Del Shannon was born Charles Weedon Westover in Coopersville, Michigan, on 30 December 1934, and began singing during his Army service.
Following his discharge, he moved to Battle Creek in Michigan where he held down a daytime job selling carpets while he worked at night in a nightclub, working under the name Charlie Johnson and the Big Little Show Band.
A local WGRV DJ heard Westover’s work and introduced him to industry contacts, resulting in a recording deal with Big Top Records.
Now known as Del Shannon (the first name taken from the owner of the carpet store where he worked) he was shipped to New York to record – with disappointing results.
Deciding he could do no worse, he worked with pianist Max Crook on some original material. Within three hours they had formulated the idea for Runaway (including the instrumental break played on a musitron – an early forerunner of the synth), and others including Jodie (its future flipside).
Runaway was released as a single in America and sold a million copies on its way to the top of the charts in April 1961. Hats Off To Larry was issued in August 1961. A clone of the previous chart-topper, it soared to #5 in the US.
Early in 1962, Hey! Little Girl became a #2 British hit after an abysmal American showing in the Top 40. This was followed by minor hit Cry Myself To Sleep, one of several tracks recorded in Nashville with backup support from The Jordanaires.
This was a mere hiccup; when another track from those sessions was issued – Swiss Maid – it returned him to #2 in the UK (with a poorer showing in the American Top 70).
Del Shannon’s first single of 1963 was Little Town Flirt which, once again, was a bigger hit in Britain (#4) than in America (#12).
His second single of the year – Two Kinds of Teardrops – reached the UK Top Five, but only managed the Top 50 in his home country.
It was at this time that Shannon told the Fab Four he intended to record a cover version of their song From Me To You.
Despite objection from John Lennon, who realised Shannon could deny them an American hit, Shannon went ahead and recorded the song in London prior to returning to the States.
His version was released simultaneously with The Beatles‘ original, holding off their American chart entry for six months. Hence, Del Shannon was the first artist to chart a Lennon/McCartney composition in America.
Shannon – who suffered from extreme mood swings all his life – admitted at this point in his career that he had a tough time coping with his success and his fear almost crippled him. He turned to alcohol.
His career plodded on but by 1969 Shannon had all but given up and was concentrating instead on producing other artists like Brian Hyland. He returned to the studio during the late 70s/early 80s but with little success.
He went on to earn a living performing on the lucrative nostalgia packages that toured Britain and America – but that wasn’t enough. Del Shannon was unable to accept the role he now played as a ‘golden oldie’.
Shannon’s first wife, his high school sweetheart Shirley, walked out on him in 1984 after more than 30 years of marriage. Although he re-married, he never really recovered from the failure of his first marriage.
At the height of his depression, he shot himself in the head with a .22 calibre rifle at his Santa Clarita home in California on 8 February 1990. The 55-year-old was discovered by his wife, Bonnie.