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‘Behind Closed Doors’ craftsman passes . . .

Singer-songwriter Kenny O’Dell . . . a fond farewell

NASHVILLE — Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Famer Kenny O’Dell, 75, died at a healthcare center in Cool Springs near Nashville, March 27, of natural causes. Some who knew him believe he was anxious to reunite with his beloved singer-guitarist-wife Corki, who died last year, but whom he felt was very much alive in his heart.
O’Dell, best known for penning the #1 smashes “Behind Closed Doors,” “Trouble in Paradise,” “Lizzie And The Rainman” and “Mama, He’s Crazy,” also hit Top 10 country with his own 1978 recording, “Let’s Shake Hands and Come Out Lovin’.”
Actually, Kenny the artist scored successes in both country and pop, starting with his 1967 Top 40 “Beautiful People,” on the indie Vegas label, covered that same year by Bobby Vee, scoring yet another Top 40 pop hit. As Kenny pointed out, “All writers are frustrated artists anyway.” He had yet another modest pop single with “Springfield Plane.”
Born Kenneth Guy Gist, Jr., June 21, 1942, to Marian and Kenneth Gist in Antlers, Okla., he was raised in Santa Maria, Calif. Kenny began trying to play guitar as a youngster, and remembered at 13 writing his first song; however, he smilingly said that he didn’t really concentrate on writing until age 15.
A graduate of Santa Maria High School, Kenny decided early on to pursue a career in music, changing his surname to O’Dell, borrowed from his mom. He formed his first music firm under the title Mar-Key. Kenny’s initial band was called Guys And Dolls, with whom he toured five years throughout the northwest, and recorded his first solo disc, “Old Time Love,” pressing all of 600 copies.
While working with guitarist Duane Eddy, he first got to know Corki, then wed to fellow guitarist Al Casey. The former Vivian Ray (Corki) Casey O’Dell became one of the first female inductees into the Nashville-based Musicians Hall of Fame, along with Barbara Mandrell and Velma Williams Smith, in 2014. Musicians Hall founder Joe Chambers recalled she was known as “The First Rock & Roll Sidechick.”
Back then, Duane Eddy, was hot, thanks to his twangy instrumental hits “Rebel Rouser”  and “Because They’re Young,” produced by Lee Hazlewood. Both Al and Kenny played behind Duane, and Corki played rhythm guitar. They all toured together.
In 1969, Kenny moved to Nashville, where he hooked up with producer Bob Montgomery, and soon found himself running Bobby Goldsboro’s publishing, House of Gold.
Phil Walden, who in 1969 founded the Capricorn rockabilly label, home to such stalwarts as the Allman Brothers, Bonnie Bramlett, Wet Willie, Sam & Dave, Elvin Bishop and Marshall Tucker Band, recruited O’Dell to his Macon, Ga. label. He had Alex Taylor record the original version of Kenny’s “Lizzie And The Rainman,” and did an album, “Kenny O’Dell,” which produced Kenny’s Top 20 single “Soulful Woman.” As noted earlier, his biggest country hit was Capricorn’s “Let’s Shake Hands and Come Out Lovin’,” (#9,1978). Its follow-up, “As Long As I Can Wake Up In Your Arms” (which he co-wrote with Larry Henley), also did fairly well (#12, 1978) for them.
His biggest break as a writer, however, came when Charlie Rich recorded his “I Take It On Home,” which also marked Rich’s first Top 10 (actually #6, 1972). But a year later, came the frosting on their cake, with Rich’s version of O’Dell’s “Behind Closed Doors,” which was #1 two weeks, sold Platinum, winning Grammys for best song and best vocal. It also earned CMA and ACM awards, and is now in the Grammy Song Hall of Fame.
The following year, superstar Loretta Lynn added another #1 to his writing credits with her rendition of “Trouble In Paradise,” charting 17 weeks. In 1975, teen-aged Tanya Tucker took his “Lizzie And The Rainman” (also co-written with Larry Henley) into the #1 slot, as well. Then yet another lass, Billie Jo Spears, scored a resounding success with O’Dell’s sensuous “What I’ve Got In Mind” (#5, 1976).
Among other artists who’ve recorded O’Dell songs are Pat Daisy, Anthony Armstrong Jones, Dottie West, Kenny Rogers, Mac Davis, Kenny Dale, Tom Jones and Bobby Wright. Yet another major O’Dell cut came in 1984 for a new RCA act The Judds, cutting Kenny’s “Mama, He’s Crazy,” giving the mother-daughter duo their first #1 hit and a Grammy.
That same year, O’Dell earned the Nashville Songwriters Association International’s Songwriter of the Year award. Meantime, “Behind Closed Doors” garnered a major slot on Broadcast Music Inc.’s prestigious 50 Most Played BMI Songs poll. In 1996, sandy-haired Kenny received the ultimate accolade of being inducted into the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.
His wife Corki died May 11, 2017, two days before her 81st birthday. Survivors include his stepson Alvin Casey, daughters Diana Rose, and Sandra Blevens; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Services were conducted March 31, at Woodbine Funeral Home, Nashville. – By Walt Trott