Memoirs of an Eddy Arnold Fan
from the Twentieth to the Twenty-first Century
By Frank Cunningham
My wife says, "How can you remember something from 60 years ago and you cannot remember something I told you yesterday". To this moment I do not know why but I do know that we remember things that are good and we tend to not recall the things that were bad. All the things I remember about Dr. Richard Edward Arnold are good.
I suppose it all started in the years of 1939 and 40. I was an 8-year-old and my mother, father and I would visit my aunt, uncle and cousin's home. My cousin's name was Jack Healy and we all lived in Brooklyn N. Y. As an only child, my five cousins were more like brothers to me with much of my peer learning coming from them. I was the youngest but I was an accomplished baseball player as were two of my cousins. One went on to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers while Jack Healy went to Pratt Institute for engineering and to play baseball. I mention the foregoing as I was not a music buff and preferred playing baseball rather than taking music lessons. I could not say that about my cousin Jack as he took guitar and harmonica lessons while going to college and playing baseball.
One of the big radio shows of the period was Gene Autry's Melody Ranch sponsored by Doublemint Gum. His "Back in the Saddle Again" was his signature song at the time and he had a half-hour show on Saturday night. In reality this was my first introduction to country music. It was during these shows that my cousin would accompany Gene Autry's songs and music with his guitar and mouth organ and we would all sit for the half hour and enjoy the performance …except me. I suppose I was a typical 8 year old at the time who was more interested in being part of the "action" than just sitting and listening.
I found out my father was interested in the "action" also. It was during this time that he decided to take guitar lessons from Jack. For about six months, twice a week my father would take lessons on a four-string guitar while my cousin played his six-string guitar. It was also at this time that I finally got into the "action". My cousin bought me a set of drumsticks and I was now the drummer in our trio.
We were still listening to Gene Autry's Melody Ranch but we now started to also listen to a new show hosted by Zeke Manners. I seem to recall his show being on WHN in New York City and recall that Elton Britt was his vocalist. His rendition of "A Star Spangled Banner Somewhere" became a big hit. It was unusual that country music would attract a group of Brooklynites as the pop music world was all around us. Benny Goodman, a young Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and many others were being played everywhere, although we liked their music too. By the way, as part of the trio I was called on to tap the rhythm for the two guitar players. My drum was an old empty Quaker Oats Cereal box. How it sounded I am not sure but I do know I am glad we did not sing.
World War Two started and many of the joys of life were taken from us including my cousins. Two of them including Jackie and my cousin Artie were drafted and, as happens, our musical trio had to disband. My father started to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and was putting in twelve-hour shifts. This did not leave him much time for guitar playing nor did it leave me much time for my accompanying drum rhythm… but most of all we did not have our leader. This was a time in life where you had to make the best of things and to my amazement, the best of things was about to happen.
My parents had a Philco radio from which we could get all the best radio shows of the day. In the evening, one could switch the dial around and get various stations from out of the national airwaves. To my amazement, I dialed into a station called WWVA from Wheeling, West Virginia. Two things stand out. First, there was a show called "The Saturday Night Jamboree". My memory is not good enough to remember the performers but I do recall the show. The second thing was their advertisement. I could buy country music records at very low prices. Just mail your orders to the station and they would send the records. Of course at the time I had no way of playing these records. I would need to buy a Victrola. Being a school child there was not much opportunity for me to earn money for such a player so, my parents made arrangements with a local store to get me a wind up Victrola. The cost of the wind-up Victrola was $9.95. My responsibility was to pay the $1.00 per week to lay away until it was paid for.
Although it took ten weeks before I had the Victrola, it seemed like years. I could now order my records. My memory tells me that the records were 25 cents each but you would only get the records that the station's supplier was carrying. I sent my money in and received four records. At the time, I was not sure of the performers nor was I sure of the quality. The records were not made of vinyl but were the hard types that, should you drop one, it would break.
The records came on a school day and when I opened them I did not go out the rest of the day but stayed winding the player after each song. I played the records over and over, as I do today with Eddy's songs. I wish I had kept those records even if they had scratches. The performers I received were Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins, George Morgan and of course Eddy Arnold. I do not recall Cowboy Copas' or Hawkshaw Hawkins' songs but I do seem to remember George Morgan's "Candy Kisses" and Eddy's "Cattle Call". As much as I enjoyed all the music, Eddy's voice and delivery started my love affair. Even my father said, "Boy, he can sing". We had to be right, as this was a two thirds of our dynamic trio. It was about 1944 and my cousin was just coming home from the war to hear the discovery Brooklyn, N. Y. had made. He soon heard Eddy and made it unanimous.
It was the late 1940s into the early 1950s when my opportunity to listen to, and buy Eddy Arnold records came about. It was the start of the 45 Rpm records era and they could be bought for about 50 cents each. I had graduated high school and had started college. That was during the winter months but my summers were tied up for a few years in Orlando Florida. I had the better of two worlds. Playing baseball for the Orlando Senators, the Washington Senators minor league team, and listening to Eddy Arnold's songs on the local jukeboxes in and around Orlando. Because my estimation of Eddy Arnold fans in the New York area consisted of the three that I knew, the Cities local ice cream parlors did not play Eddy's songs… but not in Orlando. After the ball games other players and I would go to the juke boxes, put our nickels in and listen to "Anytime", "Bouquet of Roses", "A Prison Without Walls", "A Heart Full of Love" and "Cuddle Buggin' Baby" amongst many, many more. It was at this time that I found out there were many more Eddy Arnold fans than just the three of us from Brooklyn.
After my short baseball career I up-graded my wind-up record player to an electric Victrola record player. I was now able to just plug it in anywhere and listen to my 45s and I plugged it in everywhere I went. Going to college and working part time afforded me the opportunity to propagate Eddy Arnold's music. Being sort of a social person I had opportunities to go to parties and I actually met my future wife at one of these parties. In those days, parties consisted of fellows and gals meeting at one of their homes. We were not into the drinking thing so we danced and munched some light food. The big music of the time was Perez Prados's "Cherry, Pink and Apple Blossom" and Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock". There was also some Eddie Fisher with him singing "Anytime". Eddy had recorded that record several years prior to Eddie Fisher and when ever that song was played, it gave me the opportunity to bring out my Eddy Arnold version. I must say that "Anytime" made many converts for Eddy Arnold. Not so much for the one song but that it opened the door for many of his other songs to be heard at the time.
As professional baseball was not going to be my vocation, my life consisted of college, working and playing baseball for the corporation team… and girls. I mentioned previously that I met my wife at one of the parties but before I met her I had numerous dates with other girls. Of course all these dates were in my duty of promoting Eddy Arnold's music. When I dated a young lady I would also bring my electric Victrola record player. I would attempt to play his records and for the most part it worked out well. The good thing was that if they did not accept Eddy Arnold, they did not accept me. I knew there was no future for us.
During this time, radio station WAAT in Jersey City, N.J. had Don Larkin hosting a country music format and at that time Eddy Arnold was heads and tails ahead of the rest of the singers in top ten songs. When I would put on the station, it was almost automatically that Eddy would be singing. I remember Don Larkin saying, "He never met a song that Eddy Arnold could not sing". Unfortunately for Eddy, "Love Bug Itch" did not excite Mr. Larkin.
WAAT had Don Larkin hosting his show during the afternoon but country fans were not lost for music in the evenings. We had Rosalie Allen, 1999 inductee into the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame. I recall her theme song as “He Taught Me To Yodel". She was one of the female pioneers finding popularity as the first female disc jockey with her Prairie Stars show on New York’s WOV (1944-56.) She made the transition to TV with a country program (1949-53). She also appeared on Swing Billies" on WNEW, New York, in 1943. Being associated with the group, which included Zeke Manners and Elton Britt, was a break in itself, as Rosalie eventually signed with RCA Victor records. From 1945 through 1956 her "Prairie Stars" program was heard two hours a night, six nights. Again, with Eddy Arnold holding fort, there was no shortage of songs or hits and we listened to "A Heart Full Of Love", "Angry", Condemned With Out Trial", "Cuddle Buggin' Baby", Don't Rob Another Man's Castle", and Bouquet Of Roses" and many more.
I remember an unusual thing happening in the music world at that time. A survey was done of disc jockeys across the United States on which songs and artists would have potential hits in 1947. To satisfy my curiosity I did a little research on the Internet to confirm my memory. Following is the information I speak of:
A new national poll of disc jockeys from across the country picks four records they feel will be big sellers: "I Miss You So" Nat King Cole Trio (Capitol); "Ragtime Cowboy Joe" by Eddie Howard (Majestic); "It's A Sin" by Eddy Arnold (RCA); and "Passing By" by Tony Martin (RCA) . . . . ." (Billboard)
Eddy was in some mighty fine company!
In the decade of the fifties Eddy made, "How's The World Treating You.” I believe Hugo Winterhalter was the orchestra leader. I seem to remember several songs made by Eddy with the RCA Orchestra, led by a Mr. Green. I know "Cattle Call" and "The Kentuckian" songs were very popular. I believe it was at this time that Eddy started to sing songs other than country. During this period of time, it was much easier for an Eddy Arnold fan to discuss Eddy's talents with others. I believe that this period of time was the most instrumental in bringing Eddy to the vast audience he would have for the rest of his career. It certainly made my dating much easier. I could now bring my electric Victrola recorder to the girl's house and we would listen and dance to his songs without any outside remarks. The world was finally seeing the light.
It was also during this period that I remember Eddy Arnold having his own national television show. I believe it was about 1952. Perry Como had a 15-minute TV show on CBS from 1950 to 1955 sponsored by Chesterfield Cigarettes. It was a very popular show at the time and I used to watch the show right about dinnertime. It was on just after the news programs. One night, I almost fell off my seat as Perry Como introduced Eddy Arnold as Perry’s summer stand-in. After listening to and buying his records, I would now see him in person. Of course those were the days of black and white TV and you could not tell the color of the clothes the entertainers wore. I remember Eddy being dressed in sort of a cowboy shirt with a scarf around his neck. The voice surely matched the face.
It was during this decade that I finally married the girl I had met at one of the house parties I would attend. I will never forget the first date. When I showed up to take her out, the first thing she said to me was, "Where are your Eddy Arnold records?" I later found out that she really was into classical music and opera. As I said previously, no Eddy Arnold, no Frank except in this case love was deaf.
At this time I still used my electric Victrola record player but it was soon to be a casualty. Our honeymoon was spent driving to Montreal and onto Quebec City, Canada for the winter Ice Carnival. Not thinking, I packed our luggage, a bottle of wine and the record player in the trunk of the car. The first night we arrived in Quebec City the temperature was 15 degrees below zero. That was the end of the wine and record player as all froze. All was not lost though. We had made reservations at the Washington Hotel, a 19th century building. To my amazement, we had to put quarters in the radio to get it to play. I put in a quarter, turned the dial and of course, WNEW in New York played loud and clear. What was also amazing was that the second song being played was "The Kentuckian Song."
As the 1950s turned into the 1960s, changes occurred. Two boys and a girl came along making us a family of five. Other changes included a new house on Long Island, New York and several automobiles over several years. Many of these changes were challenging but were always handled with love. By now I had been a fan of Eddy Arnold for over 20 years. It was now my responsibility to make the children aware of Eddy's songs. By now my wife had come to appreciate Eddy's talents plus she liked Chet Atkins' guitar playing. It seemed that for every Eddy Arnold album we bought a Chet Atkins' album. This was all right with me because I liked Mr. Atkins' music plus he was the A&E Director for RCA Records at the time. I knew he would never have Eddy Arnold sing a non-hit record.
The album that really made my wife a fan of Eddy Arnold was "My Darling, My Darling" which, I believed came out in 1958. It included such songs as "Gimme A Little Kiss", "A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening", "Hands Across The Table", "I'm In The Mood For Love", "September Song" and others. It was the type of album that made Eddy truly a love song singer. This album was danced to many, many hours for many, many years. Each time we had friends over for a get together, the music was played.
A special time of the year was Christmas. In the early 1960s, homeowners on Long Island started lighting the exteriors of their homes. Many of these homes also had exterior speakers hanging from the eaves to play Christmas music. Of course I would have my speakers and of course the neighbors would hear Eddy Arnold, not all the time, but most of the time. My daughter had her favorite Eddy Arnold Christmas song, "Up On The House Top". I would play the Christmas music and she would sit on the couch and listen intently, with many giggles coming from her. Another Christmas song was, "Will Santa Come To Shanty Town". This song did not get her giggles but I had to answer her questions about how many children not being as fortunate as she was.
Although the 1970s to 1990s were somewhat exciting for me personally, the local music stations and outlets seemed to change their formats to various types of music and a different type of country singer. Television was now playing short one-half hour shows and the musical revues were a thing of the past. I was fortunate enough to watch TNN often and especially when Eddy Arnold was on. I am happy that they still show "Christmas with Eddy Arnold". I suppose I was spoiled being an Eddy Arnold fan. To me, the good music went out in the 1960s. To be honest the best thing that happened to me during this period was the first and only time I ever saw Eddy Arnold in person. In the mid 1980s, he was appearing in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. He was there for two shows and having my luck, the second night's show was sold out. I cannot tell you any song that he sang. The reason being I sat their mesmerized and with tears in my eyes. I just said to myself, "To think after forty years I finally get to see Mr. Eddy Arnold". During this time period, as I had done earlier with my two sons, I introduced "Chip Off The Old Block" to my two grandchildren. It became an event with them when we drove in the car. They said, "Play Chip" and of course I did.
The twentieth century ended happily for me and the twenty-first has started out with great potential especially as I was fortunate to find Bill and Bruce Comers' web site. Their excellent site has renewed my enthusiasm for Eddy's songs, the same as I had when I had my first Victrola wind up recorder fifty-five years ago.
My wife recently summed up Eddy Arnold as a person while listening to him sing, "I've So Much To Be Thankful For." She said, "This song really tells his fans the truth about his humility, his kindness and his love for his fellow human beings."
After reading Bill Shoop's excellent article about the Kennedy Centers Honors, I took it on my self to contact several of the key players at the Center including Senator Trent Lott. We were not able to have Dr. Arnold recognized this year but I promise that with your help, we will have him so honored in 2002. If I have to visit Senator Lott, Senator Thompson and Senator Frist M.D., personally, I will.
I ask those reading this article to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know if you would like to help in supporting Dr. Richard Edward Arnold's recognition by the Center.