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Not to be confused with the jazz guitarist who played with Fat Waller and others, Al Casey one of a number of budding young musicians in Phoenix, Arizona, who blasted onto the pop music scene beginning in the late 1950s. He and his childhood friend, Sanford Clark, began playing in a group called the Sunset Riders. Local DJ Lee Hazelwood approached Casey about recording his song, "The Fool"; Casey suggested Clark as vocalist, adapted a guitar riff from Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightning," and together, they recorded the tune, which then sold over a million copies. Casey cut several instrumental singles, then paired with another local, Jody Reynolds, and cut "Endless Sleep," which also landed on national charts.
Around the same time, Casey met the young guitarist, Duane Eddy, and worked with him on the arrangement for his first single, "Movin' and Groovin'." Eddy's signature twangy guitar sound sold well, and over the next few years, Casey was often in the studio with Eddy, usually playing back-up on piano.
While still in Phoenix, Casey continued to record occasional instrumentals under his own name, as well as with his wife, singer Corky Casey, but none of them hit with listeners. Instead, Casey went on the road with Corky as part of a folk-music act, the Raintree County Singers (after Ross Lockridge's best-seller of the late 1940s). The group recorded one album on Bob Shad's Time Records.
Hazelwood got back in contact with Casey to pitch a tune he'd written to capitalize on a merger of two then-current waves in pop music: folk and surf music. Casey listened to the tune, cut a guitar track on tape, and sent it back to Hazelwood. Hazelwood then took the tape into a Hollywood studio, added a vocal group back-up, and sold the track to Phoenix label Stacy. To Casey's surprise, the tune, "Surfin' Hootenanny," almost a parody of made-to-order pop, actually worked as Hazelwood predicted, landing well into the top 100s charts.
Stacy owner Jim Gaylord figured there was enough demand to support an album, and Casey and his wife returned to Phoenix, cut an album's worth of tracks in about a day, then flew back to a Raintree County Singers gig in San Jose, still not expecting much. And though the album became a prized item among hard-core surf fans, it failed to follow-up with the same success.
Casey he found session work a more predictable source of income, so he moved to L.A. Over the next twenty years, he played on hundreds of records. He was in the studio for the Fifth Dimension's hit, "Up, Up and Away," as well as several tracks for the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" album. He also worked on television, playing in the studio band on "The Dean Martin Show" variety series.
In the late 1960s, he was approached by label owner Randy Wood about arranging and recording a set of current hits for a guitar ensemble with a slightly softer sound. Wood was hoping to attract a younger audience to his mainstream easy listening label, Ranwood. As "The Exotic Guitars," the concept won a respectable, if not huge, audience, and Casey went on to record several more albums, each featuring his own arrangements.
Although Casey also opened a guitar shop in Hollywood, he eventually decided to return to Phoenix in the early 1980s. He re-recorded some of his old instrumentals with a group of fellow Phoenix veteran musicians, including Glen Campbell, and he teamed back up with Sanford Clark for a rockabilly tour of England.
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