Del Shannon was a consistent hit maker in the early 1960s. Beginning with a #1 smash in “Runaway ,” he continued the chart run with songs like “Hats Off To Larry,” “Hey! Little Girl,” “Swiss Maid,” “Little Town Flirt,” “Handy Man,” “Keep Searchin’,” and “Stranger In Town.”
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Del Shannon was a consistent hit maker in the early 1960s. Beginning with a #1 smash in “Runaway ,” he continued the chart run with songs like “Hats Off To Larry,” “Hey! Little Girl,” “Swiss Maid,” “Little Town Flirt,” “Handy Man,” “Keep Searchin’,” and “Stranger In Town.” When the British invasion quelled many of his contemporaries who couldn’t adapt to the ever changing musical landscape, Shannon managed to keep current and survive. He tried reinventing himself on several occasions, putting his hit formula aside to try out new sounds, namely working with Snuff Garrett, Leon Russell, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, and the Stones producer Andrew Oldham. He even went so far to record and release a pop-psyche album under his real name in “The Further Adventures of Charles Westover,” which still stands the test of time as a great era piece from 1968. When Shannon and his fans began to move apart, he tried his hand at producing others and discovering new acts. Shannon helped to launch the careers of Johnny Carver in ’66 and a group called Smith in ’69, with their cover of “Baby It’s You” going Top 5. He soon repeated that same success in Brian Hyland with “Gypsy Woman” the following year, resulting in another Top 5. When nostalgia packaged tours became a rave in the early 70’s, Shannon jumped on board that train along with his contemporaries to keep some cash flowing in by singing the old hits. In December 1972, he recorded a live album of his old hits. Released in the summer of ’73 and titled “Live In England,” the LP showcased his masterful live performance with lots of energy and excitement. While the album proved to be well accepted by his worldly fans, Shannon still had the itch to continue recording new material and prove that he still had something to say. With each British tour, Shannon pushed a new single; three of them in as many years on the United Artists imprint alone.
He ensured great tours too, using backing bands that were locally established, like John Mac’s Flare Band, The Impalas, and later, Smackee, which brings us to this album here that you now hold in your hands. The mid-70’s found Shannon attempting to search out his musical compass and the right sound. He collaborated with Jeff Lynne of ELO, Dave Edmunds, and Frank Esler-Smith (later of Air Supply). In 1976 and 1977, the group Smackee were hired (among others) to an agency in London to support American artists who came over to the UK to tour. They backed artists such as Bobby Vee, Johnny Tillotson, The Marvellettes, Percy Sledge, Ann Peebles, PJ Proby and, of course, Del Shannon. Smackee hailed from Coventry, and included keyboardist Barry Walker, bassist Trevor Hilton, drummer Kevin Connolly, and lead guitarist Michael Smitham. Smitham recalled the tours leading up to the recording of the album: “We met for our very first rehearsal in October 1976, at the Ryton Hotel in my hometown of Coventry in the West Midlands. This was for our first tour. We saw Del as a wide shouldered, open-faced American, who put us at ease within minutes of first having met him. He was an easy-going man with an infectious sense of humor and an easy smile! Backing him on tour and playing on his album was an amazing ‘apprenticeship’ for any young musician wanting to learn their ‘chops!’ I remember the shows were always a pleasure and Del always included us and gave us a name check on stage. He was a lot of fun. In the spring of 1977, for our second tour, I fondly remember staying at one of his favorite places in Yorkshire, The Black Horse Inn in Brighouse. It’s still there! Anyways, it was a pub room with annex type rooms attached. He, like the rest of us, enjoyed a drinkie or two, and I can recall many a ‘session’ after the show. Quite a lot of touring artists liked to stay there. I recall there was a very long card game which included Del and Bobby Vee! Roy Orbison was in the same hotel but he didn’t come down for the ‘after hours’ fun. “Del was constantly scribbling ideas down and writing songs as we travelled. The tour was seven weeks long and by the time we got towards the end of it, he had enough material to record an album. Because we (Smackee) had worked with a lot of differing artists, we had become a very tight band and were also very good vocally. I think the blend of voices we had fitted with Del’s very distinct lead vocal, and this is probably why Del honored us by asking us to record with him.” The ’77 tour was supposed to be just five weeks long, but during the course of the tour, a week was added in Scotland, followed by a week booked at the Fiesta Club on Talbot Road in Dublin, Ireland. “Del then decided that we could record the album in Dublin during the day, and do the shows at night, which is exactly what happened,” Smitham added. Dublin Sound Studio was a new 24-track studio with all the latest equipment and hardware, including full Dolby capabilities and a state of the art Neve mixing console. Opened in September 1976, Dublin Sound was owned by Philip Green, who was a composer and conductor. “Best Days of My Life,” “Another Lonely Night,” and “One Track Mind” were written on tour. “For me,” Smitham explained, “the ballads are equally wonderful on this album, but if I had to pick one as my favorite, it would be ‘Another Lonely Night” which, for me, is the ‘stand out’ recording. I think the arrangement is huge and showcases Del’s songwriting skills fantastically well.” One of Shannon’s avid British fans, Ken Hibbs, recalled “Amanda” being written in England. “Del wrote ‘Amanda’ in my front room playing an acoustic guitar. My daughter sat in an arm chair opposite him. He looked up, spoke to her, and the next thing you heard were some chords being strummed, and moments later out came ‘There was fire in her eyes…’ Del put pen to paper, and said he would add more lyrics when he got home. His wife, Shirley, and Phil Luderman (Del’s road manager) were there. I still have a copy of the demo and it sounds great!” “Raylene,” another pretty name, was attempted earlier by Shannon and Jeff Lynne, but reimagined here for this session, sounding in tune with what the Bee Gees were putting out at the time. “Till I Found You” and “Love, It Don’t Come Easy” began in Max Crook’s home studio in California. “I remember Del and myself getting together shortly after we had finished up his ‘Live’ album. He was looking for the next ‘Runaway’ and rode his motorcycle out to my place in the high desert, I guess to see if we could rekindle the magic,” Crook explained. “He came with his guitar and he already had ‘Till I Found You’ written, at least in some sort of rough form. Some of the lines in the song would later change, but we recorded it on my equipment, more or less with Del playing his acoustic and I played some keyboards behind him. Just a demo, you know? We got to talking about ‘Runaway’ and the chord structure of the song, the ‘A Minor’ and the ‘G’, which had also been successful for him in ‘Keep Searchin’ and ‘Stranger In Town.’ We laughed about our old producer, Harry Balk, and how when he first heard ‘Runaway’ before deciding to record it, having told us, ‘You know the trouble with this song is that it sounds like there’s two or three songs trying to come together here.’ Well, we decided to try that theory out, and Del and I came up with ‘Love, It Don’t Come Easy,’ which starts out with the ‘A Minor’ and the ‘G,’ the same as in ‘Runaway,’ and starts slow (like a soul searching ballad) and then the pace picks up. Slow. Fast. Like two songs coming together.” Smitham remembered about this song, “When we first heard it, we tried to talk Del out of it, but we went with it and of course it worked! The only struggle we had (in the studio) was getting onto tape what was in Del’s head. Del would have an idea and frantically wave his arms around at us whilst singing, making us howl with laughter!” “Till I Found You” was a positive love song, this author’s favorite of the bunch on this album, and yet something that seemed totally out of Del’s repertoire. “I remember when he first played me this song,” Shannon’s former wife Shirley recalled. “I thought it was so lovely. What was odd though was as soon as I had said that to him, I think he realized it was maybe too positive for him, and he sort of set the song aside, because his songs were always about loneliness and despair. But my daughters and I just loved that one!” To any musician wanting to play it, “Till I Found You” contains the most complicated chord structure in a song written by Shannon until “Callin’ Out My Name” came along for his 1991 album “Rock On!” Four covers are featured on this album to compliment Shannon’s seven originals. “Black Is Black” is the Los Bravos hit, which Shannon first attempted to record in Nashville in 1973 at the same session that yielded his own rendition of Edwin Starr’s “Oh, How Happy.” Shannon’s close friend, Stephen Monahan, first suggested to him to take on this number, which he did, incorporating it into his live sets. “Black Is Black,” on this album, is virtually spot-on to his live performances. Shannon was also a big fan of Roy Orbison, having recorded a few of his songs in the past to include “Crying” and “Running Scared.” Shannon had recorded “Oh, Pretty Woman” in 1966 while at Liberty Records, but he wasn’t given much input on the arrangement and never liked its final outcome. He desperately wanted to re-record “Pretty Woman” as it was another number he used in his live act that always went over well with his fans. Shannon later said on a British radio show in the 80’s, “Sound of The 60’s,” that the greatest rock beats, in his opinion, were in “Black Is Black,” “Pretty Woman,” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” “Love Letters” had seen many covers over the years, Elvis for one having recorded it, but Shannon had a new arrangement for this song to really make it his own. Before recording it here at Dublin, Shannon had fiddled with the song at a recording session in Muscle Shoals Studio in August of ’76. The ‘Swampers’ as they called themselves there had inspired Shannon, and a little bit of the Lynard Skynard sound (i.e. “That Smell”) can be heard in this arrangement. “Today, I Started Loving You Again” is an old Merle Haggard song, going back to Shannon’s roots and love for Country and Western music, and finishes out the album. Smitham noted that his twin lead guitar work on these recordings may sound a little dated now, but is of its time and what Del was wanting and had imagined. “Del did like my lead guitar work and I spent ages trying to get down what he wanted.” When asked what he thought of this album today, after hearing it nearly 40 years later after having recorded it, Smitham replied, “I love it! I think this album is a must for any Del Shannon fan! Unheard tracks which had lain on a shelf somewhere for 40 years? Well-crafted songs with heartfelt vocals by one of the great Rock ‘n Rollers? How can it fail?! I feel privileged to have worked with him and to have called him my friend. So why did this album go unreleased for nearly 40 years? What happened when Del came back to America to try and release it? And how did this affect his career trajectory going forward, and what did he do instead? Shannon’s manager, Dan Bourgoise, helps to fill in those blanks. “Del was always excited to record, to write new songs and lay them down in a studio. He and Jeff Lynne really had something cooking a few years earlier when they got together. They would meet up, record some tracks at The Robbs’ studio, but then ELO got so hot and Jeff was having hit after hit and was on tour, that there just wasn’t enough time to get an album for Del together. A couple years went by and Del was eager to get something out. So he recorded these sessions in Dublin, and then shopped them to various record labels in America when he got back. But the labels just weren’t interested in new material by 60’s artists. Not just by Del, but by others from his era too. ‘What does the album mean?’ And ‘What does he have to say?’ He was being overlooked. After about six months having finished the album, Del was depressed, had been drinking heavily, and finally checked himself into a hospital for rehab. It was around January 1978 when we got the copyrights back to his old hits that Del was feeling good again. He was getting sober, he was losing weight and began eating healthy, and was exercising. When Del got out of rehab, he was like a changed man. Right about this time is when Del hooked up with Tom Petty and began a new creative jaunt in ‘Drop Down and Get Me.’ He slimmed down, got a new wardrobe and attitude, and started writing again. The Dublin material just sort of fell into the rear-view mirror.” The Dublin Sessions album was never officially named under any title by Del or his management, but always referred to as “The Dublin Sessions.” A professional photo shoot was never set up either, so there weren’t any photographs taken specifically for this album. When Del began working with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, he had some great photograph sessions taken by Randee St. Nicholas, whom Bourgoise had used earlier with The Shoes on Elektra. It only made sense that we use some of those great out-takes for this album, and while they are from a year or two later, they capture his spirit. We felt the need to explain the reasoning behind the photos used for this album. All in all, Del Shannon left us with a great album here that helps bridge a gap seen in his career during the 1970’s. Shannon never was away, he was always writing and recording. We trust you will enjoy hearing some of his great material here, all of which is available for the first time anywhere, knowing that his creative side never paled. He loved to rock!