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Eddy Arnold
Pioneer of the Nashville Sound
By Michael Streissguth
Schirmer Books
290 Pages
ISBN:  0-8256-7178-7

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Eddy Arnold was just a sweet-voiced, third-generation cotton farmer from Western Tennessee with a dream: to lift himself out of rural poverty and make a name for himself as a country performer. This book traces the history of the Arnold family to a Confederate soldier named Robert M. Arnold, who began farming cotton in the Henderson region after the war. His son, Will, wed twice; his second wife, Georgia, gave birth to Richard Edward Arnold in 1918.

After the stock market crash, Will Arnold lost ownership of his farm, and young Ed was less than happy working as a tenant farmer for absentee owners. An avid amateur guitarist, he soon had paying jobs at dances and gatherings around the area; inspired to go further afiedl, he traveld up the road to Jackson, Tennessee, where he garned his first radio job. Meanwhile, he worked daytimes for an undertaker to help make ends meet.

Forming a duo with fiddler Howard "Speedy" McNatt, they moved from station to station, in search of the elusive perfect homebasse. They got as far as St. Louis, where their local popularity blossomed. A chance audition with radio cowboy start Pee Wee King led the duo to join King's successful band, and even greater fame for the smooth-voiced Tennessee songster. With King's band, Eddy honed his professional chops, was introduced to a wide audience via Nashville's Grand Ole Opry radio program, and met the legendary and flamboyant manager Colonel Tom Parker, who would greatly influence his career.

Breaking away as a solo act, Eddy signed with Victor Records toward the end of World War II, and formed his first, highly influential band, featuring fiddler McNatt, "Little" Roy Wiggins on steel guitar, and bassist Gabe Tucker. His first hits were sentimental ballads, and by the late '40s he was one of Victor's top-selling artists and a consistent concert draw. His popluarity was so great that he became a welcome figure on national radio and television in the mid-'50s.

Then, a new sound shook the airwaves: Rock and roll. The market for Eddy's smooth country style diminished, and Eddy faced some lean times. Determined to crossover into the mainstream pop market, he experimented with a variety of styles until, in the early '60s, he hit on a perfect blend of country sentiments with uptown accompaniments. The result was a string of mid-'60s hits, highlighted by the classic, "Make the World Go Away." Eddy Arnold was a star all over again—and this time on the mainstream stage.

Eddy Arnold is a legendary figure in the country world, and still active today in his eighth decade. Truly few other figures can claim to have had as great influence on contemporary country and popular sounds.

  • Michael Streissguth is a former television writer and producer. His work has appeared in the "Journal of Country Music", "Goldmine", and numerous other music publications. He has a master's degree in communications from Purdue University.


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