May 11, 2017 – Corki Casey O’Dell was born Vivian J. Ray Casey on May 13, 1936 in Phoenix, Arizona where she grew up as teenage guitarists with the likes of Lee Hazlewood, Sanford Clark and Duane Eddy.
In 1956, she joined then-husband, guitarist Al Casey, playing rhythm guitar on Sanford Clark’s country, pop and R&B hit “The Fool,” which would later be recorded by Elvis Presley, among others. The tune was penned by songwriter-producer Lee Hazelwood, who would use O’Dell on several of the sessions he produced.
Beginning in 1957, she played on many Duane Eddy’s most memorable recordings, including twangy gems “Rebel Rouser,” “Ramrod” and his take on the “Peter Gunn” theme. The pair, who had known each other since they were teenage guitarists in Phoenix, were lifelong friends and sidekicks. Eddy fondly called her “the first side-chick of rock ‘n’ roll.”
She can also be heard on the rockabilly discs of Jimmy Spellman and on instrumentals by Jimmy Dell. She backed then-husband Al Casey on his 1963 hit “Surfin’ Hootenanny.”
But she is best known for backing Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame member Duane Eddy on his “twangy guitar” hits as a member of his band, The Rebels, also inducted into the hall. “Ramrod” (1957), “Rebel Rouser” (1958), “Forty Miles of Bad Road” (1959), “Because They’re Young” (1960) and “Peter Gunn” (1960) are among these.
In 1969 Corki Casey married Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Kenny O’Dell (Kenneth Guy Gist Jr.) and they moved to Nolensville on the outskirts of Music City in that year.
Kenny became notable as the writer of such hits as “Behind Closed Doors” (Charlie Rich, 1973), “Mama He’s Crazy” (The Judds, 1984), “What I’ve Got in Mind” (Billie Jo Spears, 1976), “Trouble in Paradise” (Loretta Lynn, 1974) and “Lizzie and the Rainman” (Tanya Tucker, 1975). He also wrote his own top-10 hit as a vocalist, 1978’s “Let’s Shake Hands and Come Out Lovin.’” Kenny and Corki were fixtures at the annual Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame banquets.
In 2014, Corki Casey O’Dell joined Barbara Mandrell and Nashville session guitarist Velma Smith (1927-2014) as the first three female inductees into the Musicians Hall of Fame. She played with joy and abandon on the Municipal Auditorium stage on that occasion, describing it as her “Cinderella night.” It was the first time that she and her lifelong friend Duane Eddy had performed together in five decades.
On May 11, 2017 Corki Casey O’Dell passed away just two days shy of her 81st birthday. Her health had been in steady decline.