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) /
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)

"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 of Hollywood.


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 halfway through.


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 record fades.


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 Bobby Helms.

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.

This article is a revised version of one which originally appeared in Now Dig This magazine in April 1998. I gave thanks to Al Turner, Derek Glenister, Stuart Colman, Wayne Russell and the late John Malcolm Anderson at that time and would like to repeat them now, adding to my list Trevor Cajaio.



If you have any new information about Jackie's early career, please email: