AL CASEY: The Return of the Green Gretsch
“Al Casey, at 21, is regarded in the music trade as one of the best guitar players in the country.”
-- The Arizona Republic, June 1, 1958.
Alvin W. “Al” Casey will go down in history as the author of “Ramrod,” the greatest Rock and Roll guitar instrumental ever. He also was one of the top studio session musicians of 1960s Los Angeles, and his fingerprints are all over smash hits by The Beach Boys, The Association, Nancy and Frank Sinatra and Nilsson. He was a master of all styles, as relaxed with a raunchy surf-rock riff as a sophisticated jazz standard.
Al was a point of civic pride for Phoenix, Arizona, his home and base of operations for much of his life. He was one of the Southwestern desert city’s seminal rockers. He was just a kid when he starred as the steel guitar prodigy of The Sunset Riders, the most popular Country & Western band in town and stars of the Saturday night “Arizona Hayride” series at the now-demolished Madison Square Garden arena in downtown Phoenix. He was present at the birth of Phoenix Rock and Roll, contributing the hypnotic rockabilly guitar line to Sanford Clark’s Top 10 1956 hit “The Fool.” When Duane Eddy made twang an international commodity, Al was there, too, writing and co-writing Eddy’s hits “Ramrod” and “Forty Miles of Bad Road.” He also provides the classic twang to Jody Reynolds’ “Endless Sleep.” As a solo artist, Al had a number of awesome rockabilly releases on local Phoenix and national labels that didn’t do much chart damage, but record collectors, music scholars and others with good taste cherish them today. He eventually made some commercial progress with “Surfin’ Hootenanny,” his 1963 contribution to the surf boom and a No. 48 Billboard hit. (The song was much bigger in the influential L.A. market.) He’d previously had some chart action in 1962 with The Al Casey Combo’s “Cookin’” (No. 92) and “Jivin’ Around” (No. 71). “Guitars, Guitars, Guitars,” Al’s follow-up to “Surfin’ Hootenanny,” bubbled under at No. 116. But Al’s ultimate impact on American popular music of the 1960s would come through his session work, and he played on too many classics to list here.
Before his Sept. 17, 2006, death at age 69, Al completed work on his final album, The Return of the Green Gretsch, named for a favorite guitar. He did it his way and was excited about the way it turned out. Purists will be pleased to find the big twangy guitar sound that Al helped popularize is alive and well. The opening cut “Temptation” blasts the set into orbit, propelled by the twangy tones of Al’s guitar. “Stingeree” and “Hokus Pokus,” a surprising twist on “The Hokey Pokey,” vividly recall Al’s rockin’ days in Phoenix. Other tracks find Al in a mellower, jazzier mood, and provide the perfect soundtrack for late-night cocktail enjoyment. The collection includes Al’s version of his instrumental composition “T.O.M. (The Old Man).” Lee Hazlewood, Al’s longtime musical collaborator, added lyrics for the rendition on his own swan-song album, Cake Or Death.
The Return of the Green Gretsch also marks Al’s reunion with Ramco, Floyd Ramsey’s record company that originally released The Al Casey Combo’s hit “Cookin’” back in 1961. The label is a legendary local music institution, formerly a division of the Ramsey-owned Audio Recorders of Arizona, where Al worked on an untold number of studio sessions back in the day. This is the first official Ramco album release since 1968.
As a special salute to Al and a treat for his fans, The Return of the Green Gretsch is augmented with nine audio treasures, four from past local sessions and five found deep within Ramco’s vaults. Among these are Al’s vintage interpretations of Frankie Laine’s memorable “Jezebel” and The Strangers’ West Coast favorite “The Caterpillar Crawl.” A 1999 recording of “Ziggie’s Blues,” named for the landmark central Phoenix music store where Al taught guitar lessons for years, rounds out the package.
The Return of the Green Gretsch is a fitting capstone to the career and legacy of one of the most innovative and talented guitarists of our time.
PHOENIX, ARIZONA, U.S.A.
Billboard magazine chart positions from Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles 1955-1990 and Joel Whitburn’s Bubbling Under Singles and Albums, 1998 edition.
I wanted to make a couple of corrections that were missed in the booklet information. First of course, is the correct spelling of "Nuages." Sorry Django! Second is that Mike King played the bass, not Pete King. Sorry Mike! You should also know that Clarke Rigsby wrote "Calmez Hotel" especially for his friend Al.
Here is the song writer information for you also:
1. Temptation (Brown - Freed)
2. Calmez Hotel (Clarke Rigsby)
3. Fair And Cloudy (Al Casey)
4. A Mellow Riff (Al Casey)
5. Remember The Minuet (Al Casey)
6. Hokus Pokus (Al Casey)
7. Melancholy Serenade (Gleason - Enston)
8. September Song (Anderson - Weil)
9. T.O.M. The Old Man (Casey - Hazlewood)
10. Stingeree (Al Casey)
11. Nuages (Reinhardt - Williams)
12. Uptown Blues (Al Casey)
13. Ziggie's Blues (Al Caey)
14. In The Garden (P.D. Arr. Al Casey)
15. Amazing Grace (P.D. Arr. Al Casey)
16. Thundercloud (Casey - Reynolds)
17. Swamp Water (Casey - Reynolds)
18. Allen Case (Al Casey)
19. Drivin' (Casey - Reynolds)
20. Jezebel (Shanklin)
21. The Caterpillar Crawl (Lynch - Hill)
As always thank you for your support!
John P. Dixon