Charles Westover, better known by his professional name Del Shannon, was born December 30, 1934, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He played in his first band, The Cool Flames, while serving in the U.S. military during 1954. Upon his discharge, he played in a number of local groups. In 1959, he formed a musical relationship with songwriter and keyboardist Max Crook, who played a musitron, which was a very early and primitive synthesizer type of instrument.
He signed with the Big Top label in 1960 and his first single release would become one of the biggest hits of the year, and one of the most memorable of the early 1960s.
“Runaway” was early rock ‘n’ roll at its best. It used the musitron as the lead instrument as Shannon vocally powered through the song. It would top the American singles charts for four weeks, 50 years ago. He would release his second-biggest hit, “Hats Off To Larry,” three months later; he would go on to have 16 chart releases, 1961-1966.
Shannon’s commercial success would come to an end in 1966 and he would virtually disappear from the music scene. He began a comeback during late 1981 when he released an album produced by Tom Petty, who with his Heartbreakers backed him in the studio. His “Sea Of Love” single reached the American Top 40 during early 1982. The career of Del Shannon would come to an abrupt end February 8, 1990 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Shannon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. “Runaway” remains a recognizable song a half century after its release. Rolling Stone named it as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. “Runaway” was Del Shannon’s most memorable achievement, and 50 years ago this week it ruled the music world.