Del Shannon was one of the great rockers and songwriters between Elvis and The Beatles. Probably he’s best known for his classic 1961 hit, “Runaway”, with its high-pitched falsetto vocals and haunting, keyboard riffs. Shannon was to have several other follow up hits with his distinctive sound throughout the early 60’s, like, “Keep Searchin”, “Little Town Flirt”, “Hats Off To Larry”, “Handy Man”, etc.
Actually he was the first American artist to cover a Beatles song, “From Me to You” before The Beatles’ version was released there. Shannon (actually Charles Westover, but name taken from a local wrestler and a Cadillac Coupe de Ville) was born in Michigan, where he met keyboardist , Max Crook (who had made his own early version of a synthesizer) and the two of them were to create their unique sound. He was also a producer and produced an early Bob Seger and Bryan Hyland’s “ Gypsy Woman”. And he wrote the hit “I Go to Pieces” for Peter and Gordon. When his career started to fade a bit in the U. S. with the British Invasion, ironically, he maintained his popularity in the U.K. In fact, several British musicians, would help produce his albums there, Like The Rolling Stones’ producer, Andrew Loog Oldham, who did his version of their “Under My Thumb” in 1967. Shannon released the Live in England LP in 1973. And Dave Edmonds would produce the single “And the Music Plays On” in ’74.
He was probably the closest in song writing and subject to the great Roy Orbison. Like him, his songs usually had an almost tragic opera to them, with heart-wrenching vocals and words. For example these are some of the lyrics to “Runaway”: “As I walk along I wonder / what went wrong? I’m walking in the rain/ tears are falling and I feel the pain/wishing you were here by me/to end this misery”. And I wonder/ I wah-wah-wah-wah wonder/ Why Why Why? , Did you go Away/ My Little Runaway” Boy, does that capture teenage love/angst or what? And behind that is theirscreeching, but captivating keyboards, always.
In fact, when Orbison, died in late 1988, after the big success of supergroup, The Traveling Wilburys’ 1st album, Shannon was rumoured to be his replacement for their next album. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers had already produced and played on a comeback album for Shannon, 1981’s, Drop Down and Get Me with a re-make of Phil Phillip’s classic, “Sea Of Love” and seven originals, which is recomended . And fellow Wilbury, Jeff Lynne of ELO, produced an album for him, Rock On, which was released in ’91. So he was well respected and influenced these and many other musicians.
But Del Shannon played his last concert on Feb. 3, 1990, at a tribute concert in Fargo, North Dakota, for the 31th anniversary of the plane crash that killed legends, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper. A week later, Del Shannon was found dead of suicide. He had long suffered from depression and was on the drug, Prozac, which some have linked to deaths. Del Shannon was inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, with a tribute performance from Billy Joel of his classic song, “Runaway”. And the Traveling Wilburys did their own version of “Runaway’ as a tribute to him. Del Shannon, one of the greats, at expressing both the pain and exhilaration of being young and alive. “Keep Searchin’” (We’ll Follow the Sun).
See DEL SHANNON doing “RUNAWAY” on David Letterman Show, 1986.
See TRAVELING WILBURY’S do DEL SHANNON’S “RUNAWAY” http://youtu.be/qEPx9bkpkh8