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About Charles Weedon Westover
Del Shannon (December 30, 1934 – February 8, 1990) was an American rock and roll singer-songwriter who had a No. 1 hit, "Runaway", in 1961.
Del Shannon was born Charles Weedon Westover in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He grew up in Coopersville, a small town near Grand Rapids. There he learned ukulele and guitar and listened to country and western music, including Hank Williams, Hank Snow, and Lefty Frizzell. In 1954, he was drafted into the Army, 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 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 leader and singer, giving himself the name Charlie Johnson, and renaming his band 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 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 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 a friend's assumed surname with Del from his favorite car, the Cadillac Coupe de Ville.
He flew to New York City, but his first sessions did not produce results. McLaughlin 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 January 21, 1961, they recorded "Runaway", released as a single in February 1961. It reached #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 name. 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 Beatles song: his "From Me to You" charted in the US before the Beatles' version.
Berlee Records and move to Amy
By August 1963, Shannon's relationship with his managers and Bigtop had soured and he formed his own label, Berlee Records, named after his parents, and distributed by Diamond Records. Two singles were issued: the apparently Four Seasons-inspired "Sue's Gotta Be Mine" was a moderate hit, making #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 the latter part of 1964, Shannon produced a demo recording session for a young fellow Michigander named Bob Seger, who would go onto his own stardom much later. Del 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, Del paid tribute to one of his own musical idols, with Del Shannon sings Hank Williams, Amy Records 8004, released in the closing days of 1964. 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.
 Moves to Liberty, United Artists and IslandShannon signed with Liberty in 1966 and revived Miss Toni Fisher's "The Big Hurt" and the Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb". Peter and Gordon released his "I Go To Pieces" in 1965. Shannon also discovered country singer Johnny Carver, who was then working in the Los Angeles area. Del got Carver a contract with Liberty Records subsidiary Imperial Records, writing, producing and arranging both sides of Carver's debut single "One Way Or The Other"/"Think About Her All The Time". Carver went on to have nearly twenty Country-chart hits during the late 60s and 70s. The liner notes to his debut Imperial album acknowledge Del's role in his being brought to the label.
In the late 1960s, not having charted for several years, he turned to production. In 1969, he discovered Smith and arranged their hit "Baby, It's You," which had been a hit for the Shirelles in 1963. In 1970, he produced Brian Hyland's million-seller "Gypsy Woman", a cover of Curtis Mayfield.
During Shannon's Liberty Records tenure, success on a national scale eluded him, but he scored several "regional" U.S. chart hits with "The Big Hurt", "Under My Thumb", "She", "Led Along" and "Runaway" (1967 version). The 1967 version of "Runaway" (recorded in England and produced by Andrew Loog Oldham) also did well on Canadian and Australian pop charts.
In early '67, Shannon recorded the album Home And Away in England, with Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham at the helm. Intended by Oldham as the British answer to Pet Sounds, Home And Away was shelved by Liberty Records, although a handful of singles were issued. It was not until 1978 that all of the tracks were eventually issued (with three non-related tracks) on a British album titled And The Music Plays On. In 1991, all of the tracks were released in the US as part of the Del Shannon – The Liberty Years CD. In 2006, 39 years after it was recorded, Home And Away was finally released as a stand-alone collection by EMI Records, in the UK. This CD collected the eleven original tracks in stereo and the five single releases (US, UK and Philippines) in their original monaural mixes.
In September 1967, Del began laying down the tracks for "The Further Adventures Of Charles Westover", which would be highly regarded by fans and critics alike, despite disappointing sales. The album yielded two 1968 singles, "Thinkin' It Over" and "Gemini" (recently the subject of a Pilooski remix). In October 1968, Liberty Records released their tenth (in the USA) and final Del Shannon single, a cover of Dee Clark's 1961 hit, "Raindrops". This brought to a close a commercially disappointing period in Del's career.
In 1972, he signed to United Artists and recorded Live In England, released in June 1973. Reviewer Chris Martin critiqued the album favourably, saying that Shannon never improvised, was always true to the original sounds of his music, and that only Lou Christie rivaled his falsetto. In April 1975, Shannon signed with Island Records.
After he and his manager jointly sought back royalties for Shannon, Bug Music was founded in 1975 to administer his songs.
A 1976 article on Shannon's concert at The Roxy Theatre described the singer as "personal, pure and simple rock 'n' roll, dated but gratifyingly undiluted." Shannon sang some of his new rock songs along with classics like "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 struggle."
Shannon's career slowed greatly in the 1970s, in part due to alcoholism. Welsh rock singer Dave Edmunds produced the Shannon single "And the Music Plays On" in 1974. In 1978 he stopped drinking and began work on "Sea of Love", released 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 Shannon. RSO Records, which recorded Shannon, folded. The LP was recorded by Network Records and distributed by Elektra Records. Seven songs are Shannon originals with covers of 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 pop-rock tunes and old hits. New York Times reviewer Stephen Holden described an "easygoing pop-country" manner. On "Runaway" and "Keep Searchin," Shannon and his band rediscovered the sound "in which his keen falsetto played off against airy organ obbligatos." In the 1980s Shannon performed "competent but mundane country-rock".
Shannon enjoyed a resurgence after re-recording "Runaway" with new lyrics as the theme for the NBC-TV television program Crime Story. Producer Michael Mann felt this was definitive of the era in which the program was set. The new lyrics replaced "wishin' you were here by me... to end this misery" with “watchin’ all the things go by... some live, while others die,” reflecting the violent, mob-related show.
In 1988, Shannon sang "The World We Know" with The Smithereens on their album Green Thoughts. Shortly after, in 1990, he recorded with Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra, and there were rumors he would join The Traveling Wilburys after Roy Orbison's death. Previously, in 1975, Shannon had recorded tracks with Lynne, along with "In My Arms Again," a self-penned country song recorded by Warner Brothers, which had signed Shannon in 1984.
Death and legacy
Suffering from depression, Shannon committed suicide on February 8, 1990, with a .22 caliber rifle at his home while on a prescription dose of the anti-depressant drug Prozac in Santa Clarita, California. Following his death, The Traveling Wilburys honored him by recording a version of "Runaway". Lynne also co-produced Shannon's posthumous album, Rock On, released on Silvertone in 1991.
Shannon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, and his contributions have been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
In 2005, Del Shannon was inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame. In 2007, Shannon's recording of "Runaway" was voted the #1 Legendary Michigan Song. Del has had two other recordings recognised as Legendary Michigan songs: "Keep Searchin' (We'll Follow The Sun)" in 2008 and "Hats Off to Larry" in 2009.
The song "Crocodile Rock" by Elton John and Bernie Taupin was clearly influenced by Del Shannon's "Cry Myself to Sleep".
In 1990, the country band Southern Pacific covered Shannon's composition "I Go to Pieces" (a hit in 1965 for Peter & Gordon), with the video dedicated in Shannon's memory.
Tom Petty referenced Shannon and his song "Runaway" on Petty's song "Runnin' Down a Dream" on Full Moon Fever, which was co-produced by Jeff Lynne. Both were members of the Traveling Wilburys, who recorded a cover of "Runaway" during the sessions for Volume 3. Although the track didn't make it onto the final album, two versions have circulated on the bootleg circuit for years, one with Max Crook's famous eight-bar keyboard solo played note-for-note by Jeff Lynne and another, earlier version which features Bob Dylan playing harmonica in place of the keyboard solo.
In 1986-1988, "Runaway" was used as the soundtrack for the TV series "Crime Story".
In 2009, "Runaway" was used in the 21st episode of the 3rd season of the TV series Heroes.
"Runaway" was referenced in the song "When You Dream" by the Barenaked Ladies in their 1998 album, Stunt.
A live cover of "Runaway" appeared on the bonus CD of British indie rock band Kasabian on their 2009 album "West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum".
Del Shannon is the name of a character in Catherine Asaro's book, Diamond Star. The character is a young rock star who becomes famous throughout three star spreading empires.
Bak, Richard (July, 2011). Del Shannon's Runaway Success Led to his Downfall. Hour Detroit. http://www.hourdetroit.com/Hour-Detroit/July-2011/The-Flip-Side-of-Success/. Retrieved August 17, 2011.
DeWitt, Howard A. (2001). Stranger in Town: The Musical Life of Del Shannon. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publ.. ISBN 9780787288549.