Perfect Sound Forever

DEL SHANNON


Why A Great Biopic Awaits The Rock Legend
by R.D. Ronstad
(February 2022)


"Del has a teardrop in his throat, and when he sings, that's what comes out!"
-Irv Micahnik

INTRODUCTION

Most people probably think of Del Shannon, if they think of him at all, as "that 'Runaway' guy." But he was more than a one-hit wonder, way more. He was a rock and roll original, a hitmaker many times over, who was popular worldwide. He was also a talented and prolific songwriter; a stellar singer, a celebrated guitarist and an inspiring live performer. In addition, he was an accomplished producer/arranger/talent scout, a successful businessman; and, possibly most important, a major influence on the rock musicians and rock music that followed in his wake.

As for Del the man, though he struggled with depression and moodiness, and was plagued with the common rock star failings (drugs, alcohol1, infidelity), his positive traits (generosity, humility, loyalty, passion) and his vulnerability show him to be a man that an audience could easily sympathize with.

Del Shannon deserves a movie to provide a fuller understanding of the man. And music biopics are a "thing" these days. Studios released at least 21 pop star biopics in the five years leading up to the pandemic shutdown. Another 19, at least, are currently on the way. Yet only three of the 40 (Elvis, Heart, Easybeats) tell the stories of classic rockers in the mold of Del Shannon.

Plus, Del's life story reads like a movie, no embellishment needed: A small town boy born into poverty and social irrelevance; an unsupportive father and a sympathetic mother; an early obsession with popular music; a tepid education, ameliorated by a caring educator/father figure; a young adulthood spent in menial jobs; an early marriage, burdened with financial struggles; an Army enlistment/posting/discharge; more menial jobs/financial struggles; a part-time band gig in a rowdy club, leading to a fortuitous encounter; a label signing; a failed first recording session; a hugely successful second session, an overnight triumph; a string of hits, major tours; a conflict with management (mismanagement, royalty disputes); a British invasion; a slow, gradual sink into obscurity; a succession of record deals; a string of deserving but commercially unsuccessful recordings; a descent into self-destructive addiction; oldies tour grinds; scattered behind-the-scenes successes (writing, producing, arranging, promoting); an addiction conquered, some hints of a comeback; a shocking, unfathomable ending.

And think of this: his music would sound great blasting out of movie theater speakers.

With that in mind, let me make an extended argument about why Shannon's life has earned him his own bio-pic. The first part here is an attempt to show how much Shannon has been underrated. It lists his many accomplishments and accolades. The true Del Shannon devotee may want to skip this part as old news. The second part is a potpourri of items under various headings (backstory, characters, anecdotes) that I see as suitable for inclusion in a successful script2. It might help if in reading this section if you envision these snippets as they might play out on the big screen In this spirit, I have recorded the occurrences recounted there, and in the coda, in the present tense where appropriate. The coda consists of items I consider to be possibly dubious, but nonetheless worth consideration or at least investigation by the hoped-for future screenwriter. You'll also find footnotes and a list of sources at the end. I promise that, in any case, the reader who stays with me to the end will find the coda to be both revelatory and entertaining.



1. ACCOMPLISHMENTS/ACCOLADES

HIT SINGLES, ETC. (numbers discrete, not cumulative)

America UK Australia
Top 10s 3 (+43) 8 5 (4 of them #1s)
Top 20s 1 3 3
Top 40s 5 3 3
Top 100s 8 8

Six singles on the Philippine charts at the same time (1967)

"Runaway" and 18 other Shannon songs used on at least 61 movie, tv or video game soundtracks (most recently "Keep Searchin'" in season one of the current Netflix series Only Murders in the Building).

"Runaway" covered by over 200 other artists.

"I Go to Pieces" (written by Shannon) covered by at least 21 other artists.

"His Latest Flame" first recorded by Del Shannon; later by Elvis and at least 87 other artists.

Michael Hill (in his Rock Hall of Fame essay celebrating Del's induction) on Del's disappearance from the top 40 between "Stranger in Town" (1965) and "Sea of Love" (1981): "In between... Shannon pursued some of his most remarkable work, artfully incorporating contemporary sounds into his classic style." An oft-repeated sentiment among other observers.



SIGNIFICANT ALBUMS

Little Town Flirt (1962). Reached #12 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart.

Del Shannon Sings Hank Williams (1965). A departure for Del; favorably reviewed (in 1985, he will record some additional country songs, including the #56 country hit "In Your Arms Again"). "[O]ne of the best straight forward country albums you'll ever hear." (Koda)

Home and Away (recorded in 1987; released in 2006). Produced by Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham; said to be Oldham's attempt to create a UK Pet Sounds; cult favorite. "One listen confirms this was one of the finest lost albums of the 1960s." (Guarisco)

The Further Adventures of Charles Westover4 (1968). Concept album, cult favorite. "The overall effect is stunning, managing to fit the tag of psychedelic pop but still retaining the haunting, emotional kind of songwriting that distinguished Del Shannon's music." (Deming)

Del Shannon Live in England (1973). Showcases Shannon's eminence as a performer; includes a reunion of sorts with Del's former keyboard player Max Crook, whose contributions were later dubbed in.

Drop Down and Get Me (1981). Produced by Tom Petty; includes the #33 hit "Sea of Love;" reached #123 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart.

Greatest Hits-Del Shannon (1990). Rolling Stone 5-star review.

Rock On (1991). Posthumous album produced by Jeff Lynne (ELO) and Mike Campbell (of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers); critically praised.


HONORS

Voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1999).

Voted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame (2005).

Voted into Rock Hall Projected5 (2018).

"Runaway" is in the Grammy Hall of Fame (2002).

His contributions to the genre recognized by The Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

"Runaway" is #472 in Rolling Stone's "top 500 greatest songs of all time" (2003).

"Runaway" is #16 among the 100 best rock and roll singles according to trailblazing rock critic and Crawdaddy founder Paul Williams (1993).

"Runaway" is #192 in Troy L. Smith's (Cleveland.com) 250 greatest Rock & Roll Hall of Fame songs (Feb. 27, 2018; updated May 19, 2019).

Three Shannon songs appear in rock critic and author David Marsh's 1,001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989): "Stranger in Town" (327), "Keep Searchin" (371), "Runaway" (534).

"Hats Off to Larry" is #51 in rock critic and author Colin Larkin's All-Time Top 100 Rock Singles (2000).

Hats Off to Del Shannon is #27 in Larkin's top 50 rock and roll albums (1994). Rock is here seen as a distinct category--Larkin has separate lists for heavy metal, punk, indie, etc..

Three songs (#1, #17, #33) are in the current Michigan Rock and Roll Legends list of legendary Michigan songs (other artists on the 145-song list include Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Bob Seger, Jackie Wilson, Stevie Wonder, Madonna and 27 other renowned performers).


FIRSTS/DISTINCTIONS

First American rock star to perform at London's Royal Albert Hall (April 18, 1963; supporting act: The Beatles).

First American artist to release a Beatles song in the U.S. ("From Me to You," 1963).

"Runaway" possibly the first song ever to feature a synthesizer (Reid).

One of the few white artists at the time of his breakthrough who wrote his own songs.

Arrived on the scene with original, energetic rock and roll at a time considered a down period in popular music, awash with manufactured teen idols and novelty tunes (early 1960's).

Achieved worldwide popularity: United States, England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, Japan, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Sweden, Chile, and across Europe. His Wikipedia biography has been translated into 28 different languages.

Founded Berlee Records in the summer of 1963 after a major dispute with his managers, operating from his basement; produced and released two Del Shannon singles, one of which, "Sue's Gotta Be Mine" (1963) became a minor hit (#71 in the U.S. and #21 in the UK).

Discovered a teen-aged Bob Seger singing in a bowling alley; produced and paid for the first Seger demos; shopped the demos to Dick Clark, which led to Seeger's getting his first record deal (1964-1966).

Discovered country music singer Johnny Carver; secured Carver's first record deal; wrote, produced and arranged both sides of Carver's first single ("Think About Her All The Time," 1966); Carver went on to have fifteen top 40 country hits.

Discovered the band Smith; worked with them for six months; secured their first record deal; arranged and possibly produced (and then cheated out of being credited) their #3 hit "Baby It's You" (1969).

Produced and arranged Brian Hyland's #3 hit "Gypsy Woman"; produced and played guitar on the ensuing Brian Hyland album (1970).

Wrote or co-wrote songs recorded by Waylon Jennings, Barbara Lewis, Beth Moore, Juice Newton, Peter and Gordon, Dave Edmunds.

Re-recorded "Runaway," with slight lyric changes, to be used as the theme song for Michael Mann's TV series Crime Story (the show ran from September 1986 to May 1988).

Was rumored to join the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys after Roy Orbison's death; true or not (likely not), that the rumor had "legs" and says a lot about the high regard in which Del was held by music industry people and his followers.


INFLUENCE

Credited (especially with the song "Little Town Flirt") with being a major influence on what was to become known as "the Mersey Beat" in England in the early 1960's.

Influenced The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Mark Knopfler, Chris Isaak, The Tindersticks, The Smithereens, Elton John, Nils Lofgren, Jeff Lynne and others.

A Del Shannon tribute album (Songwriter, v.1) featuring 16 different Del Shannon songs was released in 2013; spotlights 16 bands and solo artists, fans of Del (among them Marshall Crenshaw, Randy Bachman, and the Pixies' Frank Black).

His song "Cry Myself to Sleep" (1962) was the inspiration for Elton John's "Crocodile Rock" (1972).

The Beatles' "I'll Be Back" (1964, written by John Lennon) was a reworking of the chords from "Runaway."

"Runaway" influenced the writing of the Beatles' "From Me to You," according to Paul McCartney.

Del is referenced in Tom Petty's hit song "Runnin' Down a Dream" (1989).

Max Crook's "Musitron" (a pre-synthesizer synthesizer that Max invented) solos on both "Runaway" and "Hats Off to Larry" and influenced (according to Wikipedia) such luminaries as Berry Gordy, Joe Meek, Ennio Morricone, John Barry, and Roy Wood (of ELO).

Bug Music (estab. 1975), a label celebrated for doggedly pursuing and acquiring copyrights and royalties owed to recording artists (Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters, Woody Guthrie among them), grew out of a successful attempt by Del's long-time friend and, for a time, manager, Dan Bourgoise (Bug's founder) to help Del acquire rights and royalties that were his due.


ACCOLADES

"Del Shannon was many years ahead of his time... He never imitated anybody, and he never sounded like anybody but Del Shannon" ("A critic," quoted in Bak).

"While his contemporaries on the bill were all jaded to various degrees, Del`s eyes sparkled brightly. When he took the stage, his whole body was infused with the youthful brio of one for whom rock was a genuine means of expression. He wasn`t just going through the motions." (Eden, quoted in d21c)

"An underrated song writer and brilliant singer, Del Shannon provided the connection between 1950s rock primitivism and the relative melodic sophistication of the Beatles... the enthralling 'Stranger in Town' is possibly one of the most paranoid--and thrilling--performances in all of rock and roll... Del Shannon should in fairness be recalled not as one of many '50s teen idols, but rather as one of the genre's first true artists--a rock and roll natural." (Francke)

"He was one of those guys who had everything I wanted when I started to write songs," Petty said, "great stories, a really good sound, and that great, big, high voice." (Tom Petty, quoted by Graff) "He was a great artist, underrated for sure. The guy was just a natural. It thrilled me to hear him sing anything up-close with a guitar. It was just mesmerizing." (Dion DiMucci)

"[T]here is a convincing case to be made for Shannon as one of the true godfathers of modern pop music... pop's first great miserabilist. It is not too extravagant to say Del Shannon created the template for Scott Walker, Leonard Cohen, Morrissey and others of the pale and interesting tendency to follow... The tough-romantic urban loner stance of these records...is not a million miles from that adopted a couple of decades later by Bruce Springsteen." (Independent)

"Like the old saying says, a good song has 'three chords and the truth,' and Del Shannon was a master of that craft." (Tupica)

"Del Shannon is the reason I picked up my first guitar." (Mark Knopfler)

"I've always loved Del. He was my first hero when I was young." (Jeff Lynne)

"[He] was in many ways the perfect pop songwriter, but no one blends melancholia with a toe tapping pop tune in quite the same way." (Bore)

"[An] abundance of vision, a seriousness of intent and a uniqueness of style. Nobody at the time seemed to run as deep as Shannon." (Graff)

"I'd say he was an original more than he was an innovator. I don't think he appreciated quite how original he was." (Stanley)


2. BACKSTORY/RECORDING
"RUNAWAY"/CHARACTERS/ANECDOTES/DEL ON DEL

DEL'S BACKSTORY

Born (December 30, 1934) into poverty; Del grows up in Coopersville, MI, a small farming community.

He feels outcast growing up; Coopersville is largely Christian yet his Dad doesn't attend church.

Del's mother buys a ukulele (Arthur Godfrey model) for him when he's still a child; she teaches him a few chords; the boy practices constantly.

Eight-year-old Del sings the Georgia fight song ("Glory, Glory") on the way to school, regularly annoying neighbors.

He buys his first guitar at age 14, a $5 acoustic guitar from Sears Roebuck; he waits expectantly at the train station on the day of its arrival (possible opening scene of the movie?).

Del's dad says, "Get that guitar out of here;" Del's mom says, "That's okay son, you can sing for me."

A friendly neighbor teaches him a few guitar chords. Del furthers his musical education by clandestinely entering roadhouses to study the playing methods of local country guitarists.

Del uses pieces of cardboard as picks--he can't afford real ones; he plays till his fingers bleed.

He brings his guitar to school daily; plays it in classes, hallways, at football games, anywhere; finally, to end Del's disruptions, principal Stephen Conran says he can play in the boys' locker room; entranced by the acoustics, young Del plays for hours in bathrooms; once he gets an electric guitar, he places his amp on the lids of bathroom toilets.

Conran pushes Del to graduate; though not a fan of rock, he supports and advises Del throughout Del's life.

Not popular with girls, Del is deeply hurt when a girl named Karen breaks her promise to go to the prom with him in favor of another boy; this hurt may emerge later in his many songs of alienation and heartbreak.

During seasonal work picking strawberries, Del often tells his co-workers, "I'm going to be famous! I'm going to be a movie star!" Other jobs in his youth include selling flowers from a truck and putting school desks together in a furniture factory.

At 19, Del marries the sister of a friend; he's drafted into the Army in 1954; is sent to Fort Knox, then, in 1956, to Germany; his wife Shirley goes with him to Germany.

He plays with a band called Cool Flames while in Germany; is voted the 7th Army's best instrumentalist for his guitar playing; earns a regular spot on the Army's "Get Up and Go" radio show. Upon discharge (1958), he returns to Coopersville, works in a furniture factory, then in sales at a carpet store, and joins the house band at the rowdy Hi-Lo Club in Battle Creek; he later replaces the band's leader when the leader is fired for drunkenness, assuming the stage name "Charley Johnson."

Ann Arbor DJ Ollie McLaughlin comes to hear the band, having been invited by keyboard player Max Crook, hired by Del in 1959 to replace a departed guitar player; McLaughlin likes what he hears, and in July of 1960 secures both Crook and Shannon writing and recording contracts with Harry Balk's and Irv Micahnik's Talent Artists, Inc. Del is immediately flown to New York for his first recording session.

The session (at New York's Bell Studios) goes poorly; country boy Del is nervous, in awe of studio musicians, sings flat; afterwards McLaughlin tells Del to write something more up-tempo than the two songs recorded during this session.

One night at the Hi-Lo Club, not long after the failed session, keyboardist Max Crook plays an unusual chord change (A minor/G) that catches Del's ear; Del shouts "Hold it!" in the middle of a song, tells Crook to keep playing that sequence, then starts singing some impromptu lyrics; after 15 minutes of this, the club owner yells "Knock it off!"

Having established the musical structure of "Runaway" the previous night, Del writes the lyrics while sitting atop a carpet roll at work the next day; that night, he tells the band what to play and says to Crook, "when I point to you, play something;" the famous "Runaway" keyboard solo results, exactly as heard on the record. "Runaway" is born, becomes a big hit at the club.


RECORDING "RUNAWAY"

"Runaway" is soon one of several songs on demo tapes given to McLaughlin in hopes of securing a second session. But only a snippet of "Runaway" has survived, having been accidentally recorded over. The little that McLaughlin hears though is enough. He has it re-recorded, brings the completed version to Balk and Micahnik, and asks them to schedule another session at Bell. They initially resist, saying "Runaway" sounds like not one song but three. McCloughlin guarantees it's a surefire hit, that they will be missing out if they don't record it. The men relent.

In the dead of winter (January, 1961), Del, Max and their wives drive 700 miles to New York in Del's rattle-trap of a car, a 1957 Plymouth. The heater is broken, the road can be seen through holes in the floorboard, the wives are in the back seat wrapped in blankets. Del smokes cigars, sticking his head out of an open window because Max is allergic to smoke.

At the session, Max befuddles studio musicians as he sets up his Musitron and other equipment (wires everywhere) and repositions the preset studio microphones; they gawk as he modifies the studio's expensive Steinway grand, jamming a guitar contact microphone onto its soundboard using a folded scrap of newsprint.

During recording, Del once again is nervous.

Recording finished, the still-unmixed song is played then and there over a phone hookup to distributors nationwide. Orders go through the roof.

Balk is not happy with Del's voice on the recording, thinks it once again sounds flat. Balk has the recording sped up to get Del on key. Del: "That doesn't even sound like me." Balk: "Del, nobody knows what the hell you sound like!"

"Runaway" is released in February of 1961; by March, the public is snatching up 80,000 copies a day.


CHARACTERS (ECCENTRIC---HUMAN AND OTHERWISE)

Peter Vice, Del's boss at the carpet store, sold poor quality carpets. When he saw disgruntled customers approaching the store, he would tell Del to deal with them, then hide under a desk. "They're after me! Don't tell them I'm here!"

Max Crook created his Musitron using, among other things, TV tubes, resistors, amplifiers and appliance parts, then camouflaged it (stripes, dials that control nothing) so no one could steal his ideas. He never drank or smoked. He always brought cookies and Kool-Aid to the Hi-Lo Club to consume during breaks, and a radio so he could listen to Detroit Tigers' games, sometimes while performing. He kept a big box of Kleenex handy and blew his nose frequently while on stage.

Irv Micahnik, once a furrier, sometimes made partial payment to studio personnel he had hired by giving them a fur. Or, on one occasion, his Cadillac.

The Hi-Lo Club was plagued with bats. Whenever they appeared, the owner's wife would chase them while wielding a pizza pan.

Del's standup bass player at the Hi-Lo Club, middle-aged L.D. Dugger, a heavy drinker, sometimes fell asleep on stage during a song; the band would shout at him to wake him up; sometimes he appeared to be asleep while playing; he always showed up with grimy hands, having worked at a tire shop all day.

The Hi-Lo Club was often the scene of fights, knifings, bottle-throwing and, at least on one occasion, chair and table-throwing. One of these fights was started by a friend Del got admitted to the club.

Rosie and the Originals (of "Angel Baby" fame) was a group on the bill when Del performed at the Broadway Paramount. Rosie would constantly spray her throat with Vicks and chew on cough drops. She tried to get Del to do the same.



CHARACTERS (FAMOUS)

Beatles. As mentioned earlier, Del meets them at the Royal Albert Hall in London in April 1963, where they are both performing. Del later flies to Florida to join them at the Deauville Hotel for the taping of their second Ed Sullivan Show appearance on February 16, 1964.

Elvis Presley. Invites Del to one of his shows in Las Vegas (August 26, 1969) which includes Elvis singing "Runaway." He announces Del's presence and asks him to stand up, not knowing where Del is seated. Del hesitates. Brian Hyland, accompanying him, stands up and shouts, "He's over here!" Elvis sends several bottles of champagne to their table. Later, he spends two hours talking with Del in his room.

Tom Petty. Big fan; produces Del's album Drop Down and Get Me (1981), on which he plays guitar and sings backup vocals. The Heartbreakers back Del up during the sessions.

Jeff Lynne. Big fan. With Mike Campbell produces Del's posthumous album Rock On (1991), completing it after Del's death. George Harrison (it has been said, though he is not credited) plays slide guitar on one song.

Peter and Gordon. Sometime during a tour ("Starlift '64") with them in Australia, Del grants them permission to record his song "I Go to Pieces" after other tour members The Searchers decline the offer. The song becomes a top 10 hit for the duo in early 1965.

Dick Clark. Del appears on American Bandstand on April 10, 1961, two months after "Runaway" is released; joins a Fall, 1964 "Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars" tour; appears periodically on Clark's daily afternoon show Where the Action Is (1965-66).

David Letterman. Del performs "Runaway" on Late Night with David Letterman. (February 10, 1987).

Nicky Hopkins, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones. Serve as studio musicians on Home and Away (1967).

Mick Jagger. Visits the studio while Home and Away is being recorded.

Dion DiMucci. Big fan, great friend. Shares dressing room with Del at the Broadway Paramount (March/April, 1961); tours England with him in 1962.

Smithereens. Big fans, especially of Del's work on Home and Away. Del sings backup on their recording of "World We Know" (1988).

Al Caiola. Moonlighting as a studio musician at Bell Studios at the time, he plays guitar during the 1961 "Runaway" session.

Brian Hyland. Moves in with Del and his family sometime in the late '60's, lives with them for two years; co-writes a number of songs with Del during that time. Del produces Hyland's #3 hit, "Gypsy Woman" and the subsequent album, plays guitar and sings backup on the album, brings in Max Crook to play keyboard on the album.

Richard Lester (A Hard Day's Night director). Directs a 1962 movie Del appears in called Ring-a-Ding Rhythm (aka It's Trad, Dad!). Other musicians in the film include Chubby Checker, Gary U.S Bonds, and Gene Vincent.

Roy Orbison. Tours England with Del in 1964; said his decision to tour there was inspired by the enthusiastic English response to Del's performance of Orbison songs while touring there.

Bob Costas. Interviews Del on Later with Bob Costas. (January 24, 1989)

Some others Del worked with or rubbed elbows with over time: Dave Edmunds, Roger Miller, Bobby Vee, Gerry Marsden (Gerry and the Pacemakers), The Animals, The Monkees, Jackie Wilson, Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart, Chuck Berry, Wolfman Jack, Murray the K, The Muppets, Soupy Sales (!).


SUNDRY ANECDOTES (some funny, some touching, some sad, some interesting)

General

While living with his parents, Del always leaves money he's earned for band jobs on the coffee table when he returns home so his father will see he gets paid for playing.

Shirley meets Del for the first time when he approaches her (drives up to her maybe?) as she is walking to work and asks her out. She turns him down. Despite initially being put-off by him ("a little pushy"), she later agrees to go out with him because, she says, he's the first one who ever sent her flowers.

Max Crook and his wife Joann are so poor they celebrate their first Thanksgiving together (1959) using an apple with toothpicks stuck in it as a turkey substitute.

During the "Runaway" recording session, Shirley and Joann go for a walk and stumble across the Beat the Clock studio. They get in. Joann, selected as a contestant, wins a suit in the dart throw.

The wives return to the studio, are asked to provide hand claps for a Max Crook recording. A man is recruited off the street and given $40 to join them.

At the end of the session, some studio musicians and engineers offer Balk money for a piece of "Runaway." He of course declines.

Nine months after the session, Joann and Shirley give birth, hours apart, on the same day.

When he is told "Runaway" is selling 80,000 copies a day, Del asks Balk: "Is that good? Does that mean I can quit the Hi-Lo Club?"

Because his real name (Charles Westover) lacks "ammunition" (Del will say later), he is told by Irv Micahnik to come up with a name more suitable for a rock star. Del combines the prospective ring name (Mark Shannon) of a Hi-Lo patron and wannabe wrestler with the name of the car--Coupe de Ville--his carpet store boss Peter Vice drives, to come up with his professional name.6

Teen idols rule the day, so Micahnik creates a fictional Del for public consumption, portraying the married 26-year-old Del, father of two, as a 21-year-old, single and available, milk drinker (Del feels himself less attractive than those same teen idols).

A month after "Runaway" is released, Del is booked to perform at the Paramount Theater on Broadway. Expecting the trappings of stardom, he is shocked to find himself assigned to an uncomfortably small dressing room that he must share with Dion DiMucci and Bobby Vee. DiMucci and Vee are playing Chinese Checkers as he enters; Del accidentally bumps the bed Vee is sitting on and marbles go flying. It's a cold night, the room has a broken window and no heat. Del is wearing red socks, red tie, baggy black pants. Dion, taken aback, shepherds Del to a tailor across the street, gets him fitted for an Italian suit with pegged pants.

Success and the attention it brings so scare Del that he sometimes wishes he was back picking strawberries.

Del performs before 100,000 people at Pontchartrain Beach in New Orleans for a WTIX appreciation show (August 31, 1961).

During his first visit to Australia in 1961, Del performs at Sydney Stadium. Teens jump up on the tall stage; security throws them off.

Del performs at the Royal Albert Hall in 1963, meets The Beatles, hears them play "From Me to You," tells them he intends to record it. John is at first enthused, but later, approaching the stage to perform, he turns around, looks at Del and says, "Don't do that!" Nonetheless Del does that a few days later.

Micahnik uses (it is said) Embee funds to cover his gambling debts. Royalty payments meant for Del don't arrive and the master tapes for a Del Shannon album to be titled Move it on Over are impounded in lieu of monies owed for studio time (the tapes somehow end up in the hands of a car dealer, who eventually throws them out).

After many months apart (see "conflicts" below) Del is forced to return to Balk and Micahnik in early 1964; he now records for a new label (Amy) and is finally allowed to play guitar on his recordings.

Del signs to perform jingles for three Pepsi commercials (1965).

Distraught over failure of his single "Move It On Over" (1965) to find chart success, Del sails a box of them, one by one, into the lake, abutting his vacation property in Cobb Lake, Michigan. The incident is witnessed by his friend Dan Bourgoise (future owner of artist-friendly Bug Records in LA). "Forget this, I want out!" Del cries.

Fulfilling his contract with Balk and Micahnik, Del is finally able to cut ties with them (early 1966). He moves to California and soon signs with Liberty Records.

Philippine fans favor many of Del's cover songs. Del doesn't know the words to many of them, so during his four 1967 performances there at Rizal Memorial Stadium (before 30,000 people a night), his wife Shirley stands in the orchestra pit holding up cue cards.

Del tours England and Australia throughout the '70's. Also tours Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Europe.

Sometime in the mid-seventies (probably the second half of 1974, while Jeff Lynne was helping Del create three singles that came to be known as "The Dead Set"7) Del, Shirley, and other members of Del's family, along with Jeff, make a trip to the desert to do some shooting with Del's .22 rifle (a new experience for the Englander Lynne). They shoot at tin cans. As they start to leave, a police helicopter descends and a number of police cars drive up. After some confusion, it turns out the group had been mistaken for heiress/would-be-revolutionary Patty Hearst and associates, who have reportedly been seen in the area.

Del joins AA in 1978, quits smoking, drugs and alcohol for good, eats healthy food, pursues fitness; becomes very active in AA, perhaps too active, to the detriment of his marriage.

Del rides what he calls a "PeeWee bike"--red and white with fat white tires and saddlebags on the side.

Del invites his son Craig to go fishing; in the boat, Craig fishes, Del plays his guitar.

Del makes a brief appearance in the 1978 movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band starring The Bee Gees and Peter Frampton.

After his 1984 divorce (see below), within two years, Del marries LeAnne Tyson, his neighbor's daughter. LeAnne is almost half Del's age.

Del tells LeAnne he would leave her if Shirley ever wants him back.



...involving conflict

Del's dad, Bert Westover, disapproves of Del's guitar playing.

Over his objections, Del is not allowed by Balk to play guitar on the early records even though Del is an accomplished guitarist; Balk favors studio musicians.

Del argues for a slow beginning to "Hats Off to Larry" instead of the fast beginning that his label (Big Top) insists on. After two hours of discussion, Del finally wins out.

Near the end of April 1961, Del is invited to speak to students at his old high school about his success but not allowed to perform (authorities fear his music will make the students go wild). Coopersville's mayor is scheduled to award Del the key to the city but doesn't show up. Having not been allowed to play at his old school, Del performs an impromptu concert on the back of a flatbed truck on Main Street.

Del falls out with Balk/Micahnik over royalties (he receives just two per cent, one percent for international sales), late payments and the loss of the Move It on Over master tapes; leaves while still under contract, sues; Micahnik has Shannon blackballed in the industry to prevent him from signing with another label.

Several months after leaving Balk and Micahnik in the late summer of 1963, his lawsuit having failed and his start-up label having distribution difficulties, Del returns to the pair to finish out his contract. They have moved on from Bigtop and Del now records for Amy.

While producing Del's Drop Down and Get Me album in 1981, good friend Tom Petty hijacks Del's bass player Howie Epstein for The Heartbreakers, over Del's heated objections ("Del, I love you, but I'm taking Howie."). In a later interview Petty says: "And he got over it. Sort of." They remain friends.

Shirley demands a divorce in 1984 after 31 years of marriage, says she couldn't bear the strain of the marriage any more. They remain friends, talk regularly on the phone.


...involving race

Shannon says he patterned his falsetto after Bill Kenny of the Ink Spots.

African-American producer Ollie McLaughlin (who was instrumental in helping Del early on), for his own safety, visits the Hi-Lo Club only during off hours because he would be killed (Del says in a later interview) by the all-white clientele if he entered the club while open.

Del writes "I Go to Pieces" as an R&B number for a local black musician (Lloyd Brown) that Del is trying to promote; shops a demo of "Pieces" as done by Brown in 1964 to Mercury, Chess, and many other labels, but fails to get the artist signed. Brown is upset when Del gives the song to Peter and Gordon.

Del's songwriting partner for a time (1962-64) is Maron McKenzie, a black songwriter employed at the time by Shannon's label (Bigtop). Among the songs they share writing credits for: "Little Town Flirt," and the UK hits "Two Silhouettes," "Two Kinds of Teardrops," and "Kelly."

Del's manager Harry Balk grows up in a black neighborhood; is so greatly affected by the culture around him the men there begin calling him "a brother turned inside out." Balk visits black clubs where he develops a passion for the music played in them; owns a movie theater where he books black acts twice a week. With Irv Micahnik he opens Talent Artists, Inc.; early clients include Little Willie John, Jackie Wilson, Don and Juan. Berry Gordy Jr. later says Balk is "one of the few white guys in Detroit who knows something about black music." Balk has his own table at Detroit's famous Flame Show Bar. Eventually, he becomes an executive at Motown Records and discovers Motown's biggest white act, Rare Earth.


...containing foreshadowing

"It was almost scary. It was exciting because I remember the energy that went into the song, but at the same time it made me feel sad. I think I knew then that I would lose my husband to the music." (Shirley Westover, having been witness to the recording of "Runaway")

Del's last performance is for a Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, The Big Bopper Memorial event in 1989 at the Civic Center in Fargo, ND on the same date (February 3) thirty years earlier that the three men died in a plane crash; their plane had been scheduled to land in Fargo. Five days later, Del commits suicide.

Shortly before his death (perhaps on the same night of his death), Del records a rudimentary demo for a song containing the following words: "songwriter, pick up your pen/give me the words/so I can live again."


...about Del the person

"He sang country songs to us and we clapped and smiled back. He said maybe someday we'd all hear him on the radio. We laughed and so did he... Between songs the kid from Coopersville talked to every one of us kids. He was a very nice guy and in an orphanage you appreciate a pat on the shoulder and kind words." (Stan Woodard on a visit Charles Westover, "barely a teenager," made to Muskegon Children's Home when Stan was five. Later, during his Army time in Germany, Del and Shirley sponsored children at the Stuttgart orphanage.)

"Chuck was very generous. When he was with AA, he'd always leave food baskets on porches--you know, knock and run. He'd put a $100 bill in people's cars while they were inside at a meeting." (Shirley Westover)

"He had a childlike innocence unlike anyone I'd ever seen... He reached out to friends and strangers alike, taking a genuine interest in their well-being. But the flip side of sensitivity is vulnerability, something he knew only too well." (Dawn Eden)


DEL ON DEL

"I usually write when I'm in a great place. When I'm depressed, I don't usually write. So I take all of when I'm depressed and throw it into when I'm feeling good. Weird, I guess."

"I was an outcast growing up with a bunch of Christian people. My father didn't go to church, and that was not good news if you lived right in the middle of it."

"Nobody thinks mystery writers go around killing people, but they always seem to assume singers are singing about themselves, especially if you write melancholy songs like me."

"Maybe if he [his dad] hadn`t said 'get that guitar outta here,' I wouldn`t have been interested in playing. Maybe instead I'd be driving a truck."

"This business will eat you up. If it becomes your love and you don't have humans to love, I think you're in a lot of trouble."

"I think everybody wants to run away."



CODA

The only in-depth biography of Del Shannon is that of the DeWitt brothers (see "sources" below). However, confidence in the book's accuracy is undermined, for me, by its glaring flaws: it is poorly written, poorly organized, and appears to have been edited or proofread poorly or not at all. Typos, misspellings, grammatical errors abound, sometimes laughably ("Benmont Stench" for Benmont Tench; "Peter Gun" and later, "Peter Gunne'' for the song "Peter Gunn;" "Rober Miller" for Roger Miller). It contradicts itself more than once and uses the word "inordinate" inordinately. It was published by an educational publisher and even includes worksheets at the end. So I made only minimal use of it in parts I and II.8

And yet, it appears to have been very heavily researched, judging by the roughly 14 pages of bibliographical material written in paragraph style scattered throughout the book (sometimes called ''bibliographical resources," at other times "bibliographical essay''--I couldn't tell the difference between them) along with a six-and-one-half page "bibliographical essay" following the epilogue (there is some repetition among these I'm sure, but still). Contained in this material are the names of around 111 interviewees (by my count) plus some "anonymous sources," located in various states as well as England and Germany, and mostly interviewed, apparently, in person. Among the listed interviewees are a number of iconic performers (e.g., Solomon Burke, Ike Turner, Etta James, Muddy Waters, etc.) along with some other well-known personalities. All of which is to say, perhaps I've been too harsh in my judgment of the authors, at least as far as the informational value of the book goes. At any rate, here are some tidbits from the DeWitt brothers not found in my other sources:

Harry Balk is pleased with the final cut of "Runaway; " he calls Del and Ollie McLaughlin to his office; they enter his office and see Harry smoking a cigar, three glasses and a bottle of champagne in view. Harry, smiling, says, "Well guys, sit down and listen to a number one hit." He plays "Runaway" on a tape recorder. Del smiles and starts clapping, saying, "You're right Harry, we got ourselves a hit!" Del breaks down, is on the verge of tears.

Del returns to Battle Creek in the fall of '62 and enters the Hi-Lo Club wearing a flashy suit and smoking a big cigar. Despite the crowd's urging, he refuses to get on the stage and perform until 1:15 AM.

Del spends an entire day with the staff of 16 magazine for an article to be published in January 1962. Gloria Stavers, editor of the magazine, makes a pass at Del, tells him her magazine could give a big boost to his career. Del laughs this off.

To save money, Balk and Micahnik use a pay phone in the hall outside their office as their business phone.

Micahnik funnels payola money to off-shore UK pirate radio to promote "Runaway" in England.

Micahnik takes a Rochester, NY disc jockey to dinner, pays him to make sure he plays Del's third single, "So Long Baby."

John Lennon tells people (journalists, friends) that while writing music, he listens to Del Shannon songs.

Del and The Beatles meet on April 14, 1963 during a taping of the English TV show Thank Your Lucky Stars; Del and the boys later hang out together in a bar.

Del appears with Chuck Berry in a show promoted by Brian Epstein at London's Saville Theater during a January-February 1967 tour. The Beatles and The Stones are in the audience.

(All in all, the DeWitts' portray the relationship between Del and The Beatles, especially John Lennon, as being much closer and long-lasting than Del himself or any of the other sources listed below indicate, even devoting an entire chapter to it--another thing that gives me pause about the book. Of course, it could be that Del wanted to keep their relationship private out of consideration for The Beatles or wanted not to appear to be trying to ride their coattails. It has, in fact, been reported elsewhere that Del had in his possession many pictures of The Beatles and him together. And, as mentioned earlier, he did once fly to Florida to join them.)

Gerry Marsden uses a fake telegram to trick Del into coming out of his hotel room in his shorts; Del, now wearing his bathrobe, joins Gerry, along with The Pacemakers, in the hotel bar. This begins a close friendship, with Marsden later claiming, in the Dewitts' words, that Del's records were like "an instruction manual for fledgling British bands."9

Del records a jazz album during the Amy years (mid '60's) with the working title: Del Shannon Sings and Plays Jazz.10 It mysteriously disappears, never seeing the light of day.

After moving to Los Angeles in late 1965, Del spends an "inordinate" (that word!) amount of time watching the Batman TV show, thinks about writing music for television.

Del calls his home studio in Northridge, California "The Mole Hole" because it is in a garage with no windows; he calls the tree outside his studio "the pee tree," for reasons you can guess.

Tim Rice (Andrew Lloyd Webber collaborator) comes to Del's Northridge house for dinner; Shirley makes a trip to the grocery store in Rice's limousine.

Del's mother loves to ride on the back of his motorcycle as he drives it through the desert.

With the money he received for signing with Liberty Records in 1966, Del buys a small mountain near Los Angeles; on the mountain road, he puts up a sign saying "Ghost Road;" he goes there often for inspiration.

During a 1967 promotional event in England for Del's version of "She" (soon to be a hit for the Monkees) Andrew Loog Oldham unexpectedly shows up and offers to produce a Del Shannon album, then invites Del and Dan Bourgoise into his Rolls Royce and plays the Beatles "Penny Lane" for them before its release.

Del travels to the Philippines in 1967; 20,000 people greet him at the airport; Imelda Marcos meets him backstage where she asks him to sign three albums; she soon has a picture of them together hanging in her apartment; Ferdinand Marcos sends Del a letter of welcome. By the end of the tour, Del has performed before 250,000 fans.11

During a tour in the early 1970's, sponsored by Holiday Inn, venues supply Del's backup bands. One night he is forced to perform with a polka band (Jimmy Sturr & His Orchestra) backing him.

Del stumbles across two suicides in his life--one at a beach in Wales (1969) and one in the desert (mid-1970's, presumably the desert near his home where Del likes to ride his motorcycle).

After his February 8, 1990 suicide, Del's body is cremated. Del's second wife LeAnne drives to Max Crook's house in the desert, scatters Del's ashes in Crook's driveway (I'm guessing what's meant is she scatters them in the desert near the driveway, perhaps while she's standing in the driveway) and rides off with Crook and his wife watching from their doorway. Last scene of the movie perhaps?

Finally, there's the strange case of history professor Maury Dean. Dean claims in Rock 'n' Roll Gold Rush that Del was a Beatle for one day, substituting for George Harrison who was too sick to perform, and that afterword it was "alleged" that there was talk of replacing George with Del permanently, a suggestion that John Lennon quashed because, he said, "George is our old friend." Ridiculous, yes? If true, how could this not be common knowledge? But, as noted, Dean is an academic historian. And the author of a number of books, one of which, The Rock Revolution, is in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and The Smithsonian. As I said, strange. Oh, and by the way, Dean also claims that Elvis considered "Runaway" "the greatest rock and roll song ever written" and the only song he wished he'd been the first one to record.


FOOTNOTES:

1. One time he was so drunk, Del will recall in an interview, he laid his guitar down in a roadway and it was run over by a bus. "Lucky it was the guitar and not me!"

2. Not surprisingly, there are sometimes two or more versions of the events described in these lists. In each instance, I have only recorded the one I considered to be most engaging for modern moviegoers (common practice, I would imagine, in most "true story" films).

3. The +4 represents singles by other artists Shannon wrote, produced or arranged.

4. Charles Westover being Del Shannon's real name.

5. Rock Hall Projected voters are readers of the website futurerocklegends.com. The site began this project to provide a voice to those who may disagree with official Rock Hall of Fame choices or non-choices. A "spin-off" project ranks inductees and "additional ranked performers." Shannon comes in at #272 among 500 listed artists.

6. Surprisingly, every source I used that mentions this account passed it by without comment until finally, Maury Dean in Rock 'n' Roll Gold Rush put it this way: "Well, he changed his name to Del (somehow from Cadillac's Coup de Ville)."

7. Referencing the titles: "Alive But I'm Dead," "Deadly Game," "Distant Ghost."

8. You might be inclined to think this is a vanity press book. It is not--it's a custom, or niche press book that claims to have had co-editors. You might also be inclined to think this book is not worth reading. I think it is, actually, and not just for fun--if you can keep it together while being jostled around by all the potholes.

9. No date is given, but in all likelihood this occurred during an October-November tour of England in 1963.

10. This is reported as a rumor by the DeWitts, though they say that "some former executives at Amy remember such a project." Also, in an interview with DISC in 1962, Del says he loves jazz and has completed a jazz album- obviously, the dates don't match up as Del was recording for Bigtop at that time.

11. The book says he performed four nights before sold out crowds of 35,000 people a night. Then immediately, without mentioning any other performances, makes the 250,000 people claim. Doesn't add up, does it?



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