Rockabilly Hall of Fame: Al Casey

John Dixon



Above photo shows Al, age 32, holding a Hagstrum V1, in 1968.

(1936 - 2006)


THE PAST


Born on October 26, 1936 in Long Beach, California and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Al Casey ws already a veteran of the local 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. It was Casey who first introduced Hazlewood to Sanford Clark in 1956. Together they made "The Fool" the first of many national hits from Phoenix, Arizona. Casey took Duane Eddy under his wing while Duane finished up high school in Coolidge. All the while playing on dozens of sessions, from country to rock, square dance to jazz. Casey thrived in the confines of the several small studios at the time. He played most stringed instruments, including the piano, as well as arranging many of the charts for the dates. Casey gained loads of experience while backing many of the national country acts in Phoenix and the smaller clubs all over the state.

Al, who by age 17, was already a veteran of the local music scene. As a member of The Sunset Riders, he was featured on radio and television as well as playing on the first Viv sessions for Hazlewood. It was Casey who introduced Lee to Sanford Clark, took Duane Eddy under his wing while he finished up high school in Coolidge and played on dozens of sessions, from country to rock, square dance to jazz. Casey thrived in stringed instruments, including the piano, as well as arranging many of the charts for the dates. He had the experience of backing many national acts at Madison Square Garden, in Phoenix, and many smaller clubs all over the state. The song "Round and Round," is one of several instrumental tracks that were cut, but never released, featuring that great guitar sound. Bear Family will be releasing two CD's later this year by Casey, one of vintage performances, including "The Fool," "Endless Sleep," and "Surfin' Hootenanny" and one of new material featuring pickers David Grisman and Glen Campbell and singers Lee Hazlewood and Jody Reynolds. Ace Records is releasing out all of Al's Stacy sides on CD soon. These albums will be a long overdue musical tribute to a major player in the Arizona and L.A. recording scenes. Al is back in Phoenix after years on the West Coast, staying busy in the studio, on the band stand and teaching.....what else!

Casey was right there in 1958 with Hazlewood and Eddy in the tiny Ramsey's Recording Studio, (later changed to Audio Recorders), developing "The Twang Heard Round The World." Check the Rhino or Bear Family sets for more details on these years. By 1961 Casey had had enough of the road and was working with his own group when he wasn't playing sessions in the studios of L.A. and Phoenix. The Al Casey Combo scored several mild hits before "Surfin' Hootenanny" on Stacy, hit the Top 50 Pop charts and the teens on the R&B chart.

If Duane Eddy and Lee Hazlewood were working together in the summer of 1963, "Surfin' Hootenany would be on "The Best" of Duane Eddy albums. But the two were on the outs at the time. Hazlewood called his long time musical associate, Al Casey, to tell him about a new song he had written. "I knew that folk-hootenanny music was happening, and surf was hot too, so I combined them," Hazlewood says. Casey already had a contract with Stacy Records. After a call to owner, Jim Gaylord, a recording date was hooked at Audio Recorders in Phoenix, Arizona. But we're getting ahead of our story.

"Cookin," Casey's first record for Stacy was originally released on Floyd Ramsey's local Ramco imprint in 1961. After some regional action, Ramsey leased the master to Stacy Records in Chicago the following year. Casey recalls, "That first session I produced myself. I think we had three songs done and I was playing guitar. We had time for one more song and I thought I would use the organ that was already in the studio for a change, no guitar. We just put "Cookin" together on the spot. I overdubed the organ on "Hotfood" later. The last minute song was strong enough to place in the Billboard Top 100 chart after Stacy released it. Casey made an appearance on American Bandstand playing "Cookin." "I flew to Philadelphia from Phoenix and they hired a couple of locals to fake the organ and drum playing." For a follow up Casey chose to cover Ernie Freeman's "Jivin' Around." This one made it into the #70's on the pop chart and #13 on the R&R chart. Casey says, "By this time we kind of had a formula of organ, sax and guitar. Throw in a few grunts and groans and that was it."

Three more singles followed with no real success. There were pockets of play but not enough to break nationally. Drummer Bob Taylor did manage to land his own Stacy session. His two singles, released right after Casey's "Laughin'" had that same jazz/lounge feel of the previous Al Casey Combo sides. In fact, at the time Casey met Hazelwood in Phoenix, in May of 1963 at Audio Recorders he was playing in Palm Springs, California with Jody Reynolds. Later in the year, Al and Corky were on the road as "The Raintree County Singers" doing a folk music show. Carol Roberts (Carol Eddy, Duane's ex.) was the third member of the group. For Casey completest there is a Raintree County album released on Time Records. (Ed. Note: Around this time Corky changed the spelling of her name to Corki.)

Everyone knew that it was time for a change in musical direction and Hazlewood was the man who could and would provide it. Both "Surfin' Hootenanny" and "Guitars, Guitars, Guitars" were recorded at the session. "Lee had written this song he thought was a hit for Duane, but they weren't talking at the time," Casey says. "He called me and asked if I wanted to record it....of course I said yes." This time Casey's lead guitar was up front in the mix. Hazelwood took the tapes back to Los Angeles and added a female group billed as The K-C Ettes. In actuality they were the Blossoms, L.A.'s hard working studio voices. "Surfin' Hootenany" was released in late May of 1963, and by mid-July it was half way up the Billboard Top 100 chart. After the record was selling it was decided to do a run of red vinyl discs. Casey remembers walking into Wallach's Music City in Hollywood and seeing dozens of the records on display. "They used plastic covers instead of paper sleeves so the records really stood out in the racks," Casey recalls.

With Hazlewood's guitar drenched, female chorused, production a success, Stacy wanted to record an album of surf material for the fans. Casey remembers hooking a plane flight with Corky from San Jose, California where they were hooked. "When Surfin' Hootenanny" hit we were on the road as the Raintree County Singers," Casey says. "We flew in for the day and had to be back in San Jose that night for our shows. We did the album in six hours. I said 'I gotta go' and Lee said there wasn't enough for an album. The cab was waiting to take us to the airport and told him to turn the tape on ...that's where "Surfin' Blues" came from....recorded as the meter was running in the cab."

The first pressings of the album featured a swirling blue vinyl disc. "I wanted to give the record a special look," says Jim Gaylord. "Some even had little white pellets mixed into the disc to look like a breaking wave." This was the only Stacy album released.

"Guitars, Guitars, Guitars" followed "Surfin' Hootenanny" as a single in September, but it failed to garner national attention. Casey produced Corky and Carol as "Sugar and The Spices" for Stacy during this time. "They were a female version of The Four Season's sound." "Do The Dog" and flip "Bye Bye Baby," disappeared shortly after it's release. As a new year approached Hazlewood put together "What Are We Gonna Do In '64?" It was the last Al Casey record for Stacy and just about the last record released. They ceased business that same year.

Casey went on to countless L.A. sessions and shows. He even ran his own guitar store in Hollywood for several years. For more details on Al Casey's career, Bear Family will be releasing two CD's this year by Casey, one "The Best Of" with vintage performances, including "The Fool," "Endless Sleep," and his own releases. The second, "Sidewinder" features new recordings, including pickers David Grisman and Glen Campbell, and singers Lee Hazlewood and Jody Reynolds. These albums are a long overdue musical tribute to a major player in the Arizona and L.A. recording scenes. Al is back in Phoenix after years on the West Cost, staying busy in the studio, on the band stand and teaching.

Through the 60's and 70's, Al was on call as a top studio player in L.A. working with practically everyone in the business from The Beach Boys to Eddy Arnold to Frank Sinatra. For a spell he was on Dean Martin's T.V. show, as well as playing lead guitar on most of the Exotic Guitars albums. He ran his own music store in Hollywood from 1966-1970. After twenty years on the West Coast, Casey returned to Arizona in 1983. Al has "been there, done that," and still continues to play, teach and record as you will hear on this CD. After these many years Al's memory banks are filled with hundreds of studio stories and bad jokes that he gladly shares with those of us who call him a friend.

by John P. Dixon, March 1995
... with special thanks to Johnny Vallis




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