[I have a long, rich, and complicated history with Del Shannon. Doesn’t sound possible, does it? I will publish it in pieces this week. By the way, did you know that he wrote I Go to Pieces? Most people, most normal people, that is, say just one word when you mention Del Shannon … “Runaway.” This week I will explore the Man, the Myth, the Legend that is the story of Del. SB SM]
[I’m not sure quite how to cite and credit this. It is posted on what appears to be a Facebook page called Vinyl Record Memories. Who knows how it came to my attention? Oh yeah, it was posted by SB Dave Larkin (Legal Beagle SBs) SB SM]
According to several sources, “Runaway” by Del Shannon (b. Charles Weedon Westover in Grand Rapids, MI) was released on Feb. 18, 1961.
For the back story, the following is from an article published on all-about-vinylrecords.com
A look back on the classic Del Shannon Runaway story. Few songs in popular music are so enduring and haunting as the 1961 No. 1 hit, “Runaway.” Written by Del Shannon and his keyboardist, Max Crook, it outlines in tear-streaked detail a guy who’s lost his girl.
Was this song written on the basis of a high school experience where he was dumped by his prom date for his rival? I believe the words in the song “Runaway” nudges that experience in the opening line.
“As I walk along I wonder/What went wrong,” he begins the song and refers to a time when he was young.
The uncertainty of the opening line is soon replaced with gloom and despair as he sings, “I’m a-walkin’ in the rain / Tears are falling, and I feel the pain / Wishing you were here by me / To end this misery.”
The girl, of course, has left him and years later may have been the basis for the song, and those classic Del Shannon Runaway vinyl record memories.
After a stint in the Army, which saw him play in a band called the Cool Flames, the Westover’s settled in Battle Creek.
He worked at Brunswick furniture store as a line worker during the day. At night he played guitar for a small group at a dingy smoked-filled Art Deco lounge called the Hi-Lo Club.
Max Crook later said “It was the kind of place roughnecks felt comfortable in.”
Soon, Chuck Westover was the group’s singer and leader. He called himself Charlie Johnson and renamed the group the Big Little Show Band.
In 1959, Max Crook, a young keyboardist who had formed a band while attending college in Kalamazoo, came aboard, setting up on stage an odd-looking homemade machine he dubbed the “Musitron.”
It was a very early version of the synthesizer and produced some wonderfully futuristic electronic sounds.
One night, Del and his band caught the attention of Ann Arbor deejay and independent record producer Ollie McLaughlin.
He recommended them to a Detroit management team, Irving Micahnik and Harry Balk, who were with Talent Artists in Detroit.
Westover and Crook were signed to New York’s Big Top label in July 1960. This was about the time Westover was asked to change his name to something more dynamic and came up with Del Shannon.
“Del Shannon” would always be only his stage name; his legal name would remain the same.
Nothing that Shannon recorded in New York caused any excitement, and he soon returned to playing in Battle Creek.
McLaughlin suggested that Shannon re-work one of his earlier songs, “Little Runaway,” and somehow use Crook’s Musitron as a lead-in.
Shannon later recalled how that strategy came about. He and Max were on stage practicing and Max was playing some weird chord changes on his Musitron.
Shannon thought it was a great sound and told Max to keep playing it.
After about 15 minutes of playing the unusual chord change over and over, the irritated club manager shouted out, “Knock it off — play something else.”
Shannon, inspired, wrote some lyrics the next day at the furniture store. That night, he went back to the club and told Max to play an instrumental on his Musitron for the middle part.
Crook used his invention to turn his riff into the spooky, unsettling music hook of “Runaway.”
“When Max played that solo,” Shannon said, “We had Runaway.”
Del and his band played “Runaway” at the Hi-Lo for three months before his managers finally sent him back to New York to record the single.
There were three songs recorded during a three-hour session at Bell Sound studios in New York in January 1961.
“Runaway” was released and the orders started pouring in. A station in Florida began playing the song and a huge record order from one vendor was a positive sign of a hit record in the making.
Dick Clark scheduled Shannon for an appearance on “American Bandstand” and the orders ignited, selling as many as 80,000 records per day. Runaway hit No.1 in late April and stayed there for a month.
The instant fame was a shock to Shannon and he was overwhelmed by the attention. Shannon said the fear was so great he just wanted to go back to Coopersville and pick strawberries.
Thanks to the success of “Runaway,” Shannon was able to move his young family into a new home in Southfield.
Shannon wrote or co-wrote much of his own material, which was unusual for a rock performer back then.
[Poor Del had to culminate every live performance for the rest of his life with Runaway. Tomorrow you will learn about the origins of the special relationship I had with Del.]