“Every time I make believe it hurts more and more.
There was a time I couldn’t see, now I know for sure.
I know that I can’t help it if it hurts you when I say goodbye.
Don’t know why it has to be the way it is, I tried and I tried…”
Many artists who had hits in the 1950’s suffered a cruel fate, in that time left them behind after the British Invasion. The then-new sounds in the 1960’s left rockabilly and soul crooners in the musical dustbin before their time as creative forces were through. Many were relegated to the oldies tour revues and forgotten by the baby boomer generation who eschewed all trends that reflected a by gone era. The story of Del Shannon has been echoed by artists in all genres, and his seems the most tragic due to his true talent and spirit.
Del Shannon, born Charles Westover, is known through his biggest hit, 1961’s self penned ‘Runaway’. Defined by an unearthly falsetto and keyboardist Max Crook’s spooky riffs played on his homemade instrument the Musitron, the song was instant hit and classic. Follow up hits ‘Hats Off to Larry’ and ‘So Long Baby’ charted, but his brand of music was soon branded old fashioned and he recorded sporadically through the next two decades. It was acolyte Tom Petty who attempted on several occasions to revive Del Shannon’s career. He produced the album “Drop Down and Get Me” in 1980, which had his Heartbreaker’s backing the legend to solid results. The songs were a mix of originals and cover versions, but quickly dropped from view. During these fallow periods, Del Shannon was consistently beset by personal demons that ultimately became his downfall.
Like Roy Orbison, Del Shannon was contacted by uber producer Jeff Lynne to work on an album project in the late 1980’s. Lynne had produced and worked with both George Harrison and Tom Petty on their recent solo smashes and most in the music industry would agree that collaboration would be worthwhile. Most of the artists involved with Lynne ended up a part of the Traveling Wilbury’s project, which yielded a massively successful debut LP with two hit singles. Del Shannon moved forward with his solo project, which had Lynne and Petty writing and producing, but failed to be a part of the Wilbury project. Before the album’s release in 1990, Shannon committed suicide. It was a true loss to the musical community but Lynne and Petty put out the posthumous release later that year.
The album was acclaimed and yielded some great tracks including ‘Walk Away’, a song harkening back to his rockabilly roots while integrating new production techniques and masterful musicianship. The song should have been a massive hit for Del, and it is a must hear for any fan of ‘Runaway’ or his early work. His trademark vocals are haunting and moving, falsetto intact with talent to spare. His passing resounds each year while his catalog is reissued for music fans to enjoy.