Two for Tuesday: Del Shannon

Del Shannon was born Charles Westover in Grand Rapids, Michigan and grew up listening to country music by Hank Williams, Hank Snow, and Lefty Frizzell. After time in the Army he returned to Michigan and played with a group called The Midnight Ramblers. Eventually he became leader of the group and added keyboard player Max Crook, who played the Musitron, an early synthesizer he created, which figured later in Del’s music, as you’ll soon hear.

Del was signed to a record contract with Big Top Records in 1960, and in 1961 released “Runaway,” which he released in January and became a #1 hit for him in April of that year. It also reached #1 in the UK and Australia.

Del followed that with “Hats Off To Larry” later in 1961. It reached #5 in the US, #6 in the UK, and #2 in Australia.

Del went a stretch after that where he failed to reach the Top 10 in the US, but did well in the UK and Australia, reaching #2 in the UK with “Hey! Little Girl” and having a pair of #1’s in Australia with “The Swiss Maid” and “Little Town Flirt.” The latter reached #12 in the US and #4 in the UK.

Late in 1964, Del reached the Top 10 for the last time with “Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow The Sun).” It reached #9 in the US and Australia and #3 in the UK.

Del’s career slowed down sharply in the Seventies, but revived after he stopped drinking, and he had some success in the later ’70’s and early ’80’s. He suffered from depression, and in 1990 took his own life. The Traveling Wilburys recorded an almost dead-on cover of his “Runaway” as a tribute, and Jeff Lynne produced his posthumous album, 1991’s Rock On on the Silvertone label. (Just as an aside, Silvertone was the brand name of musical instruments, especially electric guitars and amplifiers, sold by Sears, Roebuck & Co. in the US. For many, it was their first guitar.) He was enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

Del Shannon, your Two for Tuesday, May 22, 2018.

17 thoughts on “Two for Tuesday: Del Shannon

  1. I always loved his voice and his songs. Back in 1985/86, I went, with a group of friends, to a huge bar called LuLu’s(I think) and we saw him there and danced the night away especially after drinking 4 zombies. I was very sad and so was my best friend to learn he had committed suicide. A sad end to a brilliant talent.

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    1. Like so many other talented people, Del had his demons. No doubt he had depression and was trying to self-medicate with alcohol, which made the problem worse. There was such a stigma attached to depression and other forms of mental illness, as if there was something more seriously wrong than a chemical imbalance that could be controlled very easily with medication. I think a lot of alcoholism and drug abuse has its roots in depression, maybe even most of it.

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  2. Definitely check out their first album, with “Handle With Care” and “End of the Line” on it. It’s a classic. The second album, “Volume 3,” is good, too, a little more rock and roll and electric guitar than the first. And it has “The Wilbury Twist” on it…

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    1. It is. What’s worse is that people’s attitudes toward it are just coming around to know that it can’t be helped, that it’s not just a mood that you can get over.

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  3. I enjoyed his music. So many good songs that bring on great memories. Sears sold musical instruments and now they are closing several stores. How unfortunate.

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    1. Kmart took over Sears a few years ago, and it’s been pretty much downhill ever since. I saw an interesting video about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1__Qg1toSSs

      I grew up in Chicago, where Sears was based, and can remember the big catalog that literally sold just about anything (except food and liquor), everything from lingerie to water heaters, musical instruments to toilets. Now both it and Kmart look like they’re dying a slow death.

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