Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Van and Jackie DeShannon

Despite being known as a solo artist and something of a misanthrope ("Hell is other people"), Van has always been willing to share the stage with other performers.  Some have been some of his heroes like Ray Charles (on the Genius Loves Company CD), John Lee Hooker, Bob Dylan, Lonnie Donegan, Bobby Bland, etc., while others have lesser music significance.  Linda Gail Lewis, Chris Farlowe, Jackie DeShannon, Candy Dulfer, Brian Kennedy, etc. are all talented musicians in their own right but definitely concede centre stage when working with Van.  When you think about who Van has worked with over the years it's pretty obvious that he enjoys the experience of working with other performers and is fairly democratic in his approach.  What other performer of note would allow Richard Gere anywhere near a microphone?  Or let the Red Hot Pokers try to extemporise on some of his classic songs? For some concert goers it adds a new dimension to the Van experience.  For others, it's a distraction from the main show - the Man himself. 

Jackie DeShannon is one such Van acolyte.  Jackie was born Sharon Lee Myers in Hazel, Kentucky, on  August 21, 1941 and is an American singer-songwriter with a string of hit song credits from the 1960s onwards. She was one of the first female singer-songwriters of the rock 'n' roll period. DeShannon was born into musically inclined farming family.  By the age of six she was singing country tunes on a local radio show and by the age of 11, DeShannon was hosting her own radio program. When life on the farm became too difficult they moved to Illinois, eventually settling in Batavia, Illinois, where Jackie attended high school. 

She got increasingly into her music career and eventally left school to start a recording.  She began to record under various names such as Sherry Lee, Jackie Dee, and Jackie Shannon, with mixed success.  Her early recordings caught the attention of Eddie Cochran, who arranged for her to travel to California to meet his girlfriend, singer-songwriter Sharon Sheeley, who formed a writing partnership with DeShannon in 1960. The partnership produced hits such as "Dum Dum" for Brenda Lee. In 1960, DeShannon signed with Liberty Records, adopting the name Jackie DeShannon, believed to be the name of an Irish ancestor, after executives at Liberty thought the name Sharon Myers would not help sell records.

Armed with her new name, she made the WLS Chicago radio survey with the single Lonely Girl in late 1960. A string of mostly flop singles followed, although The Prince bubbled under at No. 108 in the United States in early 1962, and Faded Love became her first US Billboard Top 100 entry, squeaking in at No. 97 in February 1963.  She fared better with the Sonny Bono-Jack Nitzsche song Needles and Pins and the self-penned When You Walk in the Room later in 1963. Both reached the lower rungs of the US pop charts, but were Top 40 hits in Canada, where "Needles and Pins" made it all the way to No. 1. Needles and Pins and When You Walk in the Room later became US and UK hits for The Searchers.

DeShannon recorded many other singles that encompassed teen pop, country ballads, rockabilly, gospel, and Ray Charles-style soul that didn't fare as well on the charts. During these years it was her songwriting and public profile rather than her recording career that kept her contracted to Liberty. DeShannon dated Elvis Presley and Jimmy Page and formed friendships with The Everly Brothers and Ricky Nelson. She also co-starred and sang with Bobby Vinton in the teen surf movie Surf Party.  DeShannon's biggest break came in February 1964 when she supported The Beatles on their first US tour, and formed a touring band with guitarist Ry Cooder. DeShannon also wrote "Don't Doubt Yourself Babe" for the debut album of The Byrds. Her music at this stage was heavily influenced by the American West Coast sounds and folk music. Staying briefly in England in 1965, DeShannon formed a songwriting partnership with Jimmy Page, which resulted in the hit singles "Dream Boy" and "Don't Turn Your Back on Me". Page and DeShannon also wrote material for singer Marianne Faithfull, including her Top Ten UK and US hit "Come and Stay With Me". 

DeShannon continued writing and recording, but it was not until 1969 that she scored her next smash single and album, both entitled "Put a Little Love in Your Heart". The self-penned single sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. The single "Love Will Find A Way" from the same album was also a moderate hit. In 1973, she was invited by Van Morrison to sing on his Hard Nose the Highway album.
While DeShannon has not produced any further Top Ten singles of her own, her songs have been covered by other artists who have converted them into hits. On June 17, 2010, Jackie was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

 Van and Jackie DeShannon

Jackie's relationship to Van is patchy.  Most well-known is the songwriting collaboration on Santa Fe from the 1978 album Wavelength, although it was written earlier.  Another official collaboration is Jackie's back-up vocals credit on 1973's Hard Nose the highway.  But there were numerous other connections and collaborations along the way.  In 1972 Jackie released her Jackie album which contained a version of Van's I Wanna Roo You that Van recorded for his Tupelo Honey album. Both artists worked together at The Lion's Share venue in San Anselmo.  There is also a claim that Van provided background vocals on Jackie's single Sweet Sixteen.   There are also a few Van bootlegs which feature both artists on microphone.     

For the Van fan wanting to check out Jackie DeShannon you should try Jackie...Plus.  It's a disc lovingly assembled by Rhino Handmade. The opening twelve tracks are from Jackie, her 1972 album and tracks 13-24 consist of two b-sides from singles plus ten previously unreleased outtakes from 1972-1973 sessions. Some of these are some interesting collaborations with Van Morrison and include I Wanna Roo YouSweet SixteenFlamingos FlySanta Fe and Drift Away.  

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