Born Alvin W. Casey, 26 October 1936, Long Beach, California Died 17 September 2006, Phoenix, Arizona
Al Casey should not be confused with another guitarist of the same name (1915-2005), who was active in the swing and jazz field. Our Al Casey was born in California, but he was raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where his family moved in 1938. He was already a veteran of the Phoenix music scene by age seventeen. As a member of the Sunset Riders, he was featured on radio and television as well as playing on the first Viv sessions for Lee Hazlewood, then a disc jockey at KCKY in Coolidge, Arizona. Hazlewood was looking for someone to record his composition "The Fool". It was Casey who introduced Lee to Sanford Clark, Al's lifelong friend. Backing Clark on the session were Al (who came up with a guitar riff based on Hubert Sumlin's lick on "Smokestack Lightning" by Howlin' Wolf) and his guitarist wife Corky. The rhythm section consisted of bassist Jimmy Wilcox and drummer Connie Conway, who jointly owned the tiny MCI label. So great was Casey's contribution that he received label credit ("Al Casey, guitar"), a rare feat for a sideman, then and now. The original MCI single of Sanford Clark's "The Fool" attracted little attention, but after it was reissued on Dot in July 1956, it soon reached the Billboard Top 10, peaking at # 7.
Al played most stringed instruments, including the piano (that's him on Don Cole's "Snake-Eyed Mama"). He played on countless Phoenix sessions in 1956 and 1957, but only one of these produced a hit, Sanford Clark's "The Fool". Things changed dramatically when Duane Eddy entered the Phoenix scene. In late 1957, Hazlewood and Eddy were in the tiny Ramsey's Recording Studio (later changed to Audio Recorders), developing the twang sound for which Duane would become famous. Casey played on many of Duane's early Jamie sessions, playing bass, rhythm guitar, and sometimes, piano. He joined Duane's touring band, The Rebels, for only a short time, as he wanted to remain in Phoenix for session work. He wrote one of Duane Eddy's earliest hits, "Ramrod" , and co-wrote, with Duane, the Top 10 hit "Forty Miles Of Bad Road" (1959).
Another big hit on which Al can be heard is "Endless Sleep" by Jody Reynolds, another long-time friend. Together they wrote the flip-side, the rocker "Tight Capris". For Al, this was one of the few 50s sessions not involving Lee Hazlewood. Al's moody guitar sound on "Endless Sleep" really added to the aura of the song.
Al would be the first to admit that singing was not his greatest musical strength, but he made some credible vocal records just the same. "Willa Mae"/"She Gotta Shake" (both sides co-written with Lee Hazlewood) came out on Liberty 55117 and featured Eddie Cochran on guitar. The backing track of "She Gotta Shake" was recycled as "The Walker" for the B-side of Duane Eddy's "Ramrod". Even better was Al's "Teenage Blues" (Highland 1002, from 1958), which was later recorded by Ray Sharpe. Tired of the road, Al quit touring with the Rebels and moved to Los Angeles, where the recording scene was really booming. The versatile guitarist soon found himself with all the studio work he could handle. Not all the sessions were rock dates ; Casey also recorded with the Sinatras (Frank and Nancy). Johnny Mathis, Jack Jones and Ella Fitzgerald, among many others. In between, he still found time for his own records, with his own group, the Al Casey Combo. His most succesful stint was with the Stacy label, owned by Jim Gaylord, for which he scored three hits in 1962-63 : "Cookin' " (Stacy 925, # 92, featuring Al on hammond organ), "Jivin' Around" (Stacy 936, # 71) and "Surfin' Hootenanny" (Stacy 962, # 48). The latter came complete with a female vocal group, billed as the K-C-Ettes, in reality Darlene Love and her Blossoms.
Al's solo career petered out when Stacy closed shop in 1964, but he continued to find a lot of work as a session man. Eventually, changes and generational shifts brought younger musicians into the L.A. studios and in 1983, after 22 years on the West Coast, Al headed back home, to Arizona, residing in Phoenix until his death. He remained active in the studio, on the bandstand and as a guitar teacher. In May 2001 he came to the UK with Sanford Clark for a successful Hemsby performance. Al Casey was a formidable multi-instrumentalist, held in high esteem by all his colleagues.
More info: http://www.rockabillyhall.com/AlCasey1.html
Acknowledgements : Liner notes for:
- Al Casey : A Man For All Sessions (Bear Family BCD 16579). By Rich Kienzle and John P. Dixon.
- Al Casey, Jivin' Around : Original Stacy Recordings (Ace 612). By Keith Murphy and John P. Dixon.
- Duane Eddy, Twangin' From Phoenix To L.A. : The Jamie Years (Bear Family BCD 15778, 5 CD-set). Hardcover book by Rob Finnis and John P. Dixon.
"A Man For All Sessions", released in 2001, is a nice 32-track overview of Al's long career as a session man, vocalist and solo instrumentalist.
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