Del Shannon Rocks On

On February 8, 1990, Del Shannon died after shooting himself in the head with a .22 caliber rifle. Shannon, who had long struggled with depression, left no suicide note for his wife and children. But he left us some great music.

The singer, whose birth name was Charles Westover, is best-known for his 1961 hit “Little Runaway.” Here he is singing the song in 1973 on The Midnight Special TV show.

Shannon had some other hits with songs like “Hats Off To Larry,” “Little Town Flirt,” and “Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow The Sun).” Below is “Hats Off To Larry.”

But by the time the 1970s and the 1980s arrived, Shannon’s music career was not going well.  He spent much of the 1970s battling alcoholism.

Other musicians such as the Beatles and Tom Petty admired Shannon’s music. And despite the lack of another big hit, Shannon continued to work.

He finally became sober in 1978.  He even scored a top 40 song in the early 1980s with a cover of “Sea of Love,” which appeared on the Petty-produced album Drop Down and Get Me (1981).

Below, Shannon performs “Sea of Love” on the TV show Solid Gold in January 1982.

Around the time of his death in 1990, Shannon was on the verge of a comeback.  He was preparing to release a new album called Rock On.

Also, it is rumored that Shannon was being considered to replace the late Roy Orbison in The Traveling Wilburys. Listening to his voice from that time, one can easily imagine him fitting into that group. But it was not to be.

The posthumous album Rock On was released on October 1, 1991 and received good reviews. Jeff Lynne (of ELO) and Mike Campbell (of Tom Petty’s The Heartbreakers) worked on the production of the album, so your enjoyment may depend on how much you like Lynne’s production sound at the time.

But it is worth checking out Rock On, which reveals that Del Shannon still had great talent to share with the world. Below is “Lost in a Memory,” which like most of the songs on the album was written by Del Shannon. I love it.

The Traveling Wilburys later covered “Runaway” in tribute to Shannon. And in 1999, Del Shannon was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Rock on.

What is your favorite Del Shannon song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • Marty Stuart Takes Us “Way Out West”
  • Got My Mind Set on George Harrison
  • Bob Dylan and George Harrison: “Time Passes Slowly”
  • Where is Tom Petty’s Kings Highway?