Who was/is Del Shannon ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
Del Shannon was born Charles Weedon Westover on December 30, 1934 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The son of Bert and Leone, his family lived in nearby Coopersville, a small and rural farming community just outside Grand Rapids. There, he would learn to play ukulele from his mother and grow up the oldest of three children. He had two sisters, Blanche and Ruth Anne.
Young Westover grew up listening to country and western music. His favorite artists included Hank Williams, Hank Snow, and Lefty Frizzell. The Ink Spots were also among his favorites, and he claims he learned falsetto from songs like We Three. Charles Westover bought his first acoustic guitar for $5.00. His fingers bled from it. He had no pick, just pieces of cardboard and dreams. At the age of 14, he walked to the Coopersville train station to await the arrival of his first new Sears and Roebuck guitar. He was proud of it, played it everywhere. "His guitar was his crutch," explained Russell Conran, his former high school principal. "Charles played his guitar everywhere he went, at football games, in class, in the hallways, at noon hour, everywhere. I finally had to allow him time to play in the boy's locker room, so that he wouldn't distract his fellow classmates."
"That's where I learned all about 'bathroom acoustics'," Westover (by then Del Shannon) recalled in an interview with Dick Clark on 'Rock, Roll, and Remember.' "I would get this great echo sound. Later, when I bought an electric guitar and amp, I would set the amp on the toilet seat and play in bathrooms for hours and hours, just to get a great sound. You know, from bouncing off the bathroom tile."
Westover was a small man, about 5-foot-six and 140 pounds. In high school, he was too small to play football, and if you couldn't play football in Coopersville, you didn't amount to much. Westover was the waterboy, who brought his guitar to the games to entertain. Young Charles was never quite popular with the girls in school. One day he asked a girl named Karen if she would go to the senior prom with him. She said yes. Two weeks later, as the prom drew nearer, she dumped Westover for another boy, one of Charles' rivals. This put Westover in a huge depression he seemingly never recovered from, for many of the songs he would write later in his adult life would result from his feelings of early loss, hurt, and betrayal.
One day Charles Westover met Shirley Nash, a local Michigan girl. She came from a big family, six brothers and six sisters. Shirley first met Charles at the Coopersville theatre, where they were all catching a film with his friend Sonny Marshall. In 1954, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. "Jobs were hard to come by anyway," Shirley remembers. "Chuck picked strawberries in the fields of Coopersville, and later drove a delivery truck selling flowers. We met at the theatre on Main Street in Coopersville. We spent a stint in Fort Knox, Kentucky, followed by a three year tour in Stuttgart, Germany." In Germany, Westover joined the Army's 'Get Up and Go' radio program, and played guitar in a band called the Cool Flames. Standards of the day were the usual set list. Westover won a best musician award, not for his singing ability, but for his guitar playing. At Christmas time, the Westovers attended a holiday party at the Stuttgart orphanage, where they sponsored orphan children. This was an early sign of Westover's compassionate side.
When his army service ended, Charles returned to Michigan with Shirley, settling down in Battle Creek, a town best known for its production of cereals, including Kellogg's and Post. Westover worked at Brunswick Furniture hammering feet onto chairs as a production line worker. It bored the hell out of him. He soon graduated to lift truck driver but that bored him too. In 1958, he found a job by day selling carpets, working at the Carpet Outlet for a man named Peter Vice. By night, he found a part-time job moonlighting at a dumpy bar called the Hi-Lo Club. He was hired as a guitar player by then front-man Doug DeMott, who had organized a group called the Midnight Ramblers. DeMott was a heavy drinker who had managed to release two failing singles, I'm Stepping Out Tonight b/w My Lonely Prayer in 1956 for Excellent Records, followed by Fingers On Fire/Upside Down Boogie. Neither made a dent in sales or airplay.
The Midnight Ramblers consisted of DeMott as lead singer and lead guitarist, Charles Westover as rhythm guitarist, and Loren Dugger as bass player. DeMott was a good mentor for young Westover. He gave him the chance to sing a few songs on stage, play lead, and encouraged him to write songs. DeMott was soon fired by the Hi-Lo Club's manager, Larry Gilbert, who hired Westover as the new front man of the club band. Westover gave himself the stage name Charlie Johnson and dubbed the new band the Big Little Show Band.
Westover made many friends as a guitarist and drinker at the Hi-Lo Club. Wes Kilbourne was a club regular and worked with Westover at Brunswick. He played guitar but wasn't part of the band. He was part of the crowd however, and they would sing, play, and drink into the wee hours. Charlie Marsh, Battle Creek disc jockey extraordinaire, attended nights at the Hi-Lo frequently looking for talent. Marsh became Westover's first manager. "I'm forgotten in the Del Shannon history," says Marsh, "basically because I never did anything for him. I shopped demo tapes for him just like Ollie (McLaughlin) did, but Ollie was the one that got him the recording contract."
Del Shannon Home And Away 1960-70 (8-CD)
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