LifeNotes: Guitar Great Corki Casey O’Dell Passes

Musicians Hall of Fame member Corki Casey O’Dell died in Nashville on Thursday, May 11, at age 80.

She was a trailblazer for female session instrumentalists. Vivian J. “Corki” Ray Casey was part of a group of rock ‘n’ rollers who congregated in Phoenix in the late 1950s. When some of her peers went into the recording studio with producer Lee Hazelwood, she accompanied them.

She played rhythm guitar on Sanford Clark’s 1956 hit “The Fool.”

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.”

She is perhaps 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. “Ramrod” (1957), “Rebel Rouser” (1958), “Forty Miles of Bad Road” (1959), “Because They’re Young” (1960) and “Peter Gunn” (1960) are among these. They made Eddy rock ‘n’ roll’s all-time top instrumentalist.

Corki Casey married Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Kenny O’Dell (Kenneth Guy Gist Jr.) nearly 50 years ago. They moved to Music City in 1969.

He 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.

The museum describes her as “The First Rock-and- Roll Sidechick.”

Corki Casey O’Dell had been in declining health for several months and passed away just two days shy of her 81st birthday.

In addition to Kenny O’Dell, she is survived by her children Diana Rose, Sandra (Chuck) Blevens and Al (Donna) Casey; by seven grandchildren and by five great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be Monday, May 15, 2017, from 4-8 p.m. at Woodbine Funeral Home, Hickory Chapel, 5852 Nolensville Road.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Musicians Hall of Fame.


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Category: Artist, Featured, Obituary

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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