Inside the Boyhood Home of Rock Legend Del Shannon: Coopersville, Michigan
One of the most revered and respected rock musicians of all time came from the town of Coopersville, Michigan. He was born in 1934 as Charles Weedon Westover, but made his fame and fortune under the stage name ‘Del Shannon’.
I had the honor of meeting him – as he was always one of my favorites – in the 1980s, but the meet didn’t go as well as I hoped. I’ll tell you more about that after this brief bio…
Del started out playing the ukulele as a kid and switched to guitar when he was fourteen. After a stint in the army, he joined a band and changed his name to ‘Del Shannon’, derived from amateur wrestler Mark Shannon and a mashup of the automobile Coup de Ville. A local disc jockey heard him perform and got Del signed up with EmBee Records, who released his first single, “Runaway” in 1961. It zoomed all the way to #1, making him basically an overnight success.
The hits kept being cranked out: “Hats Off To Larry,” “Handy Man”, “Little Town Flirt”, “Keep Searchin’” and a good many others…with one in particular…
That single was his cover of The Beatles song: ”From Me To You”, which made Del the first American to record a Lennon-McCartney song. It was released in June 1963, a good six months before America had even heard of The Beatles.
Other songs Del wrote became hits for others, such as “Gypsy Woman” for Brian Hyland and “I Go To Pieces” by Peter & Gordon. His career got a good adrenaline shot in 1986 when his re-recording of “Runaway” was used for TV’s “Crime Story” program, bringing Del to the limelight once more and appearing on late night talk shows, like David Letterman among others.
Del’s last album, “Rock On”, was recorded with backup from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and was almost completed when he died on February 8, 1990. Fatally shot. Some reports say he shot himself, others believe he was murdered. Even though Del suffered from depression and alcohol, he was on an incredible upswing. Roy Orbison had passed away, and Del was all set to replace him in The Traveling Wilburys, a super-group that included George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and ELO’s Jeff Lynne. With this amazing opportunity, why would he do himself in? That’s the question asked by those who find his passing little odd.
Now – about the time I met Del Shannon:
In the mid-1980s I was co-hosting a Rock n’ Roll show in Battle Creek, with guests Chubby Checker, Lou Christie, The Angels, Johnny Tillotson, and Del Shannon. I met the others and got pictures, but the one I really wanted to meet was Del Shannon. The show promoter took me backstage to Del’s dressing room and knocked on the door. I had my camera with me, hoping to get a photo of us.
After a few seconds, the door opened just a crack. “Yes?” came the voice from behind the door.
PROMOTER: “Hi, Del, I would like you to meet one of our emcees for the evening.” He opened the door a little more, stuck his arm out, and we shook hands. As we shook hands, he noticed the camera in my other hand, looked down at it and glared. It was a look that said, “don’t even think about asking for a picture.” I caught the look in his eye, so I didn’t bother to ask. After a few more pleasantries, that was it. It left me feeling uncomfortable, but happy that I was able to meet one of my rock heroes.
Del’s contributions to music were honored when he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on March 15, 1999 – thirteen years after we met, and nine years after his passing.
Take a look at the photo gallery, followed - for your listening pleasure - by a few of his hits...
Del Shannon (and Inside His Michigan Boyhood Home)
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Inside Diana Ross' Childhood Home
Ray Parker Jr.'s Michigan Childhood Home