A short article written for the fanzine 'Jackie' at the request of its then editor Peter Lerner. Reproduced here with the grateful permission of both Frank Allen and Peter Lerner.
I was introduced to Jackie DeShannon by a guy called Eddie Normand. Not physically, you understand, just artistically. The name won't mean a thing to you. In the late fifties and early sixties, I was a part of the thriving music scene around the Hayes area of West London where I lived and the aforementioned Mr Normand was one of our 'gang'. He was also an enterprising promoter of pop venues with a penchant for the sound of Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers, at that time just another bunch of hopeful wannabes on the club circuit. I too had been a fan of the group but, being both ambitious and crafty, had managed to inveigle myself into their ranks after a period of service as part of their interval band. (If you don't ask, you don't get.)
We all wanted to visit America. It was where our music started. All pop and rock music was essentially from the U.S.A., particularly the brand of soul/rhythm & blues that we had a special fondness for, but in truth none of us ever saw a time when we could afford to turn such an outlandishly impossible dream into reality. But Eddie Normand could. And while we held the fort at The Blue Moon in Hayes and The Fender Club in Harrow, packing 'em in and adding to the Normand fortune, Eddie whizzed off to the promised land. While he was there he scoured the record stores and kept his car radio tuned to the pop stations in a search for new material for his proteges to perform. When he arrived home from a trip that apparently lived up to every expectation and more, he handed over two platters. One was the new single from The Righteous Brothers, a tune called 'Little Latin LupeLu'. The other was by a girl singer called Jackie DeShannon and titled 'Needles And Pins'.
We discarded the first and set about learning the second. It was a moody, hypnotic track featuring a voice that was more soulful than any white girl had the right to possess. The jangly guitars played an addictive riff that stuck in your mind as it filled out the gaps left by that terrific voice. The words were more serious and better constructed than much of the trivia around at the time and the second section, astonishingly in a completely different key to the first part, led to an intense baring of the soul that gripped the listener.
The record was just guitars and drums but we were a big outfit with tenor and baritone saxophones in out line-up and 'we've got saxes and we're gonna use them' was our motto. Thus, we ended up with a much heavier beast than the original. I have a tape of our performance from The Blue Moon and it certainly sounds curious now when compared with Jackie's original and even more so when put up against the more familiar Searchers' release. That one dispensed with the complicated vocal section at the end. It was not considered 'listener friendly' enough for a pop release, and of course, they were right. They stripped it down and turned out a classic hit single. What the Searchers did for Jackie DeShannon was to expose her name and her talent to a wider audience.
I have to say she was not that thrilled at the outset. Her own recording had been completely eclipsed by these upstarts from England and she did not even have the satisfaction of having written the song. The honours there went to Jack Nitzche, and acolyte of Phil Spector, and Sonny Bono who was yet to achieve world fame as one half of Sonny And Cher. We got word that Miss DeShannon was not a happy bunny. The story changed however in the second part of '64 when we recorded 'When You Walk In The Room', this time a De Shannon original and my first disc as a fledgling Searcher. The scenario was the same, a Jackie single usurped by a cover version, but the reaction was totally opposite for now she would be collecting huge amounts by way of royalties on a monster record. Maybe we weren't such bad lads after all.
We were all intrigued by her and I definitely wanted to meet her. I was familiar with her face from the album cover, the folksy one with 'Little Yellow Roses' on. While on tour in the States, following a ten day stint at The Fox Theatre in Brooklyn, Dick St John who was one half of the Dick & Dee Dee duo took us out to her family home in Los Angeles. Jackie unfortunately was away performing somewhere but her mother invited us in and made us welcome. It was a lovely house I remember, not large but homely and decorated beautifully down to the last detail in the way that Americans have. Jackie would have loved to have met us, Mrs Myers assured us.
From the U.S. we jetted on to Australia and New Zealand for a tour with Del Shannon, Eden Kane and Peter & Gordon and in Auckland a gentleman turned up with a complete collection of her Liberty singles thus far which he presented to me, knowing my fondness for her work. I still have them. 'The Prince', 'I Won't Turn You Down', 'Heaven Is Being With You' and a host of others. Later on, I talked my then girlfriend, Julie Grant, into recording 'I Won't Forget You', although I'm not sure if it was ever released. And I plugged 'I Won't Turn You Down' to Eden Kane who was in need of a bit of a boost, the hits having stopped. I could just hear him growling 'down, down, down'. He never did pick up on my suggestion.
In truth, I can't remember when I did meet her. Isn't that ridiculous? I achieved an ambition and cannot for the life of me recall where this momentous event occurred, except that it was in England. She was over promoting her career, which had taken an upswing in the light of our cover hits, and her tour with the Beatles back in her homeland. I think this was the trip where she first encountered the relatively unknown Jimmy Page who was a session guitarist on 'Don't Turn Your Back On Me'. Forgive me if my chronology is a little shaky. It all merges into one these days. After all, our period of glory ostensibly lasted a paltry three years, although the impact of that particular blip in the spectrum of popular music gave us a career that was to span more than three decades.
But meet we did and we got quite 'pally' for a short while. I would turn up at Heathrow Airport to welcome her or to see her off and when we toured America again in '65 she came along to our hotel and whizzed me out for a hamburger at a drive-in restaurant in Hollywood called Dolores. As we sat there in her gold Cadillac with the top down I thought to myself, 'Not bad for a lad from Hayes'. We were both wearing Levi jeans and jackets and when we discovered that my jacket fitted her better than her own and vice versa we swopped. Sadly I later lent that Levi jacket to a friend and never saw it again.
I lost touch with Jackie but at the beginning of the eighties we were at the Granada television studios to record a programme which I think was called Moondogs Matinee and discovered that Randy Edelman, her then husband, was in the next studio. I made a point of introducing myself and he said that Jackie was over with him but had stayed back in London. I have to admit I did not warm to Mr Edelman. He answered questions sure, but you could never call him effusive, He gave me the impression that I was invading his privacy and was not keen to talk so the conversation did not last long. He took my number to pass on to Jackie in case we could get together and reminisce during her visit but I never heard from her. It was a busy time for all of us so it probably just didn't pan out. On the other hand, the Edelman/DeShannon coupling did not last so maybe it wasn't a good time to enter their lives.
These days my ears still prick up at the sound of her name and I keep an eye out for new DeShannon material. 'Bette Davis Eyes' brought her back into the limelight and it's just a shame she couldn't have had the hit with it herself. The Carnes voice is so similar in tone to Jackie's she could have performed it just as well but of course record sales are as much about new idols, fresh faces and younger bodies as anything else. 'When You walk In The Room' is still my favourite of our hits, and that's not simply because it was my first record with the group or that Mike and I shared the lead vocal on that one. It's just that it is a stunningly good song with a strong melody and one of the best guitar riffs ever. It is also the most covered of her songs with excellent versions by Sara Jory, Pam Tillis, Status Quo and, probably the best of them all, Paul Carrack. I even have a live version of it by Bruce Springstein at The Whiskey A Go Go in Los Angeles when he was just an up and coming rocker.
And we still regularly perform 'Each Time' on stage. In fact, it currently opens the second half of our 'all evening' concerts. With a strong melody and the irresistible sound of a jangling twelve-string guitar, it's what the Searchers are all about. To this point we have never performed 'Till You Say You'll Be Mine' but who's to say we won't? Jackie DeShannon songs stand the test of time. They will be as valid in ten years time as they were back in the sixties. And so will the lady herself.
Frank Allen is a long time member of the Searchers and still tours with them today. Thank you, Frank, for allowing us to include this fascinating article on the website.
I would add that there is an interesting piece about Jackie de Shannon, and a photo of her with Frank, in his book "Travelling Man". Please click on "Travelling Man" for more information about his book.