Shannon, Del (originally, Westover, Charles)

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Shannon, Del (originally, Westover, Charles)

Shannon, Del (originally, Westover, Charles), rock and roll singer/songwriter; b. Coopersville, Mich., Dec. 30, 1934; d. Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 8, 1990. Charles Westover took up guitar and singing as an early teenager and adopted his stage name, Del Shannon, after graduating from high school. He first performed on the Army’s Get Up and Go radio show in Germany in 1958 while serving in the Army. Following his discharge in 1959, he returned to Battle Creek, Mich., and performed in local clubs with pianist Max Crook. In 1960, he signed with the Detroit-based Big Top label, achieving his most celebrated hit (a top pop and British hit) with “Runaway,” co-written with Crook, in 1961. He followed up with the smash hit “Hats Off to Larry” and the major hit “So Long Baby.” First touring Great Britain in the fall of 1962, Shannon met The Beatles and won a devoted following. Touring Great Britain again in the spring of 1963, he performed with The Beatles in May. Scoring smash British hits with “The Swiss Maid” and “Two Kinds of Teardrops,” Shannon had a major American hit with “Little Town Flirt” in 1963, followed by the minor hit “From Me to You,” the first song written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney to make the American charts.

In late 1962, Del Shannon left Big Top amidst legal disputes with the label and his managers, forming the short-lived label, Berlee, on which he managed a minor hit with “Sue’s Gotta Be Mine” in late 1963. Switching to Amy Records in 1964, he scored a major hit with Otis Blackwell’s “Handy Man,” a near-smash with the classic “Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow the Sun),” and a moderate hit with “Stranger in Town” through 1965. In early 1965, Peter and Gordon had a near-smash American hit with Shannon’s “I Go to Pieces.” By 1966, he had moved to Los Angeles and signed with Liberty Records. He enjoyed little success with the label and left it in 1969, later arranging The Smith’s smash hit “Baby It’s You” and producing Brian Hyland’s smash hit “Gypsy Woman.”

Del Shannon toured Great Britain regularly in the 1960s and l970s, recording Live in England in 1972. He later recorded singles with Jeff Lynne (“Cry Baby Baby Cry”) and Dave Edmunds (“And the Music Plays On”) in England. He met Tom Petty in 1978 and, over the next three years, recorded Drop Down and Get Me, with Petty as producer. The album produced a moderate hit with a remake of Phil Phillips’s 1959 smash hit “Sea of Love,” but Shannon was unable to sustain a career outside the oldies revival circuit. Del Shannon was nearing completion of a new album with Lynne and Petty (later released as Rock On) when he shot himself to death on Feb. 8, 1990. Shannon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

Discography

Runaway (1961); Little Town Flirt (1963); Handy Man (1964); Sings Hank Williams (1965); 2, 661 Seconds (1965); This Is My Bag (1966); Total Commitment (1966); Further Adventures of Charles Westover (1968); Live in England (1974); Drop Down and Get Me (1981); Rock On! (1991).

—Brock Helander