On July 1 Max Crook left us. Many of you may wonder who Max Crook was, although most people have heard his best-known solo on many occasions. Max Crook was the co-author of one of the most famous songs in Rock history and his masterful solo by Musitron, the song in question is “Runaway” by Del Shannon.
Maxfield Doyle Crook was born on November 2, 1936, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Crook learned to play the accordion as a child, and then switched to the piano, when he was fourteen, he had already built his own studio. In 1957, during his college years he formed a Rock & Roll group called The White Bucks, with which he recorded a single, “Get That Fly”, on Dot Records in 1959.
During 1959 Crook built a monophonic synthesizer, which he named Musitron, from a Clavioline, to which he had previously improved and added television tubes, and parts of household appliances, an old amplifier, and a reel-to-reel tape machine. Crook was unable to patent the Musitron because most of its components were already proprietary products, a pity. The first time he used it to record was in a session in Berry Gordy’s studio in Detroit, in an unpublished version of “Bumble Boogie” (the song, later, would be recorded by B. Bumble & The Stingers), in this Session also used a four track recorder that he had also built himself. The Musitron has had a true legion of followers, among musicians and producers, among them are Berry Gordy, Enio Morricone, John Barry, Joe Meek, Roy Wood, and many more, although, perhaps, the most outstanding fan of this instrument and Max Crook’s is Jeff Lynne, who is also an avowed fan of Del Shannon.
1959 was a very important year for Crook, it was the year he met Del Shannon, at that time he had not yet adopted the stage name with which he would become famous, and his band called itself “Charlie Johnson & The Little Big Show Band”, Shannon asked Crook to join his band as a keyboard player. They signed a recording contract in 1960, and Crook began playing the Musitron, for the first time in public with notable acceptance. During a concert at the Hi-Lo Club in Battle Creek, Michigan, Crook came up with an unusual chord change: going from A-minor to G, Shannon added a lyric, and while Crook improvised, Musitron’s magnificent solo appeared. According to Crook himself, it was practically not retouched, and it was definitely recorded in the studio as it was created in that improvisation, “Runaway” was born, one of the greatest songs of the 20th century.
In 1961, “Runaway” was released by the Bigtop Records label and reached the top of the American hit list, and soon became an international hit. Its melody became so famous that everyone wanted to know the name of the mysterious instrument that made that sharp sound in their spectacular solo, the American Bandstand program held a quiz to guess the instrument.
Crook’s story does not end with “Runaway”, he also recorded a series of really good instrumentals, combining his solo career with his work with Del Shannon. His solo songs were recorded under the stage name of Maximiliano. “The Snake”, “The Twistin’ Ghost” or “Greyhound” were some of these songs, achieving a couple of hits in Canada or curiously, in countries like Argentina. For a time, he was the leader of Shannon’s group, which became “The Maximilian Band,” but left the group in late 1962, to fully pursue his solo career. He also created his own record label, Doble A, in Ann Arbor. Later, in the late 60’s, he formed an electronic musical duo with Scott Ludwig, called “The Sounds of Tomorrow”, making great instrumental versions of the hits of the moment, developing a unique style, within the genre of Exotic with a futuristic touch. Max Crook never abandoned music, even composing soundtracks. Max was another one of those musicians hidden behind a great performer or a great song, from Poison Ivy Lovers we want to shed a little light on this great performer, who has undoubtedly been very influential among generations of later musicians.
Juanmy “The Hunter”