Al Casey

Atmospheric session guitarist
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The Independent Online

Alwin W. Casey, guitarist: born Long Beach, California 26 October 1936; married; died Phoenix, Arizona 17 September 2006.

Al Casey was a top session musician who worked with many leading American performers from the Sixties, including Duane Eddy, the Beach Boys and the Everly Brothers.

Born in Long Beach, California, in 1936, he was raised in Phoenix, Arizona. He grew up with Sanford Clark and together they developed an interest in popular music. Clark sang in school productions, while Casey took guitar and piano lessons. He became proficient in his teens, joining a local group, the Sunset Riders, and also working with the vocalist Jody Reynolds.

In 1956, a local disc-jockey and wannabe record producer, Lee Hazlewood, started recording with him on his first productions. Hazlewood recalls,

I thought my song, "The Fool", could be a huge

country hit and I played it to Al Casey. He added a guitar riff, which he had taken from Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightnin' ". When we had completed the song, I asked Al if he knew any tall, good-looking kids who could sing. He introduced me to Sanford Clark and I thought he was great.

Sanford Clark's "The Fool" was a US hit and Casey worked on several more of his singles as well as releasing his own instrumentals, "Juice" and "Guitar Man". He played the atmospheric, echo-drenched guitar on Jody Reynolds's million-selling "Endless Sleep" (1958).

Casey knew a schoolboy called Duane Eddy, and they worked out an arrangement for "Movin' 'n' Groovin' ". They did not feel it was distinctive enough but Hazlewood encouraged them and, with his echo effects and Plas Johnson's saxophone, they recorded it in November 1957 for Eddy's first single. Eddy's so-called "twangy guitar" sound quickly followed. Casey wrote his hits "Ramrod" and "Forty Miles of Bad Road" as well as playing bass or piano on several others.

Casey's own instrumentals such as "Cookin' " and "Jivin' " did little business and he also recorded with his wife, Corky. In 1963 he had a minor hit with "Surfin' Hootenanny", which, unusually for the time, was issued on red vinyl, and he made a folk album singing and playing guitar for the Raintree County Singers. Life was hectic and, one day when he had a taxi about to take him to the airport, Hazlewood demanded another track. He held up his taxi for five minutes so he could write and record "Surfin' Blues".

In the mid-Sixties Casey became a session guitarist in Los Angeles, being featured on "Up, Up and Away" for Fifth Dimension and "Sloop John B" and "Good Vibrations" for the Beach Boys. He was on albums by Delaney and Bonnie (Genesis, 1971), Michael Nesmith (Nevada Fighter, 1971) and Mac Davis (Burnin' Thing, 1975); he had sessions with Frank Sinatra and was part of the resident orchestra for Dean Martin's television series; he was also part of the easy listening group that recorded instrumental versions of big hits as the Exotic Guitars. He opened a guitar store in Hollywood before returning to Arizona in 1983.

Casey spent his later years teaching and playing locally, often with Jody Reynolds. In 2001 he came to the UK with Sanford Clark and they appeared with great success at the Hemsby Rock'n'Roll Weekend in Norfolk.

Spencer Leigh