Tuesday, August 7, 2012

DEL SHANNON - MOVE IT ON OVER

I just got back from Traverse City, Michigan, where I was lucky enough to attend the premiere screening of Louder Than Love: The Grande Ballroom Story at the Traverse City Film Festival, thanks to my buddy JT and especially his lovely wife Heidi, who gave up her ticket so I could see it (thanks again, Heidi). It's an excellent documentary about Detroit's Grande (pronounced grand-ee) Ballroom, which was THE place to be for Detroit rock and roll in the late 1960s. The phrase "kick out the jams" was COINED at the Grande. Everyone played there: Mitch Ryder, Iggy and The Stooges, Alice Cooper, The Who, SRC, The Amboy Dukes, The Rationals, The James Gang, Big Brother and The Holding Company, Dick Wagner and The Frost, Cream, Bob Seger, and, of course, the MC5, who were more or less the house band there.

One of the many great things about this film is that it makes a really great argument for the Grande as the premier ROCK ballroom, as opposed to the premier arena for the music of the counterculture. The mid-1960s saw Detroit begin to have its problems (race riots, urban decay) and so the people of that city began to take on a hard-edged stance just to be able to survive. Plus, it was (and still is) a blue-collar, industrial place, where machinery, noise and ugliness were just part of everyday living. Detroit rock and roll always had a bit of toughness to it, but by the heyday of the Grande, the noise and (dare I say it?) grunginess in the music was pushed more and more to the forefront, and Detroiters embraced it as their own. As a result, the Grande kicked ass - you weren't gonna see Crosby, Stills and Nash or Melanie at the Grande - somebody (probably one of the MC5) would have kicked them right off the stage and given them an ass-whipping they'd not soon forget. When Janis Joplin first played there with Big Brother, the audience (and the other acts) gave the group what for until they amped it up! That was the prevailing wind at the Grande - kick out the jams or get the FUCK off the stage so somebody else can.

Perhaps someday there'll be a documentary about the early Detroit rockers from the late 50s and early 60s; the original badasses like Jack Scott, Bill Haley, The Royaltones, Danny Zella & The Zell Rocks......and Del Shannon.

Del Shannon (1934-1990) was born Charles Westover in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His mother taught him the ukelele at a young age, and soon he became proficient on guitar. By 1958, he had joined a rockabilly band in Battle Creek, where he changed his name to Del Shannon. Del became a familiar face in clubs in Battle Creek and Ann Arbor, and in 1960 Ann Arbor deejay Ollie McLaughlin introduced Del to producers Harry Balk and Irving Micahnik, who signed him to their EmBee Productions company, who had a lease deal with Bigtop Records in New York.

We all know what happened next. Shannon's very first 45, "Runaway", became a #1 national hit, and he became a star. For the next two years, Del racked up hit after hit on Bigtop and toured the world, meeting The Beatles on a tour of the UK in 1963. He really liked their tune "From Me To You" and recorded and released it as a single when he got back to the States - it hit #77 on the charts in July of 1963, becoming the first tune penned by Lennon-McCartney to chart in the US. Unfortunately, that was his last single on Bigtop; a feud with Balk and Micahnik came to a head at that time (seems they weren't paying him his correct royalties) and Del broke with EmBee Productions. He formed his own label, Ber-Lee Records, but EmBee had his records blackballed throughout the industry, and Ber-Lee folded after just two releases; Del gave in and returned to EmBee. By this time Bigtop had been bought out by the Amy/Mala/Bell group of labels in New York, and so Del's recordings were now leased to Amy Records.

The hits continued: "Handy Man", "Do You Want To Dance", "Keep Searchin'" and "Stranger In Town". Del also had a hit with his song "I Go To Pieces" when Peter and Gordon recorded it. But by mid-1965, the winds of change really began to hit the rock and roll scene. Del saw it coming. Living and playing in the Detroit area, Shannon undoubtedly heard the harder rock that had yet to hit the mainstream, and decided that this was the direction to go into. Pairing with Motown session man and guitar legend Dennis Coffey, they wrote "Move It On Over", possibly one of the LOUDEST records ever made, and released it on Amy in August of 1965.

Unfortunately, it was waaaaay to early in the game for Del to release a monstrosity like this. The record flopped, only reaching #128 on Billboard's "Bubbling Under" chart. People must have thought that Del had lost his mind. It didn't help that the song shared a title with a Hank Williams classic, since Del had released an LP of Hank Williams songs several months before, and folks probably thought it was just a remake (like I did when I first saw this 45). But MAN ALIVE is this an aggressive record! Del sounds like he's trying his damnedest to completely blow his voice out, while Dennis Coffey and the band churn out some NASTY punk-rock (and the briefest guitar solo in history).

I'm sure the crowd at the Grande Ballroom would have loved this.....if they only knew about it.

Del Shannon - Move It On Over (Amy 937) - 1965

5 comments:

  1. Great song, but for sheer volume from that era, I would submit:

    Let's Go - The Routers

    Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadows? - The Rolling Stones

    Any Way You Want It - Dave Clark Five.

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    1. I think the DRUMS on "Let's Go" are pretty loud, but not the whole record. As for the Stones track, that just seems more distorted than loud. But you are so on the money about "Any Way You Want It" by the DC5. I remember working as a DJ on WGHT-AM and playing the oldies. I'd usually pot the board up to one level and keep it there for the whole shift (the compressor-limiter usually took care of the danger of being in the red). But when I'd put on "Any Way You Want It", the VU would be PINNED all the way to the end and not move until the song ended! My original 45 of that DC5 track is a promo pressed on vinyl, and plays SUPER clean - unlike the stock styrene 45s, which wear out too quickly.

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  2. Nutso record that I grabbed on a lark in a central Texas flea market 10 years back or so. I knew at the time that he had a punker, but didn't know what it was as I had never heard it. First time the needle hit the grooves I was just floored. So much sound.

    There's a live clip of Del "performing" the tune, of course...
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byJEPs732LY

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  3. One of my favourite Shannon songs, how this never became a hit on either side of the Atlantic amazes me!!!!

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  4. Just discovered your blog, and I'm really enjoying it. That said, this tune, while harder-edged than other Del Shannon records, seems pretty ordinary to me... basic blues pattern with a redundant riff. Your brief recounting of the Del Shannon story leaves out the identity crisis which apparently led to his suicide, a real tragedy given his talent.

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