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Guitarist Corki Casey O’Dell Dead at 80

Ed Rode, Getty Images
Ed Rode, Getty Images

Corki Casey O’Dell, the widely respected guitarist whose early session work pioneered professional inroads for female musicians during rock’s formative years, has died at the age of 80.

Born Vivian Ray on May 13, 1936, O’Dell rose to prominence in the ’50s as part of a group of musicians, songwriters and producers that included Duane Eddy, Sanford Clark and Lee Hazlewood. One early recording featuring her playing, Clark’s 1956 hit “The Fool,” later ended up being recorded by Elvis Presley, helping open further opportunities for the Phoenix-based cluster of artists.

O’Dell served as a member of the Rebels, Eddy’s backing band, playing on a string of classic tracks throughout the late ’50s and early ’60s, including “Ramrod” and “Peter Gunn.” According to the Tennessean, the two were “lifelong friends and sidekicks,” a bond that prompted Eddy to anoint O’Dell “the first side-chick of rock ‘n’ roll.”

After marrying songwriter Kenny O’Dell in the late ’60s, she moved to Nashville, where the duo became local industry fixtures — partly by virtue of his hits as a writer and recording artist, and partly through public appearances that included annual visits to the Songwriters Hall of Fame banquets.

Alongside Barbara Mandrell and Velma Smith, O’Dell was one of the first women to be inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame. She performed at her 2014 induction ceremony, part of a freshman class that also included Buddy Guy and Peter Frampton, and later referred to the night’s festivities as her “Cinderella night” — but as Hall of Fame founder Joe Chambers told the Tennessean, she more than held her own onstage.

“She stood her place with all the guys. She was not looked at as a female player. She was looked at as a player, period. She was just a joy to be around,” said Chambers. “Corki didn’t miss a beat. She was just tearing it up.”

O’Dell is survived by her husband, three children, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. The family held a visitation at Nashville’s Woodbine Hickory Chapel on May 15, requesting that mourners offer donations to the Musicians Hall of Fame instead of flowers.

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