Del Shannon

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Del Shannon
Shannon in 1965
Shannon in 1965
Background information
Birth nameCharles Weedon Westover
Born(1934-12-30)December 30, 1934
Coopersville, Michigan, U.S.
DiedFebruary 8, 1990(1990-02-08) (aged 55)
Santa Clarita, California, U.S.
  • Musician
  • singer
  • songwriter
Instrument(s)Vocals, guitar
Years active1954–1989

Charles Weedon Westover (December 30, 1934 – February 8, 1990), better known by his stage name Del Shannon, was an American musician, singer and songwriter, best known for his 1961 number-one Billboard hit "Runaway". In 1999, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In addition to his music career, he had minor acting roles.


Shannon was born Charles Weedon Westover on December 30, 1934, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Bert and Leone Mosher Westover, and grew up in nearby Coopersville.[1] He learned to play the ukulele and guitar and listened to country-and-western music by artists such as Hank Williams, Hank Snow, and Lefty Frizzell. He was drafted into the Army in 1954 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 as a carpet salesman and as a truck driver for a furniture factory. He found part-time work as a rhythm guitarist in singer Doug DeMott's group, The Moonlight Ramblers, working at the Hi-Lo Club.[2]

When DeMott was fired in 1958 for drunkenness, Westover took over as leader and singer, giving himself the name Charlie Johnson and renaming the band the Big Little Show Band.[3] In early 1959 he added the keyboardist Max Crook, who played an instrument he called a Musitron (an early synthesizer of Crook's own invention, though modeled on the commercially released Clavioline[4]). Crook had made recordings, and he persuaded Ann Arbor disc jockey Ollie McLaughlin to listen to the band. 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 for Bigtop Records. Balk suggested Westover use a new name, and they came up with "Del Shannon", combining Mark Shannon—a wrestling pseudonym used by a regular at the Hi-Lo Club—with Del, derived from the Cadillac Coupe de Ville, his favorite car.[3]


Shannon on the cover of Cash Box, 29 July 1961

He flew to New York City, but his first sessions were not successful. McLaughlin then 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", which was released as a single in February 1961, reaching number 1 on the Billboard chart in April. Shannon followed with "Hats Off to Larry", which peaked at number 5 on the Billboard chart and number 2 on the Cashbox chart 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.[5]

Berlee Records and Amy Records[edit]

By August 1963, Shannon's relationship with his managers and Bigtop had soured, so he formed his own label, Berlee Records, named after his parents.[6]

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'" (number 3 in the UK; number 9 in the U.S.), and "Stranger in Town" (number 40 in the UK). In late 1964, Shannon produced a demo recording session for a young fellow Michigander named Bob Seger, who would go on to stardom much later. Shannon gave acetates of the session to Dick Clark (he had performed in one of Clark's tours, in 1965) and, by 1966, Seger was recording for Philadelphia's famed Cameo Records, resulting in some regional hits, which eventually led to a deal with a major label, Capitol Records. Also in late 1964, Shannon paid tribute to one of his own musical idols with Del Shannon Sings Hank Williams (Amy Records 8004). The album was recorded in hard-core country honky-tonk style, and no singles were released. Shannon opened for Ike and Tina Turner at Dave Hull's Hullabaloo club in Los Angeles, California, on December 22, 1965.[7]

Liberty Records, United Artists Records and Island Records[edit]

Shannon signed with Liberty in 1966 and revived Toni Fisher's "The Big Hurt" and the Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb". Peter and Gordon released his song "I Go to Pieces" in 1965.[3]

In September 1967, Shannon began laying down the tracks for The Further Adventures of Charles Westover, which was highly regarded by fans and critics alike despite disappointing sales. The album yielded two 1968 singles, "Thinkin' It Over" and "Gemini". In October 1968, Liberty Records released their tenth (in the United States) and final Shannon single, a cover of Dee Clark's 1961 hit "Raindrops". This brought to a close a commercially disappointing period in Shannon's career. In 1972, he signed with 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.[8] In April 1975, he signed with Island Records.[9]

After he and his manager jointly sought back royalties for Shannon, Bug Music was founded in 1975 to administer his songs.[10] By 2011, when Bug was acquired by BMG Rights Management, its catalogue had grown to include 250,000 compositions.[11]

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". The Los Angeles Times wrote, "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."[12]

Later career[edit]

Shannon's career slowed down greatly in the 1970s, owing in part to his alcoholism.[13] The Welsh rock singer Dave Edmunds produced the single "And the Music Plays On" in 1974.[3] In 1978 Shannon stopped drinking and began work on "Sea of Love", released in 1982 on his album Drop Down and Get Me, produced by Tom Petty. The album took two years to record and featured Petty's band, the Heartbreakers, backing Shannon. However, RSO Records, to which Shannon was signed, folded. Further work on the LP was done for Network Records (distributed by Elektra Records). Seven songs are Shannon originals with covers of songs recorded by the Everly Brothers, the Rolling Stones, and Frankie Ford, along with "Sea of Love" by Phil Phillips. It was Shannon's first album in eight years.[5]

In February 1982, Shannon appeared at the Bottom Line. He performed pop-rock tunes and old hits. Stephen Holden, a reviewer for The New York Times, described an "easygoing pop-country" style. 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".[14]

Shannon had a resurgence of popularity after re-recording "Runaway" with new lyrics as the theme for the NBC-TV program Crime Story. In 1988, Shannon sang "The World We Know" with the Smithereens on their album Green Thoughts. Two years later, he recorded with Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra, and there were rumors he would join the Traveling Wilburys after the death of Roy Orbison.[13][15] Previously, in 1975, Shannon had recorded tracks with Lynne, along with "In My Arms Again", a country song he wrote and recorded for Warner Bros. Records, which had signed Shannon in 1984.[3]

Death and legacy[edit]

In January 1990 Shannon was pushing himself to finish a new album and schedule upcoming concerts, resulting in troublesome stress. On the advice of his doctor, on January 24, Shannon began taking Prozac, an antidepressant. Fifteen days later, he died by suicide, shooting himself with a .22 caliber rifle at his home in Santa Clarita, California, on February 8, 1990.[16] "He was very much in charge of his business, but within days after he started taking Prozac I noticed a personality change in him. He developed severe insomnia, extreme fatigue, chills, racing heart, dry mouth, and upset stomach," testified LeAnne Westover, Shannon's widow. "Suicide was totally out of character for my husband. There was no note and no goodbye."[17]

Following his death, the Traveling Wilburys honored him by recording a version of "Runaway".[18] Jeff Lynne also co-produced Shannon's posthumous album, Rock On, released by Silvertone Records in 1991.[19]

Shannon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999[20][18] and into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame in 2005.[21]

A Del Shannon Memorial Scholarship Fund was set up following Shannon's death.[22] Coopersville, Michigan, holds an annual Del Shannon Car Show.[23][24][25]



  1. ^ "Del Shannon | American musician". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved June 21, 2020.
  2. ^ "The Hi-Lo Club". September 29, 1990. Archived from the original on May 16, 2008. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Full Length Biography". Delshannon.Com. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  4. ^ Reid, Gordon (March 2007). "The Story of the Clavioline". Sound on Sound. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  5. ^ a b "Shannon's Back—It's On the Record". Los Angeles Times. December 20, 1981. p. M92.
  6. ^ Young, Brian (2004). The Complete Recordings 1960–70. Del Shannon, "Home and Away" (book accompanying the eight-CD box set). Bear Family Records. ISBN 3-89916-078-9.
  7. ^ "Del Shannon, Guests, Slated at Hullabaloo". Los Angeles Times. December 22, 1965. p. E6.
  8. ^ "Del Shannon's River Still Flows". Los Angeles Times. December 23, 1973. p. H-51.
  9. ^ "Pop News". Los Angeles Times. April 6, 1975. p. M-59.
  10. ^ "Fred Bourgoise of Bug Music". Archived from the original on March 20, 2012. Retrieved March 25, 2012.
  11. ^ "BMG acquires publisher Bug Music". September 12, 2011.
  12. ^ Cromelin, Richard (January 21, 1976). "At The Roxy—Undiluted Aura of Del Shannon". Los Angeles Times. p. E11.
  13. ^ a b c "Full Length Biography". Delshannon.Com. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  14. ^ "Pop:Del Shannon, 60's Teen-Age Star". The New York Times. February 22, 1982. p. C16.
  15. ^ Washburn, Jim (April 7, 1989). "Never a 'Runaway' : Rocker Del Shannon's Still Writing, Recording, Performing Worldwide". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 3, 2023.
  16. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 1075. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  17. ^ LeAnne Westover, testimony before the Food and Drug Administration, Sept. 1991.
  18. ^ a b Bak, Richard (June 30, 2011). "Del Shannon's 'Runaway' Success Led to His Downfall". Hour Detroit Magazine. Retrieved March 3, 2023.
  19. ^ "Jeff Lynne Produces Final Album by Del Shannon". Jeff Lynne website. Archived from the original on April 3, 2013. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
  20. ^ "Del Shannon: Inducted in 1999". The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc. Retrieved June 17, 2012.
  21. ^ "MRRL Hall of fame – Del Shannon". Michigan Rock and Roll Legends. Archived from the original on September 5, 2019.
  22. ^ Cammel, Ron (November 26, 2009). "Coopersville Historical Museum, Del Shannon Memorial Scholarship Fund get $5,000 donations". Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  23. ^ "Coopersville's annual Del Shannon festival and car show, Kent County Youth Fair kick off Monday". August 8, 2010. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  24. ^ "Coopersville & Marne Railway – Del Shannon Memorial Car Show Shuttle Service". Archived from the original on June 20, 2019. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  25. ^ "Del Shannon Days & Car Show". Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Del Shannon Albums and Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved March 4, 2023.
  27. ^ a b "Del Shannon - Awards". AllMusic. Archived from the original on September 28, 2012. Retrieved October 6, 2022.
  28. ^ "Home and Away Studio Session Photos". Del Shannon Enterprises official website. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved April 27, 2015.


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