Del Shannon’s real name is Charles Weedon Westover and he was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan which is just 60 miles from where I was born, Battle Creek. In fact, when he got out of the Army, he went to Battle Creek to work. This would have been about 1956 and I was just entering high school. He got a job working in a furniture factory, but in his spare time, he played with a local group called “The Midnight Ramblers.” While I do not remember the group, I do remember the club where they played, the Hi-Lo Club in Battle Creek. (Except I was too young to actually go there.)
The band gained some popularity and eventually caught the eye of a record company, Bigtop Records. Their offices were in New York City, so Westover and his band cut some demos and sent them in. A fellow at Bigtop heard the demos, liked what he heard and offered them a contract. He suggested that Westover change his name for professional reasons, so they took Shannon from a wrestler pseudonym who frequented the Hi-Lo Club and the Del part was taken from the automobile, the Cadillac Coupe de Ville. He was now officially Del Shannon.
Their first time recording session was a total failure and they didn’t come up with anything they thought was good enough to release. Then a manager at Bigtop remembered a song that Del Shannon and his keyboardist Max Crook wrote called “Little Runaway.” They modified a few words, including the title and “Runaway” was born. It was Del’s first record and it was his first number one. Unfortunately, it was also his last. While he continued to chart through 1965, he never had another number one.
One note which I find interesting is that Del Shannon charted with a John Lennon-Paul McCartney song before the Beatles were even known in the United States. He was the first person to do so. While on a trip to London, Del met John and Paul and heard the song “From Me to You.” This was a year before the Beatles would invade the United States. He asked John if he could record the song and John told him “No.” Before he left London,, Del recorded it anyway and it charted at number 77 on the pop chart in the United States. This was June of 1963, eight months before the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and changed American music forever.
“Runaway” debuted on the pop chart on March 27, 1961 and spent four weeks at number one.