MAXIMILIAN (MAX CROOK)
Born Maxfield Doyle Crook, 2 November 1936, Lincoln, Nebraska
Max Crook was an electronics wizard, the inventor of the Musitron organ, which can be heard prominently on Del Shannon's megahit "Runaway", jointly written by Shannon and Crook. Max created this hybrid synthesizer in 1959. On his website, Crook tells us: "I built the Musitron out of a variety of things. A clavioline was part of it, but I also threw in some resisters (too early for transistors), tubes from television sets, parts from appliances, and other such household items".
By the time Crook was fourteen, he had already built his own studio. He released his first (instrumental) single in 1959 with his college band, The White Bucks, on Dot (Get That Fly / Orny). In that year he met Charles Westover, the later Del Shannon, who asked him to join his band as keyboardist. Crook's musitron became the centerpiece of the combo. The next year Del signed a management/recording deal with Irving Micahnik and Harry Balk's Embee Productions in Detroit (they also handled Johnny and the Hurricanes, for whom Max wrote "Mr. Lonely", the B-side of "Ja-Da"), which led to Shannon's first recording session in August 1960. The two ballads, "The Search" and "I'll Always Love You", were considered too slow for single release (they later appeared on Del's first LP) and Shannon was encouraged to come up with a beatier number. During a live set, Crook hit an unusual chord change on the organ one night, going from A-minor to G, and Del and Max developed the lick into a song, which became "Runaway".
In January 1961, Crook and Del Shannon travelled from Michigan to New York City to record four tracks at Bell Sound Studios, which would be issued as two Bigtop singles. Del's tracks were "Runaway" and "Jody", while Crook recorded the two instrumentals, "The Snake" and "The Wanderer", with Balk and Micahnik as producers. Crook's wife, Joann, remembers that they were short of people during the session: "Harry [Balk] had Shirley [Westover, Del's wife] and I stand in and our clap hands on "The Snake". They wanted one more handclapper and so they literally dragged some guy off the street. Some man came in and clapped on the number with us, and I guess he was paid $40 or something to do it."
Crook's website tells you all you ever wanted to know about the making of "Runaway" and more. "The Snake", credited to "Maximilian", failed to make the Top 100, infectious as it was. But it was a hit in Argentina, where, according to Crook, it is still being played on the radio. "The Snake" was mistakenly put on the B-side of "Runaway" (as "Jody" by Del Shannon), on approximately 1,000 record singles in the UK (London HLX 9317) and also on the first French Del Shannon EP. Maximilian's next two singles, "The Twistin' Ghost" (1961) and "Greyhound" (1962) both made the Top 40 in Canada. Crook continued to write and record instrumentals all through the sixties and seventies. In the 1980s he changed his musical direction to that of gospel and spiritual music. He has recently constructed a new studio beside his home in Deming, New Mexico, where he now resides.
CD: Maximilan. Released in 2002 on his own label, ML-O-D Records. 25 tracks, including "The Snake", "The Wanderer", "The Twistin' Ghost" and "Greyhound".
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