On Dec. 7 at approximately 7:10 p.m., a man was struck by a blue, lifted Chevy pickup while crossing the street in Anaheim minutes after getting off the phone with his wife on his way home from the library. When paramedics arrived, the man was pronounced dead at the scene. At the time, the original story in the OC Register didn’t mention a name, and for many it may have been easy to brush off as another daily tragedy at the hands of a reckless driver. But for our local music community, the loss of Cory Case is a devastating blow, one that cost us a talented musician with a classic voice, a poet’s heart and endless potential.
Case, who’d been a local fixture at venues like The Port Restaurant and Bar in his native Corona Del Mar as well as Bobby V’s, The Blue Beet, The King’s Inn at Memphis and The Rusty Pelican, died at the age of 31. Authorities are still searching for the driver of the vehicle.
While Case was always known as an avid solo performer, many of his longtime supporters remember his music as far back as the mid 2000s. He played in a host of different bands including The Licks, Cory Case and the Swine, and The Shys. Speaking to the Weekly in a2008 column, Aural Reports, Case espoused his love for the Orange County music scene and his desire to succeed. It’s safe to say that he did when it came to being a barroom bard who could magnetize everyone in a room with his songs, whether it was a big rock show or a cozy dive at 1 a.m.
“You think there are only places for the big bands, but there are a lot of places you can play where people just want to come and listen to good music, and not be all rowdy. Not everyone wants to be blown away. But sometimes they do. I can play a party. I can play a bar, a sit-down quiet thing. I really love doing both.”
His music was often simple, the kind of songs not meant to reinvent the wheel but redeem the soul. Raised on the strummed psalms of Bob Dylan, the crystalline tone ofJim Croce and the weathered wisdom of Van Morrison, Case synthesized his influences through the prism of an Orange County kid with an ability to tap into the human condition in a way that allowed you to experience an entire lifetime in a single song.
Though his list of accomplishments and recorded music is vast, one of Case’s noted local achievements was winning Best Live Acoustic Act at the 2009 OC Music Awards. During the awards ceremony, performed the Van Morrison-esque tune “Time Worth Saving,” a show stopping song that he once said took him only five minutes to write. His brother Tyler Case who started playing with his older brother in bands at Corona Del Mar High School, always remembered Cory as a shrinking violet that bloomed majestically any time he picked up a guitar and got on stage.
“When you look at Cory walking around talking to people when he doesn’t have a guitar in his hand he was kind of shy and timid,” Tyler says. “But then you put a guitar in his hand and put him in front of every single person in the room and he lit up…he was more comfortable and confident than pretty much anybody.”
That sense of confidence followed Case throughout his life. His determination to pursue his passion helped him become a featured local artist on 95.5 KLOS FM and get an unexpected shot at Capitol Records where Tyler says he stood outside playing and refusing to leave until someone at the label would pay attention to him. Remarkably, Tyler says, “Somehow he made his way in there, sat down and recorded a five song album that day, they gave him a full day of recording time.”
As a beloved fixture on the acoustic circuit, Case was constantly playing and writing songs and touring either solo or with a band.
Ali H. Zadeh, the owner of the Port in Corona Del Mar whose featured Case a resident musician for the past 7 years, says Case was most at home on a simple stage playing stripped down and baring his soul to those who happened to stumble in.
“Cory was like a folk act from the ‘70s, his demeanor and his lifestyle was simple, all of those things made you wonder if he was from a different era, ” Zadeh says.”He was very pure, both as a person and a musician.”
Case’s music also helped him through some extremely difficult times in his life, including recovering from a brutal beating at the hands of some thugs at a party in Huntington Beach in 2010. The Register reported that Case had fallen asleep at the party and was woken up by two men hurling their fists at him and shouting anti-gay slurs. Though Case wasn’t gay, his attackers assumed he was simply because of how he looked—sporting his usual combination of tight skinny jeans, black leather boots, T-shirt and green tuxedo blazer. The beating left Case with a broken nose and a shattered eye socket and $7,000 dollars in medical bills which his parents had to pay for. The assailants were never caught.
But even the pain and suffering he went through following the attack didn’t snuff out his spirit.
“When he was all bandaged up and couldn’t even breathe through his nose, he was still writing songs about it,” his brother Tyler says. “He was recording those songs. Once he was able to get back out there he continued to live life, he didn’t let it phase him whatsoever.”
Seven years later, Case met his wife Jessica after briefly transplanting from OC to Utah. While she was working at a gas station, Case’s wife says he happened to be playing outside where she worked and she sat down to listen to him. It wasn’t until later that she got to know him and learned of his deep roots in Orange County music.
“He was very talented and wrote many, many songs. He actually tried out for the Voice a couple times but he wasn’t ready yet but he was actually planning on trying out again pretty soon,” Jessica says. The two were only married for seven months before Case’s tragic death. He was killed while Jessica was in Mexico visiting her sister. She says the two had just gotten off the phone around 7 p.m., the time they normally called to check in with each other.
“He would go to the library every day while I was gone and we’d talk at the same time and when it happened he was coming home after talking to me,” she says.
Though the heartbreak of losing Case has devastated his family, friends and local musicians who knew him, one thing many of them are grateful for is the huge amount of music and videos Case left behind, immortal mementos of his talent, his personality and his drive as a musician. On Saturday, the Port will host a celebration of Case’s life, featuring several local musicians performing in honor. And of course Case left plenty of songs behind for his loved ones to remember him by which will offer some strength and comfort during these tough times, the way he always intended them to.
“We’re all really fortunate because Cory recorded all of his songs, we have so many different things, articles, recordings, albums, videos,” Tyler says. “I know some people who’ve lost a loved ones who told me all they had was a voicemail. So being able to listen to all the music he made over the years is really nice to have.”
A Celebration of the Life of Cory Case will be held Saturday, Dec. 16 at The Port restaurant and Bar in Corona Del Mar, 440 Heliotrope Ave., Corona Del Mar. 2-5 p.m. For more info, click here.