Elvis was influenced by Eddy Arnold
Arnold Born Richard Edward Arnold on 15 May, 1919 in the farming
region of Henderson, Tennessee, Eddy Arnold became one of
America's greatest ever country artists. And as noted in an
earlier part of this series he was a major musical influence
on the young Elvis.
there were socio-cultural similarities between the two artists
and one very important connection that would shape their entertainment
futures. Like Elvis, Eddy received his first guitar at a young
age (10 years).
catalyst for his musical direction occurred following the death
of his father in 1929. Forced to quit school to help out on the
farm, Eddy earned extra money by playing at local square dances.
Eddy's early career was not dissimilar to Elvis's. He frequented
local radio stations, the medium of the masses before television
six years he was a regular on Memphis radio although this was before
Elvis joined his parents as a regular radio listener. In the late
1930s Eddy joined the 'Camel Caravan' a troupe of touring performers
and he followed this with appearances on the Grand Old Opry. Until
1954 he was referred to by the rather unfortunate title, 'The Tennessee
Plowboy' (a title engineered and promoted by one Colonel Tom Parker,
but more on that relationship later).
1944 Arnold was signed by RCA the label he is still with in 1998
(there was a three-year stint with MGM from 1973 to 1975). Registering
on the charts with his first single in 1945, Each Minute Seems Like
A Million Years that peaked at number 5, he followed this with three
consecutive Top 10 hits before the first of his 28 number one hits
on the country charts, What Is Life Without Love. Throughout the
40s and early 50s Arnold became one of the most instantly recognisable
voices on radio, particularly in the southern states.
Edward Morris notes in his liner notes to the 1996 BMG CD release
The Essential Eddy Arnold: "In the early 1950s, it was almost a
foregone conclusion that a tall, handsome fellow with a golden voice
and a pleasing manner would end up on television. Arnold made his
entry into this infant medium in 1952."
would host a number of quarter hour shows for CBS and NBC and during
this time the 'ploughboy' became an urbane gentleman. This was part
of a deliberate strategy by the Colonel to smooth off some of [Eddy's]
rural edges, in the hope of going for a national market. By the
1960s Eddy was a feature on network television in the US, even substituting
for Tonight Show host, Johnny Carson. In one memorable segment he
even danced with Ginger Rogers.
factor between the success of Eddy Arnold and later success of Elvis
Presley was their management by one, Colonel Tom Parker (the honorary
Colonel tag was bestowed on him by Louisiana Governor, Jimmy Davis,
during his time with Eddy). It was while managing Eddy Arnold (from
the mid 1940s) that the Colonel perfected many of his 'management'
strategies, including his 50% cut.
as importantly, this was the time the Colonel put in place 'his
team' - the team that would take Eddy to the top and would later
do the same for Elvis with even more spectacular results. Members
of the team included the Colonel's brother-in-law, Bitsy Mott, Oscar
Davis, gofer Bevo Bevis and (the use of) the powerful William Morris
Agency to book shows.
was during his management of The Eddy Arnold Show that one of the
great stories of the Parker legend was born - Colonel Parker's Dancing
Chickens. The device involved caged chickens dancing for their life
on a hidden hotplate. The Colonel's stroke of genius was employed
in order that the event be categorised as an agricultural show,
thereby avoiding a $20.00 entertainment tax.
significant the Colonel's role was in Eddy's initial success is
difficult to objectively judge. Eddy was already an aspiring star
when the Colonel arrived on the scene and country music was a genre
ready to explode on the national scene. At a minimum the Colonel's
strategic moves regarding 'multi-media' exposure were very important
as was his ability to ensure Eddy was paid for what he had previously
not charged for - his live radio performances.
attempt to make Eddy a movie star failed and the Colonel's experience
here undoubtedly planted the seeds for Elvis's movie success. The
Colonel would manage Eddy until 1953 when his suffocating style
of 'living and breathing' his artist took its toll and he was unceremoniously
dumped by Eddy by way of a telegram which read: "Your services are
no longer required. From receipt of this wire consider yourself
scholars may wish to ponder the significance of this incident
in the Colonel's future dealings with his artists, particularly
Elvis. In 1955 Arnold scored his first pop charts hit with Cattle
Call (listen to Elvis' version on 'Platinum: A Life In Music')
which peaked at number 69. Twenty-one other Top 40 Pop Hits
followed, highlighting his cross-over appeal.
biggest of these was Make The World Go Away, covered by Elvis on
his Elvis Country album and re-released later on the Elvis Great
Country Songs CD. For Eddy Arnold the song reached as high as number
6 on the Billboard Top 40 Pop Charts. As a touring artist Eddy Arnold
was a major drawcard and played "the" venues including Las Vegas,
Lake Tahoe and Atlantic City. In 1996 he headlined at Carnegie Hall
to a rousing reception.
in his career Elvis was accused of stretching the musical boundaries
of country music, an accusation also levelled at Eddy Arnold. More
reasonably however, Arnold was a musical experimenter. In the early
50s he introduced orchestral backings in an attempt to broaden his
an 1990 interview Eddy Arnold commented: "I had recorded with a
little group for so long that there wasn't anything else for me
to do from an instrumental standpoint. I had to be reborn."
1966 Arnold became the 7th artist elected into the Country Hall
of Fame (Elvis was elected this year) and in 1970 he was voted its
First Entertainer of the Year. Also that year RCA presented him
with a plaque to acknowledge his global record sales of more than
60 million. By the mid-1990s his sales tally stood at 85 million.
1984 The Academy of Country Music would present Eddy with the Pioneer
Award and in 1987 he received the President's Award from the Songwriter's
indication of Eddy Arnold's importance to country music is his achievements
on the country charts. As Billboard's All Time Top Country Artist,
Eddy recorded an incredible 128 Top 40 hits on the national Country
charts between 1945 and 1982. Of his 128 Top 40 hits, 28 reached
the number one spot and 92 made the Top 10. This latter tally is
the most by any artist - Webb Pierce ranking second with 78.
perspective, these feats place Arnold ahead of his country music
peers such as Gene Autry, Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton,
Hank Williams, Kenny Rogers, George Strait, Hank Snow, Johnny Cash,
Ernest Tubb and Conway Twitty.
is interesting to note that Elvis's not inconsiderable Top 40 Country
achievements are 66 singles, 31 Top 10 hits and 11 number one's
which occupied the top spot for a total of 50 weeks.
of Arnold's other chart achievements are simply mind-boggling: his
1947 version of I'll Hold You In My Heart (Till I Can Hold You In
My Arms) occupied the number one spot for a staggering 21 weeks.
In 1969 Elvis would record this song as part of his 'From Elvis
In Memphis' sessions. In 1948, Eddy's single Bouquet of Roses almost
matched this, staying at number one for 19 weeks.
in all, Eddy Arnold could well be regarded as the Elvis of the country
charts. Eddy Arnold's influence on Elvis was multifold. If you listen
to Eddy Arnold sing it is easy to realise how the prominence of
his smooth, tenor voice (not unlike Dean Martin's) on the 1940s
and 1950s airwaves influenced the vocal style of the young Elvis.
In addition Eddy's multi-media success on radio and television and
cross-over appeal with non-country music fans would also have held
great attraction to an aspiring entertainer like Elvis. Apart from
the tracks noted above, Elvis covered many other Eddy Arnold songs
including Just Call Me Lonesome, It's Over (a regular inclusion
in Elvis's live repertoire in the 70s), You Don't Know Me (featured
in Clambake), It's A Sin, Something Old, Something New and How's
The World Treating You.
Shook Up, Richard Middleton in 'The Elvis Reader', Kevin Quain
Billboard Book of Top 40 Country Hits, Joel Whitburn
and the Colonel (Dirk Vellenga with Mick Farren, 1989)
Country (RCA, 1970)
Great Country Songs (BMG, 1997)
Presley A Life In Music (Ernst Jorgensen, 1998)
Essential Eddy Arnold, BMG, 1996
article was prepared by Nigel Patterson and first appeared in 'Elvis
Monthly' as part of the author's fourteen part series, Influences
On A Legend. ©1998, 2002
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