Inductee: Del Shannon (vocals, guitar; born December 30, 1934; died February 8, 1990)
Del Shannon is a key figure in rock and roll’s transition from the Fifties to Sixties, serving as something of a link between Elvis and the Beatles. He was among the relatively few self-reliant rock and rollers of the Teen Idol era. He wrote his own material, played guitar and sang, and did not project a manufactured image. Shannon turned out a solid run of hits during the first half of the Sixties, including one bonafide classic ("Runaway") and seven more Top Forty singles. He also gave and received influence from the up-and-coming bands of the British Invasion, including the Beatles.
An early fan of Hank Williams, Shannon (who was born Charles Westover) picked up the guitar in his pre-teen years. After serving in the army in Germany, he returned home and formed his first band, the Midnight Ramblers, who became regulars at the Hi-Lo Club in Battle Creek, Michigan. It was here that Shannon worked up his first and most famous hit, “Runaway.” This minor-keyed classic from 1961-which occupied the #1 spot for four weeks and has been covered by more than 200 artists-possessed two distinctive qualities that became signatures of Shannon’s sound: his frequent use of a forceful falsetto and bandmate/cowriter Max Crook’s solo on the “musitron,” a high-pitched electric organ. “Runaway” made an overnight star of Shannon, who suddenly found himself performing on package tours with the likes of Jackie Wilson and Dion.
Shannon followed “Runaway” with pop-rockers like “Hats Off to Larry” (Number Five), “Little Town Flirt” (which influenced Britain’s Merseybeat bands) and inspired covers of “Handy Man” and “Do You Wanna Dance.” He also rates a footnote in Beatles history by virtue of having cut “From Me To You” in 1963. This made him the first American artist to record and chart a Lennon-McCartney tune in the U.S. Shannon’s version of “From Me to You” reached #77 in Billboard in the summer of 1963-fully half a year before the Beatles’ own American chart debut with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Shannon learned the song while touring England with the Beatles. In a reversal of that formula, the British pop duo Peter and Gordon scored a Top Ten hit with Shannon’s “I Go to Pieces,” which they learned from him while touring Australia in early 1965.
Two more chart singles-"Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow the Sun)” and “Stranger in Town"-came in 1964. Each bore a haunted, minor-key aura that was Shannon’s unmistakable signature-and perhaps symptomatic of the depression that would trouble him throughout his life. Shannon’s career cooled off as musical tastes changed in the latter half of the Sixties. In 1967 he recorded with the Rolling Stones’ producer, Andrew Loog Oldham, but the material was deemed too progressive by his record label and went unreleased for decades until its inclusion on a 1991 compilation CD, Del Shannon: The Liberty Years. Turning to production himself, Shannon cut a hit single, "Gypsy Woman," for Brian Hyland.
With assistance from fans and fellow musicians like Jeff Lynne, Dave Edmunds and Tom Petty, Shannon recorded sporadically in the Seventies and Eighties. The Petty-produced Drop Down and Get Me (1981) yielded a Top Forty hit-Shannon’s first since 1965-with his cover of Phil Phillips’ “Sea of Love.” After working steadily on the oldies circuit, Shannon recorded Rock On!, with musical accompaniment by Petty and the Heartbreakers, among others. With the album nearly completed, Shannon-who’d suffered bouts of depression and alcoholism dating back to the Sixties-committed suicide in 1990.