Rock'n'roll has produced all too few girl singers of great
note. One of the best, and a woman who is still writing hits today, is
Jackie DeShannon. Jackie's early career embraced rockabilly, country,
folk and gospel, and her first records in the late 1950s hid her true
identity under a number of borrowed names, including Sherry Lee, Jackie
Dee and Jackie Shannon. Most unusually for that period, Jackie also wrote
much of her own material and, although the rising young star Brenda Lee
recorded one of her songs for an album as early as 1958, it was not until
Jackie joined forces three years later with Sharon Sheeley, herself one
of the first successful songwriters of the rock'n'roll era, that she started
to achieve true success.
Unravelling Jackie's early recording career is like following a detective
story. It involves an understanding of geography, aliases and the mind
of a teenage American girl hungry for musical success. Born Sharon Lee
Myers to a farming family in Hazel, Kentucky, a tiny community of 440
people, on 21st August 1944 (some sources say 1942), Jackie moved with
her family at an early age to the hinterland of Chicago, settling in Batavia,
Illinois, where a housing development DeShannon Court is named in her
honour. She made a name for herself as a child singing both in church
and on local radio and TV. Eventually her musical career took her from
Chicago via Cincinnati and Nashville to Los Angeles, where she remains
today. Reputedly it was Eddie Cochran, Sharon Sheeley's boyfriend, who
told the young mid-westerner that she was "a California girl"
and encouraged Jackie to head west rather than to the country-dominated
studios of Nashville or the Brill Building hothouse of New York.
Let's take a closer look at Jackie's earliest recordings.
(Click images to enlarge)
Marvel 903, 1956
Shorty Ashford and The Country Music Boys
"Baby Honey" (Chuck Adams) /
SHERRY LEE and SHORTY ASHFORD
With The Country Music Boys
"I'm Crazy Darling" (Shorty Ashford)
Billed as "Sixteen year old Miss Country Music", a confident
young girl with a clear, warm voice tackles a fast-ish country waltz
with ringing steel guitar behind. Unfortunately, the rhythm section
(The Country Music Boys) loses the plot before the end of the first
verse and "Baby Honey", although nicely sung, is a little
bit of a disaster. Shorty Ashford, a more mature country voice,
joins young Sherry on the flip resulting in some nice duetting.
There's some fancy fiddle playing too (almost certainly by Shorty),
and Sherry/Jackie's voice is unmistakable. But listen for the country
way she pronounces "you" and "true". This was
recorded for Harry Glenn's Mar-Vel label from Hammond, Indiana,
not far from Jackie's then home in Batavia.
Gone 5006, 1957
"I'll Be True" (William McLemone) /
"How Wrong I Was" (Howard Plummer)
Billboard magazine noted on 10th June, 1957
that Sherry Lee Myers, "16-year old C&W singer of Batavia,
Illinois", had recently signed to George Goldner's Gone label
in New York as a rockabilly artist, and that her "handlers"
(Irving Schacht and Paul Kallett) had changed her name to Jackie
Dee. This was nevertheless Jackie's only release on Gone. My copy
is a 78rpm rarity, but it also appeared on 45. "I'll Be True"
is a repetitive, up-tempo song out of the Bill Haley mould, even
down to the male backing vocals - which isn't at all surprising
since Haley himself recorded a cover version of Faye Adams' stupendous
1953 original. Watch out for a great George Barnes guitar solo on
Jackie's version. The flip, "How Wrong I Was", is a real
gem, a Platters-style ballad with energetic "shoo-dooby-doo"
backing vocals featuring good, clear production. Jackie almost certainly
sang these songs at the Uptown Theater, Philadelphia on 3rd July
1957, and at the Paramount New York, with Alan Freed's Big Rock'n'
roll Show, two weeks later.
Liberty 55148, 1958
"Buddy" (Jackie Dee) /
"Strolypso Dance" (Jackie Dee)
These are two of the three songs which Jackie
recorded in Nashville in 1958, under the auspices of A&R man
Murray Nash, who sold the recordings to Liberty Records. "Buddy"
is probably the best known of Jackie's early sides, as it has been
much reissued on rockabilly compilations. You can even find a not-very-convincing
bootleg of this 45. It's a driving rocker full of primitive passion,
and Jackie confirmed in a Goldmine interview that it was indeed
dedicated to the bespectacled Lubbock icon. "Strolypso Dance"
is a teenage beat ballad of girlish woe, with Jackie sounding not
unlike a young Brenda Lee, with added Paul Anka-style vocal tricks.
You could call this a stroll-type number to a calypso beat - appropriate
for a time when calypso was being tipped by some to take over from
rock'n'roll as the main music for teens. This coupling of Jackie's
first two recorded compositions (how many other teenage girl singers
were recording their own songs in 1958?) was the nearest Jackie
had to a hit in several years. Liberty, however, decided to direct
all their promotional power to "The Chipmunk Song" - ironic,
as 25 years later the Chipmunks recorded Jackie's composition "Bette
Davis Eyes". During the same trip to Nashville, Jackie stole
into a Brenda Lee recording session and convinced her to record
another Jackie Dee song, "My Baby Likes Western Guys".
Bear Family 16607, 2002
"I Need Lovin'" (writer unknown)
This throaty, shimmering mid-tempo rocker only came to light in
2002 when Bear Family Records put it on their compilation "The
Drugstore's Rockin' Volume 2". And it was worth it. "I
Need Lovin'" was recorded at the same session in Nashville
that gave us "Buddy" and shows a sensual maturity. Did
Jackie write the song? We would like to think so.
Fraternity 836, 1958
(Reissued as Dot 15928 and Sage 290)
JACKIE SHANNON with THE CAJUNS
"Just Another Lie" (Ernie R. Suarez) /
"Cajun Blues" (Rusty York)
Jackie's next stop (and name change) took her to Cincinnati, Ohio,
where she was taken under the wing of Pat Nelson, the manager of
local rocker Rusty York. "Just Another Lie" was recorded
in the King Records studios in late 1958 and leased to Fraternity.
Jackie is backed by Rusty York's band including drummer Jim Lundy
and bassist Hap Arnold, and they produce a fine sax-led accompaniment
to her first rate rendition of Ernie Suarez's Louisiana swamper.
Jackie's performance compares very nicely to other contemporary
versions of the song by Linda Brannon (Ram), Joanna Dean (Kent),
Brenda Lee (Decca), Esquerita (Capitol), and the writer's own version
under the name of Roy Perkins. This is a very commercial sound and
Jackie is undoubtedly the mistress of her music. The flip finds
the Cajuns without a singer on a competent guitar/sax instrumental.
Some sources insist that Jackie's name is spelt Jacqui on this release,
but my copy is definitely J-a-c-k-i-e.
PJ 101, 1959
(Reissued as Dot 15980 and Sand 330)
"Trouble" (Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller) /
"Lies" (Springer and Barrister)
In April 1959, Pat Nelson put up the money to rent the King studio
once again for two sessions, which would be released on a label
owned in partnership by Pat and Jackie - PJ Records. The first release,
PJ 100, became a sizeable hit for Rusty York, his signature song
"Sugaree". The second saw Jackie in superb and sexy form,
with plenty of echo and tough-as-hell vocals on "Trouble",
a song Leiber and Stoller had written for Elvis. "Lies"
is almost as good, done Fats Domino-style with great power and an
R&B feel to it. This record did pick up some regional action,
and Pat Nelson struck a deal with Randy Wood in Nashville for Jackie's
two Cincinnati 45s to be re-released on the influential and nationally
distributed Dot label. Never one to give up, Pat later placed the
singles with another company in which he was a partner, Sage/Sand
Edison International 415, 1959
"So Warm (This Is How I Feel)" (Jackie DeShannon) /
"Young Girl's Prayer" (Jackie DeShannon)
Next stop for Sharon Myers was the West Coast,
with a new name and a new label. Little is known about Edison International
Records, which issued some 19 singles between 1958 and 1960, none
of them greatly successful. Jackie had clearly decided to assert
herself once more as a songwriter. Her first session for the label
was under the direction of Gene Garf, primarily known as a session
pianist who worked variously with Ricky Nelson, the Jodimars and
Phil Spector. However, sadly, this particular coupling was almost
certainly never released and only promotional copies are known to
exist - mine was one of a small number found in a warehouse in the
1990s. "So Warm" in this early version is over-produced
and hurried, with screeching strings and shrill female backing singers.
Jackie tries hard to belt the song but against all odds. The flip,
"Young Girl's Prayer", starts as a dreamy, angelic teen
ballad but heats up when Jackie injects some Presley-style raunch
Edison International 416, 1960
"So Warm" (Jackie DeShannon) /
"I Wanna Go Home" (Jackie DeShannon)
This is better. Arrangers Fred Smith and Cliff Goldsmith are record
men particularly associated with the Olympics, writing and arranging
their hits, including "Western Movies" and "Shimmy
Like Kate", and Smith went on to co-produce Bob and Earl's
"Harlem Shuffle". On this coupling, Jackie comes over
all Brenda Lee. Her second go at "So Warm" is much calmer,
while "I Wanna Go Home" is a charming and original ballad
with a Latin beat. Jackie introduces some clever vocal tremors and
garnishes, and there is a nice, soulful piece of ad-libbing as the
Edison International 418, 1960
"Put My Baby Down" (Jackie DeShannon) /
"The Foolish One" (Jackie DeShannon)
On the final 45 released by Edison International, Jackie returns
to the style of "Buddy" on "Put My Baby Down",
a driving rocker with piano-led backing, with lots of energy and
enjoyment that is well communicated to the listener. Plenty of contrast
is provided by "The Foolish One", a belting ballad with
heavy strings and an inspirational performance, bringing to mind,
not for the last time in Jackie's career, the style of Ray Charles.
Liberty 55288, 1960
"Lonely Girl" (Jackie DeShannon) /
"Teach Me" (D. Abrams and Bobby Helms)
And so Jackie joined Liberty Records, where she stayed for ten years.
Her first single for the label coupled one of her own songs, "Lonely
Girl", with "Teach Me", written by occasional hit-maker
Jackie befriended hit songwriter Sharon Sheeley in 1961, and
over a couple of years the two women wrote some memorable hits for the
Fleetwoods ("The Great Imposter"), Brenda Lee ("Dum Dum")
and many others. She recorded some great songs - including "Heaven
Is Being With You", an early composition by Carole King, Gerry Goffin
and Cynthia Weil, a few Ray Charles tunes (for a projected but unreleased
album) and many of her own - working with eminent producers and arrangers,
such as Clyde Otis, Dick Glasser, Belford Hendricks, Bert Keyes and Jack
Nitzsche. But it was another couple of years before she hit the American
charts under her own name, first with a bewitching cover of Bob Wills'
country song "Faded love", and then with her never-to-be-forgotten
declamation of Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono's "Needles And Pins".
Back to Jackie's earliest years which are, after all, the subject of this
article, we can solve one mystery which has puzzled Jackie's discographers
over the years. It would be reasonable, wouldn't it, to assume that the
"Sharon Lee" who recorded at least two 45s in Cincinnati, for
the Excellent (later Rendezvous) and Jewel labels was in fact our Sharon
Lee Myers, especially when you learn that the Jewel label was owned by
Rusty York. But, if you listen to "Kissing Game", "No Deposit
No Return" and "Rockin' And Washing Sue", you will quickly
realise that these are at least two different girls, neither of whom remotely
resembles Jackie vocally.