When teenager Sharon Lee Myers, then professionally known as Jackie Dee, had two songs published and recorded in 1958, who could have guessed that this petite, dynamic blonde was embarking on a career which would lead, in 2010, to her induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame?
And when the same young girl stepped into a local studio in Indiana to record as Sherry Lee, Sixteen Year Old Miss Country Music, who might have imagined that a few years later she would be chosen to join the Beatles as a supporting act on their first all-screaming sell-out tour of the USA and Canada?
That’s not all, of course. The same young woman, now known to the world as Jackie DeShannon, won herself a Gold Disc in 1969 for writing and singing the international hit ‘Put A Little Love In Your Heart’, reputedly the biggest-selling single ever on the distinguished Imperial label. And then in 1982, she was presented with a Grammy Award for Best Song, as co-writer of Kim Carnes’ ‘Bette Davis Eyes’.
Still, as this is written in 2012, Jackie’s career continues. On a quick visit to London she appeared live on the highly rated TV show Later With Jools Holland. She released her latest single, ‘For Africa, In Africa’, this year, a few months after “When You Walk In The Room”, her delightful unplugged album of some of her favourite songs was released.
Jackie’s secret for success has been her love of music and her continuing curiosity and desire to try something new. There are many well-loved performers that can be easily categorised as a country, folk, rock’n’roll, pop or R&B singer. Jackie defies such classification; as a singer, thanks to her soulful, sexy, versatile voice, she’s done it all.
Jackie’s earliest, rock’n’roll records are a delight to hear. They include a raunchy version of Leiber and Stoller’s ‘Trouble’ which will have induced many a parent to lock up their sons, for their own protection. Jackie moved to Hollywood, where a series of singles for Liberty Records in the very early 60s showed her prowess at singing R&B, Ray Charles-style. Then a songwriting partnership with Sharon Sheeley saw a change to teenage pop material, and brought the girls a number of songwriting successes, for Brenda Lee and many others.
Just to prove how unpredictable Jackie is, her first entry into the American charts came with an unashamedly country song, ‘Faded Love’. Soon after this Jackie could be found in the clubs of LA belting out traditional folk and blues with her young accompanist, Ry Cooder, on guitar. And then back to the recording studio with Jack Nitzsche and Dick Glasser to record wonderful originals of ‘Needles And pins’ and ‘When You Walk In The Room’, classics of 60s pop music.
There followed a love affair with the contemporary British guitar group sound, including a brief partnership with Jimmy Page, resulting in songs for Marianne Faithfull, Dave Berry and others. Then back into the studio with sophisticated songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David for memorable recordings of ‘What The World Needs Now Is Love’, the under-rated ‘A Lifetime Of Loneliness’ and more.
Later in the 60s Jackie pursued her interests in art and drama and still found time to visit the recording studios regularly, giving us her own favourite album “Laurel Canyon”, cut with Mac Rebennack and Barry White, and then combining with her brother, Randy Myers, and singer Jimmy Holiday to write ‘Put A Little Love In Your Heart’, an international anthem of love and peace which has been recorded by several hundred artists, from Ella Fitzgerald and Mahalia Jackson to Leonard Nimoy and the Dave Clark Five.
The 1970s saw Jackie moving through the major record labels – Capitol, Atlantic, Columbia – with ease and dignity, as a major league singer-songwriter and interpreter of great songs. A short period of working with Van Morrison produced some soulful music and the decade finished with a couple of laidback high quality albums on Amherst Records.
Married to songwriter Randy Edelman, the next two decades saw Jackie taking more of a background role, writing film music and, more importantly, bringing up her son. Her songs were still being heard widely, though. In addition to Kim Carnes’ massive success with ‘Bette Davis Eyes’, country singer Pam Tillis had a big hit on the country charts with a revival of ‘When You Walk In The Room’ and Dolly Parton and Lulu included good versions of ‘Put A Little Love In Your Heart’ on successful albums. Cliff Richard and Status Quo were others to benefit from Jackie’s songwriting.
In the second millennium, two new albums appeared: the superbly contemporary “You Know Me”, followed by the lovely acoustic set “When You Walk In The Room”. Jackie’s singing remains as beguiling as ever, and her live appearances, although few and far between, are joyful celebrations of decades of great music.
Jackie DeShannon is a woman who has sung with Elvis Presley, befriended Eddie Cochran and the Everly Brothers, recorded with the Byrds, co-written with Jack Nitzsche, Van Morrison, Carole Bayer Sager, John Barry and many more. She has recorded outstanding versions of songs by Bacharach and David, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin and countless more, while her own compositions have attracted thousands of interpretations.
The sparky teenager whose recordings of ‘Buddy’ and ‘Trouble’ are in every rockabilly collection has come a long way, without ever losing that spark. Jackie DeShannon, the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame awaits you.
In the early 60s, Jackie was known as the writer of hits for others but she also made great recordings of her own. Here’s the proof in all its nascent folk rock glory, including the previously unissued single ‘That’s What Boys Are Made Of’.
The second volume of Jackie’s Liberty and Imperial 45s moves us into the mid-60s, including collaborations with the Byrds, Randy Newman, Bacharach and David and others, all from the original mono singles masters.
By Peter Lerner
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