Del Shannon was a prominent rock-and-roll performer and songwriter in the 60's, placing eight songs in the top forty during that decade, including three that reached the top ten. One of these was a number one record.
He was born Charles Weedon Westover in 1939 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Westover grew up in western Michigan, in Coopersville. In the 1950's he was supporting himself by working in a carpet store, while performing in local clubs. He was influenced to a large extent by the music of Hank Williams. Westover was drafted intoStuttgart, the U.S. Army and while stationed in Germany, performed on the Get Up And Go radio program.
In 1959 Westover became acquainted with Max Crook, who had been a student at Western Michigan University. Crook had pieced together a type of electronic organ which he called a Musitron, and which would prove to be a forerunner of the synthesizer. Crook joined Westover's group in Battle Creek, Charlie Johnson and the Big Little Show Band. The folowing year Westover and Crook pieced together a song that featured a dynamic solo on the Musitron; they recorded it in early 1961 as Runaway by Westover's new stage name, Del Shannon. They were working under the direction of their manager Ollie McLaughlin, a well-known disc jockey and record producer in Michigan, and recorded the song on the Big Top Records label in New York City. Al Caiola, best known for his instrumental Bonanza later that same year, played guitar on this recording. It became a huge hit internationally, rising to number one that Spring. Featuring an intense vocal by Shannon and aided by Crook's work on the Musitron, Runaway had quite a distinctive sound. Del Shannon's career had been launched in a very memorable fashion.
Shannon followed with his second top ten song that Summer, Hats Off To Larry. He was a singer/songwriter, performing primarily his own compositions, something that was rather unusual for the time. Shannon continued to write and perform, and he became very popular in England where he would eventually place eight songs in the top ten. In early 1963 Shannon's song Little Town Flirt gained popularity, and he toured England where he met the Beatles. He became the first American artist to record one of their songs (From Me To You). Shannon continued recording, issuing an album of his favorite Hank Williams songs, and other hits were issued including Handy Man and his final top ten record Keep Searchin' (We'll Follow The Sun), both in 1964. Shannon's final top forty song of the 60's was Stranger In Town, in 1965.
By this time Del Shannon had become an established pop music star. He became acquainted with others in the business. He wrote I Go To Pieces for Peter and Gordon. Shannon worked with his friend Brian Hyland on several projects and produced Hyland's top ten hit Gypsy Woman.
Del Shannon continued working in the music business throughout the 70's and 80's. He worked with artists such as Smith (featuring lead singer Gayle McCormick and their hit Baby It's You), Bob Seger, Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, and Tom Petty. As an artist, Shannon placed his final top forty hit on the charts in 1982. A cover of Phil Phillip's old hit Sea Of Love, it was produced by Tom Petty.
On February 8, 1990, Shannon died in his home in Santa Clarita, California from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Troubled by personal problems, his death was ruled a suicide. He was enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.
Del Shannon was an intense performer, a man who took his music very seriously. He collected royalties on over 200 cover versions of his most well-known song, his first big hit Runaway.
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