found next to his body in the den. His wife has expressed the opinion         
that his death might have been related to his recent use of the prescription           
drug Prozac. His final album was released after his death, titled Rock On!.             
During the summer of 1990, the country band Southern Pacific released a cover of       
Shannon's hit "I Go To Pieces" (also a hit back in 1965 for Peter & Gordon),           
with the song's video being dedicated in Shannon's memory.                             
Shannon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, and his               
pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall         
of Fame.