PopBopRocktilUDrop

From the Land of Band Box Records

A Runaway Rocker

January 12, 2021
craigr244

Del Shannon

To my liking, Del Shannon was a rocker as good as they came!

I don’t recall ever being put off by a good old Del Shannan song.  His time at Amy following his two year-run-plus run at Big Top Records, was just as exciting and brought a refreshing change to his musical direction.  He did fade from the limelight during his time at Liberty Records in ’66 and ’67 – Just couldn’t quite get the magic back.

I got to see a Del Shannon performance back in the 1970s at the Turn of the Century nightclub in Denver.  Del was the opening act for Rick Nelson.  Both Del and Rick delivered wonderful, straight forward presentations – no screwing around between songs – And Shannon was iconic.  He took his place on the stage, guitar strapped on, down low and just got into it – great song after great song.

I don’t recall either Shannon or Nelson extending much dialog to the audience between songs – What a memorable night!

Del Shannon was born Charles Weedon Westover on December 30th, 1934 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  It would be a folly to even attempt to add to the comprehensive biographies found at two excellent web sites  (click on the images below).

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Shannon’s early influences included several country icons which would later be reflected in his recordings.  Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams and Hank Snow were especially influential for Del.

He spent his growing up years in the town of Coopersville, Michigan.  His first participation in a group would come during his time in the military serving in Europe called the Cool Flames.

After serving in the military, Del would return to Michigan – this time to the town of Battle Creek, where he would join up with musician Doug DeMott and his “Moonlight Ramblers” performing regularly at the Hi-Lo Club located in a local Battle Creek Hotel.

Shannon at the HI-Lo

DeMott would depart the group and Westover would take the lead renaming the group “Charlie Johnson and the Big Little Show Band”.  Westover would meet up during this time with an important musician who would help to define the coming Del Shannon sound – Max Crook.

Max was a keyboard player who would bring his Musitron instrument with him.  Westover was a bit skeptical when he saw the instrument but was sold when he heard Max wail away on the shrieking keyboard.  Crook gave his instrument the name “Musitron” though it was essentially a derivative of the “Clavoline”. 

Crook: Bringing the “Musitron” to the Del Shannon Sound

There would be a lot of going’s on for Westover and company but eventually a Michigan DJ would bring Westover and Crook to the attention of a Detroit music industry operative Harry Balk.  Balk was a talent agent who had discovered Little Willie John and Johnny and the Hurricanes.  Later, Balk would be very influential at Motown Records serving as head of A&R and in particular working with Marvin Gaye.  Balk was also involved with the production on one of my favorites, “What’s Your Name” recorded by Don and Juan.

Balk would get Westover to Big Top Records for an audition, the label which had recorded Don and Juan.  Balk would persuade Westover to change his name to Del Shannon extracting “Del” from Westover’s favorite car, the Cadillac Coupe de Ville” and “Shannon” from a popular local wrestler who was a patron at the Hi-Lo Club back in Battle Creek.

Harry Balk

The Del Shannon web site details a rather lengthy journey at Big Top.  It wasn’t instant success.  His first session resulted in “The Search” and “I’ll Always Love You” and featured guitar work by session guitarist Al Caiola.  Shannon wanted to play his own lead but was denied by Balk.  Several more Shannon compositions would be tried out and so the team backed up a bit and dusted off a song that had earlier been set aside, “Runaway”.

Shannon On American Bandstand Performing “Keep Searching”

When Crook entered the studio bringing along his Musitron – the session musicians were scratching their heads.  “Runaway” would become Shannon’s ticket – It was his first release on vinyl and to say the least, the song took off – skyrocketed to the top of the national charts and remaining there for a full month!

Many hits would follow but momentum was slowing down in the summer of 1963.  But during the Big Top run, Shannon would become one of the very first U.S. artists to cover a Beatle song “From Me To You”.  He chose the song after performing and opening for the Beatles in England in 1963 before they hit the States.

In December of 1964, Brits Peter and Gordon would record a Del Shannon composition – one of my favorites by the duo “I Go To Pieces”.  It has the Del Shannon touch throughout the recording.  I wish he had released it on a single but it was included on his 1965 LP on Amy, “One Thousand Six Hundred Sixty One Seconds with Del Shannon”.

A Shannon Classic

Del started up his own label briefly in the fall of 1963 releasing two singles before moving on to Amy Records where he would establish a whole new formula for his own signature sound.  At Balk’s urging, Del would dust off an oldie “Handy Man” previously by Jimmy Jones, but was instructed to breath fresh life into the song – not to mimic the Jones’ version at all.   And that he did.

After “Handy Man”, Del turned often to doing remakes and, for me, they were exciting and vibrant examples of a fresh return to something that had slipped away from American musicians – rock and roll!  Del Shannon would work with other artists as a producer such as the group Smith and Brian Hyland.  He was also a prolific song writer, composing most of his own major hits.

Del’s music was featured in the British Teen flick “It’s Trad Dad!” also released in the U.S. as “Ring-A-Ding-Rhythm” in 1962, and “Daytona Beach Weekend” in 1965.

Del was a victim of alcohol use and it took it’s toll coming out of the 1960’s.   Fortunately he was able to get treatment and after the late 1970’s no longer came under it’s influence.  In 1982 he revived his career a bit working with Tom Petty to record the great Phil Phillips song “Sea Of Love”.  Shannon was backed on his work with Petty by the Heartbreakers – Petty’s backup band.

“Runaway” would be used on the TV serial show “Crime Story” in the 1980’s.  He worked further with ELO’s Jeff Lynne and nearly became a “Traveling Wilbury” when Roy Orbison passed away – Roy was also one of Del’s idols.

Very sadly, on February 8th, 1990, Del Shannon would take his own life by gunshot.  His long time battle with depression was no more.

Del Shannon was inducted very appropriately into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 and then the Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame in 2005.

Del Shannon Discography 

Del Shannon 45’s Including Compositions for Others

Big Top 3067 – Runaway -Number 1 Hot 100 for Four Weeks – Number 3 R&B – Number 1 UK – March, 1961

Big Top 3075 – Hats Off To Larry Number 5 Hot 100 – Number 6 UK b/w Don’t Gild The Lilly, Lilly – June, 1961

Big Top 3083 – So Long Baby – Number 28 Hot 100 – Number 10 UK b/w The Answer To Everything – September, 1961

Big Top 3091 – Hey Little Girl – Number 38 Hot 100 – Number 2 UK b/w I Don’t Care Anymore – November, 1961

Big Top  3098 – Ginny In the Mirror – Number 117 Bubbling Under b/w I Won’t Be There – Number 113 Bubbling Under – March, 1962

Lawrence Welk – Dot 16336 – Runaway – Number 56 Hot 100 – April, 1962

Big Top 3112 – Cry Myself To Sleep – Number 99 Hot 100 – Number 29 UK – June, 1962

Big Top 3117 – The Swiss Maid – Number 64 Hot 100 – Number 19 Adult Contemporary – Number 2 UK b/w You Never Talked About Me – September, 1962

Big Top 3131 – Little Town Flirt – Number 12 Hot 100 – Number 4 UK – b/w The Wamboo – December, 1962

Big Top 3143 – Two Kinds Of Teardrops – Number 50 Hot 100 – Number 5 UK b/w Kelly – April, 1963

Big Top 3152 – From Me To You – Number 77 Hot 100 b/w Two Silhouettes – Number 150 Bubbling Under – Number 23 UK – June, 1963

Berlie 501 – Sue’s Gotta Be Mine – Number 71 Hot 100 b/w Now She’s Gone – October, 1963

Berlee 502 – That’s The Way Love Is b/w Time Of the Day – February, 1964

Amy 897 – Mary Jane – Number 35 UK b/w Stains On My Letter – February, 1964

Amy 905 – Handy Man – Number 22 Hot 100 b/w Give Her Lots Of Lovin’ – July, 1964

Amy 911 – Do You Want To Dance – Number 43 Hot 100 b/w This Is All I Have to Give – September, 1964

Amy 915 – Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow the Sun) – Number 9 Hot 100 – Number 3 UK – November, 1964

The Chantels – Bryan 100 – Runaway – December, 1964

(Wisconsin group)

Amy 919 – Stranger In Town – Number 30 Hot 100 – Number 40 UK b/w Over You – December, 1965

Amy 925 – Break Up – Number 95 Hot 100 b/w Why Don’t You Tell Him – May, 1965

Amy 937 – Move It On Over – Number 128 Bubbling Under b/w She Still Remembers Tony – August, 1965

Amy 947 – I Can’t Believe My Ears b/w I Wish I Wasn’t Me Tonight – January, 1966

Twirl 4001 – Runaway b/w Hey Little Girl – January, 1966

Twirl Records owned the masters for a couple of Del’s original recordings as did Johnny and the Hurricanes – By contract, Warwick and Big Top relinquished the masters back to Twirl and thus the 1966 releases which carried the “Gold” moniker.

Twirl 4002 – Hats Off To Larry b/w Little Town Flirt – January, 1966

Liberty 55866 – The Big Hurt – Number 94 Hot 100 – Number 52 UK b/w I Got It Bad – April, 1966

Liberty 55889 – For A Little While b/w Hey Little Star – May, 1966

Johnny Carver – Imperial 66173 – Think About Her All The Time b/w One Way Or The Other – May, 1966

Liberty 55894 – Show Me b/w Never Thought I Could – June, 1966

Liberty 55904 – Under My Thumb – Number 128 Bubbling Under b/w She Was Mine – September, 1966

Liberty 55939 – She – Number 131 Bubbling Under b/w What Makes You Run – February, 1967

Liberty 55961 – Led Along b/w I Can’t Be True – March, 1967

Liberty 55993 – Runaway – Number 122 Bubbling Under b/w He Cheated – September, 1967

Liberty 56018 – Thinkin’ It Over b/w Runnin’ On Back – January, 1968

Liberty 56036 – Gemini b/w Magic Music Box – May, 1968

Liberty 56070 – Raindrops b/w You Don’t Love Me – September, 1968

Dunhill ABC 4193 – Comin’ Back To Me – Number 127 Bubbling Under b/w Sweet Mary Lou – May, 1969

Dunhill 4224 – Sister Isabelle b/w Colorado Rain – January, 1970

Dawn – Bell 175 – Runaway/Happy Together – Number 79 Hot 100 – January, 1972

The Rhodes Kids – GRC 2052 – Runaway – Number 107 Bubbling Under – February, 1975

Island 21 – Tell Her No – Number 130 Bubbling Under b/w Restless – March, 1975

Charlie Kulis – Playboy 6023 – Runaway – Number 46 Hot 100 – Number 40 Adult Contemporary – March, 1975

Island 38 – Cry Baby Cry b/w In My Arms Again – October, 1975

Cotton, Lloyd and Christian – 20th Century 2217 – I Go To Pieces – September, 1975

Ronnie Raitt – Warner Bros 8382 – Runaway – Number 57 Hot 100 – May, 1977

Narvel Felts – ABC 12338 – Runaway – Number 30 Country – March, 1978

Arpeggio – Let The Music Play – Number 4 Dance – 1978

Tammy Jo – Ridgetop 880 – I Go To Pieces – Number 88 Country – March, 1980

Network 47951 – Sea Of Love – Number 33 Hot 100 – Number 36 Adult Contemporary b/w Midnight Train – December, 1981

Network 48006 – To Love Someone b/w Liar – March, 1982

The Cold – Top Pop 9 – I Go To Pieces – December, 1984

Warner Bros. 29088 – In My Arms Again – Number 56 Country b/w You Can’t Forgive Me – March, 1985

Warner Bros. 28853 – Stranger On the Run b/w What You Gonna Do With That Beautiful Body of Yours – September, 1985

Juice Newton – RCA 14417 – Cheap Love – Number 9 Country – August, 1986

Bonnie Leigh – RCP 10 – Runaway – Number 78 Country – December, 1986

Bonnie Leigh Music

Luis Cardenas – Allied Artists 72500 – Runaway – Number 83 Hot 100 – September, 1986

Trisha Lynn – Oak 1053 – I Go To Pieces – July, 1988

Dean Dillon – Capitol 44239 – I Go To Pieces – September, 1988

Southern Pacific – Warner Bros 19860 – I Go To Pieces – Number 31 Country – April, 1990

Gary Allan – MCA Nashville – From DC LP – Runaway – Number 74 Country – December, 2000

Del Shannon Long Play Selective Discography

Big Top 1303 – Runaway with Del Shannon – 1961

London 8071 UK – Hats Off to Del Shannon – Number 9 UK Charts – May, 1963

Big Top 1308 – Little Town Flirt – Number 12 LP Charts – June, 1963

London 8091 UK – Little Town Flirt – Number 15 UK LP Charts – November, 1963

Amy 8003 – Handy Man – October, 1964

Amy 8004 – Del Shannon Sings Hank Williams Your Cheatin’ Heart – February, 1965

Amy 8006 – One Thousand Six Hundred Sixty One Seconds With Del Shannon – April, 1965

Liberty 3453 – This Is My Bag – July, 1966

Liberty 3479 – Total Commitment – October, 1966

Dot 25824 – The Best Of Del Shannon – September, 1967

Liberty 7539 – The Further Adventures of Charles Westover – March, 1968

United Artists 151 – Live In England – 1973

Sire 3708 – The Vintage Years – 1975

Pickwick 3595 – Golden Hits – The Best of Del Shannon – 1978

Elektra 568 – Drop Down and Get Me – Number 123 LP Charts – December, 1981

3 Comments

  1. Del left a daughter among other offspring, who sadly also suffered from depression and took her life early. There’s a song buried in a YouTube video of demos called “In My Arms Again,” which she apparently wrote and performs very well. The sound quality is awful but is apparently the best available. I have another demo by her somewhere, but I forget its name. I don’t know if it’s on line or someone sent it to me, but if you have the facility I could send you an mp3. She was pretty darn talented, too. Depression is really evil….

  2. This is a wonderful tribute page.Great photos and writing,

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