Eddy Arnold, "The Tennessee Plowboy"
How did Eddy Arnold, the son of a poor Tennessee sharecropper, transform himself into one of our country’s most beloved and most successful singers? In a 1970 interview, he explained his style. “I sing a little country, a little pop and a little folk,” he said. He was a pioneer of “The Nashville Sound,” still famous today.
Eddy Arnold was born May 15, 1918, on a farm near Henderson, Tenn., and died one week short of his 90th birthday in Nashville. His wife for 66 years was Sally Gayhart Arnold. In March 2008, Sally was admitted to the hospital because of breathing problems, where she died. Three months later, Eddy, recovering from hip surgery, died while rehabilitating in a hospital. They had two children, two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Sally and Eddy met while she was in the audience when he was performing with the Pee Wee King Band. Eddy’s first professional singing job was with Pee Wee King. King was a musician and songwriter who wrote “The Tennessee Waltz” and other songs. The Arnolds married on Nov. 28, 1941, and had a son, Richard Edward Arnold Jr., and a daughter, Jo Ann Arnold.
Sally Arnold, a Tennessee gal, stayed home with their children and handled their finances, while Eddy played at radio stations and on stages around the country, trying to break into the big time. His first hit record, “That’s How Much I Love You,” was released in 1946. It was followed by other songs that rose to No. 1 on the charts. He always credited Sally for his success. Fans thought he’d dedicated “That’s How Much I Love You” to his wife.
In his wife’s later years after he retired, Sally preferred to stay home during the week, while Eddy liked to drive to town and chat over coffee with his friends at local restaurants. He enjoyed being treated as one of the guys and not as a celebrity. He would bring a sandwich home for her and would share the news of the day or what was happening in town. Then they would socialize with others at events on weekends.
My husband worked in the Buick factory in Flint, Mich., after high school, before enlisting in the Air Force. He remembers listening to “The Tennessee Plowboy, the Eddy Arnold Show” on his car radio every morning while driving from Owosso to work. That was his first introduction to the Eddy Arnold sound, which he loved.
My introduction came much later. When we lived in Santee, Calif., we’d drive to Kelly’s Bar and Grill on old Mission Gorge Road for Little League dances. Kelly’s featured various country-western bands on Saturday nights. In the ’60s, Chet Atkins produced Eddy Arnold’s hit record, “Make the World Go Away” and it went to the top of the charts. On the record, Eddy sang with Chet on the guitar and Floyd Cramer on piano. Whenever that song or any other Eddy Arnold songs were played by traveling country bands, everyone rushed onto the dance floor. That song and “Anytime” were the most romantic tunes of that era.
Whenever a new Eddy Arnold album came out, we bought it and played it at home. All our three kids remember the old days while growing up, our house was full of Eddy Arnold music because he was our favorite musician. Sometimes we played them on the car radio and loudly sang along, which always drove the kids in the back seat crazy. (Hey, wasn’t that our job as young parents to sometimes drive your kids crazy?)
In 1966, Eddy Arnold was elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 1967, he was the first person to be selected for the Entertainer of the Year Award. He and his music rose to heights that even he couldn’t envision when he was young and a simple Tennessee plowboy.
Our oldest son always liked to haunt used bookstores in his spare time. It was there that he found a book containing celebrities’ addresses. Flipping through the book, he spotted Eddy Arnold’s name and information. On a whim, Patrick wrote a note telling him that he remembered his folks playing his tapes and records, and how much his Dad enjoyed him and his music. A few weeks later, Ray got this thank you letter from this fine country gentleman, Eddy Arnold. It is framed in our home.
May 8, 1989
Mr. Raymond Guziak
Dear Mr. Guziak,
Your son, Patrick, tells me that you are one of my biggest fans and he thought you would enjoy receiving a note. I’m delighted to know you enjoy my music and I do appreciate your interest.
(his signature in ink)
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