California-born, Phoenix-bred Al Casey is part of the vast secret history of rock and roll, one of a legion of "session men" -- though the term is insufficient to describe Casey's amazing body of work -- who contributed to the very formation of the sound in its earliest days. The aptly titled A Man for All Sessions, spanning the length of his career and spotlighting Casey's performances in numerous settings, is a historian and guitar hound's dream; and, short of a multi-dozen-disc box set, it's as helpful an introduction to Al Casey's art as one could hope for.
It's not just Casey's legendary work with rockabilly luminaries Duane Eddy and Jody Reynolds that preserves his place in rock history. It's also his masterful associations with producer Lee Hazlewood, his yeoman musicianship in a thousand side and session gigs -- the man played on "MacArthur Park," he played on Sinatra's recording of "That's Life," he played on friggin' Pet Sounds, for God's sake -- and his own songwriting and performances, whether solo or with the Al Casey Combo, all of which are represented on this excellent collection.
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Al Casey wrote the Duane Eddy smash "Ramrod," and co-wrote another, "Forty Miles of Bad Road." They're here. He played guitar on Jody Reynolds' haunting 1958 single, "Endless Sleep." That's here. He recorded a bona fide surf-rock classic, Hazlewood's "Surfin' Hootenanny." That's here as well. He played the instantly recognizable lead lick on Sanford Clark's 1956 hit "The Fool." Of course, it's here.
The sheer number of classic songs which Casey had a full or partial hand in creating isn't what's revelatory about A Man for All Sessions; Casey's mastery has been a matter of common knowledge among all the right people for several decades. What's most remarkable is just how representative a compilation Bear Family Records (which in 1995 released Casey's brand-new collection, Sidewinder) has managed to assemble.
Running 76-plus minutes and packed to bursting at 32 tracks, AMFAS is set up in a loose tripartite sequence. The first dozen or so cuts present Al Casey's best-known band-member and frontman work, including a genuine rockabilly diamond, Casey's own "If I Told You (Wouldn't Know It All By Myself)," recorded in 1956. The following sequence delivers jazz-and-rhythm numbers from the early 1960s, featuring strong performances of "Green Dolphin Street" and "Jivin' Around" by the Al Casey Combo, as well as masterful solo guitar renditions of "Tenderly" and "Laura." And the final portion consists of a string of session performances, including his storied work with Jody Reynolds, Johnny Lance and Sanford Clark.
Spanning material from 1955 to 1993 (and boasting a helpful discography, providing dates, locations, and players for all tracks), A Man for All Sessions isn't just a compilation; despite its single-disc format, properly speaking it's a genuine anthology, if necessarily brief. Until now, the only all-Casey compilation extant was Sundazed's 1995 collection Jivin' Around, which was split about evenly between rockabilly and R&B numbers. With A Man for All Sessions, Al Casey can at last enjoy a fuller representation of his many talents. And so can we.