Del Shannon

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 song by The Beatles: his “From Me to You” charted in the US before The Beatles’ version.

Del Shannon with Tom Petty


Berlee Records and move to Amy

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 and distributed by Diamond Records. Two singles were issued: the apparently Four Seasons-inspired “Sue’s Gotta Be Mine” was a moderate hit, attaining #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 on to 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 22 December 1965.


1961 Runaway with Del Shannon – Coming Soon 19/04/2014


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