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
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
againand 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.