Del Shannon (December 30, 1934 - February 8, 1990) was a highly acclaimed and influential rock and roll/country singer and songwriter who became famous during the late 1950s and early 1960s. He is best known for the upbeat yet haunting "Runaway" (1961), an oldies classic he co-wrote with Max Crook that features Shannon's soaring vocals and impassioned, wailing falsetto with an instrumental bridge performed by Crook on an early synthesizer known as the Musitron. A prolific songwriter, Shannon wrote or co-wrote most of his own hits and also penned songs for other artists.
Born Charles Weedon Westover in Grand Rapids, Michigan, he grew up listening to country and western music and learned to play the ukulele and guitar. He was drafted into the Army in 1954, and while in Germany he played guitar in a band known as The Cool Flames. When his service ended, he returned to Michigan and worked at several odd jobs that included a part-time stint at the Hi-Lo Club with Doug DeMott's group, The Moonlight Ramblers. After DeMott left, Westover became the group's leader and frontman, renaming it the Big Little Show Band and calling himself Charlie Johnson. In 1959, he added a new group member, keyboardist and electronic music pioneer Max Crook, who played the Musitron, an instrument he invented which was a precursor to the analog synthesizer. Crook gave some demos to Ann Arbor DJ Ollie McLaughlin who passed them on to Harry Balk and Irving Micahnik of Talent Artists in Detroit, which led to a contract for both Westover and Crook with Bigtop Records in 1960. Balk suggested a name change for Westover, and they came up with "Del Shannon" which came from a combination of the Cadillac Coupe de Ville and Mark Shannon, the pseudonym for a local wrestler.
Del Shannon made his debut in 1961 with "Runaway," which topped the Pop/Rock charts and became his signature song. This smash, which also topped the charts in the U.K. and several other countries, was followed later that year by "Hats Off To Larry," "So Long Baby," and "Hey! Little Girl." Other hits included "Little Town Flirt" (1962), "Keep Searchin' (We'll Follow The Sun)" (1964), "Stranger In Town" (1965), and covers of Jimmy Jones' "Handy Man" (1964) and Bobby Freeman's "Do You Want To Dance" (1964). In 1963, Shannon became the first American performing artist to chart in the U.S. with a song by The Beatles, "From Me To You," and his cover became a hit before The Beatles' version. Shannon's had a final chart entry in 1981 with his Top 40 cover of Phil Phillips' "Sea Of Love," which is included on his album, "Drop Down And Get Me," produced by Tom Petty and backed by his band, the Heartbreakers.
Del Shannon continued to tour and record actively over the years and made many TV appearances, especially during the 1960s. In 1986, he had a Top 10 hit on the Country charts as a songwriter with Juice Newton's cover of "Cheap Love." He had a resurgence of popularity in the late 1980s after re-recording "Runaway" with new lyrics which was used as the theme for the NBC TV series, "Crime Story." Shannon's many honors and accolades included being inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. On February 8, 1990, he died of a self-inflicted gun wound at his home in Santa Clarita, California. Following his death, which was ruled a suicide, the Traveling Wilburys recorded "Runaway" in his honor, and Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra co-produced Shannon's posthumous album, "Rock On," released in 1991.
- For more info on Del Shannon, visit delshannon.com.
- The New York Times remembers Del Shannon.
- The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honors Del Shannon.
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- Handy Man 1964
(This song was previously a hit for Jimmy Jones (1960) and later also became a hit for James Taylor (1977).)
- Hats Off To Larry 1961
- Hey! Little Girl 1961
- Keep Searchin' (We'll Follow The Sun) 1964
- Little Town Flirt 1962
- Runaway 1961
(This chart-topping song about a man whose girlfriend has run away is included in Rolling Stone magazine's list of 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time. The instrumental bridge was played on a specially designed electric keyboard based on the clavioline, a forerunner to the analog synthesizer. "Runaway" later also became a hit for Lawrence Welk (1962), Dawn (1972, as a medley), Charlie Kulis (1975), Bonnie Raitt (1977), and Luis Cardenas (1986).)
- So Long Baby 1961
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