CHARLES GREAN 1913-2003
By Michael Streissguth
Bill Comer and Charles Grean 1996
When Steve Sholes assumed the leadership of R CA Victor's folk division in the middle 1940s, he designed an
up-to-date, pulsing machine that would ultimately produce more country hits than any other record
company. Building on a tradition of country recording that Victor producers Ralph Peer and Eli Oberstein had
established in the 1920s and '30s, Sholes had pushed the "dog and horn" to the forefront of modern country music
When Sholes stepped in to supervise RCA Victor's country operations in 1945, he immediately set
about grooming the label's young star, Eddy Arnold, and squeezing hits from older Victor artists like
Elton Britt, Bill Boyd and Texas Jim Roberston. To invigorate his country roster with young talent,
Sholes signed Zeke Manners, Homer and Jethro, Lonzo and Oscar, Johnnie and Jack, and the
tremendously popular Hank Snow -- all of whom would be hitmakers for the label.
As Sholes' paved the road that would make him one of the most important A&R men of the post-World War II
era, a small item in the trade press peeped the news of yet another addition to Sholes' team. He was getting a
badly-needed helper. As of April '47, Charles Grean would be assisting Steve Sholes in RCA Victor's folk
division. Grean, a one-time copyist for Glenn Miller and, more-recently, a staffer in Victor's pop department,
would become an important component of Sholes' master plan. However, his role in Sholes' endeavor, has
largely been obscured.
It was Sholes, of course, who had the vision to raise country music's profile at Victor, but Grean helped
him with the day-to-day grind. Sholes generally produced the major acts, signed the artists, and made
final decisions about which songs to record. Grean, though, collected repertoire for Sholes'
consideration and helped with the music in the studio. (Grean played bass, taught new material to
artists, and pieced together arrangements. )Throughout the late '40s and into the early '50s, when Sholes
recorded country music in New York, Chicago, Nashville or Atlanta, Grean was usually there.
Sholes also let him off to work on his own. Working solo, Grean produced sessions with the Sons of the
Pioneers, Texas Jim Robertson, Wilf Carter (a. k. a. Montana Slim), Lonzo and Oscar, and others. Grean
is also directly and indirectly responsible for many of the numbers these artists recorded. For Eddy
Arnold, he co-wrote "Something Old, Something New" (#4 country, 1951) and "Eddy's Song" (#1
country, 1953). (Years later, in 1960, Jeanne Black recorded Grean's answer song to Jim Reeves' "He'll
Have to Go," "He'll Have to Stay. ")
Grean, a gregarious, nimble man, was an unlikely participant in Victor's country story. His
wise-cracking, New York demeanor contrasted with Steve Sholes' fatherly personality that seemed
better suited to the easy-going Nashville atmosphere. Grean was born in 1913, and, as a child, played
violin. He later studied the bass at Wesleyan College in Connecticut. "At the end of my second year,"
Grean said, "I got a summer job [playing] in the Catskill Mountains. I didn't want to go back to school. I
was having too much fun. "So, he graduated to playing dance music at clubs and society parties around
New York City, and, by the mid-1930s, he performed on cruise ships, captaining bands with names like
the Caribbean Collegiates and the Marine Synchopaters. As the '30s closed, Grean docked in the NBC
house orchestra and picked up copying work for bandleaders such as Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, and
More so than the big band work or his later involvement in country music, our hero may be best known
for his composition "The Thing," perhaps the novelty song of the 20th Century. His story of a man who
finds an unmentionable "thing" on the beach scaled the pop charts in 1950 for Phil Harris. (Never one to
turn his nose to a novelty or a fleeting trend, Grean also produced a set of Leonard Nimoy, a. k. a. Mr.
Spock, albums in the 1960s and recorded music from the horror TV show Dark Shadows. )
By 1950, three years after joining Sholes and around the time "The Thing" hit, Grean shot up the
corporate ladder to become Victor's pop A&R chief -- Steve Sholes' boss. Throughout Grean's ascent
over Sholes' head, he continued to work country recording dates, although he spent more time
coordinating sessions for pop artists like Perry Como and Vaughn Monroe.
Grean left Victor in 1952, and soon formed an artist management and song publishing concern with Joe
Csida, a former Billboard editor and RCA Victor executive. Csida-Grean Associates managed acts such
as Betty Johnson (of the gospel-singing Johnson Family Singers) and Bobby Darin. But Grean's new job,
it turned out, would keep him in the studio with Sholes, primarily on Eddy Arnold sessions. Eddy had
split with his manager Colonel Tom Parker in 1953 and signed with Csida-Grean in hopes of
developing a more refined, pop presentation. Grean, acting partly as an agent of his company and partly
as an assistant to Sholes, arranged and conducted much of the "sophisticated" music that Eddy recorded
in his attempt to re-define his career.
Grean backed out of Csida-Grean in the late '50s when he fell in love with Betty Johnson, married her
and traded his stake in the company for Johnson's contract. Johnson, like Eddy Arnold, was trying to
reach pop audiences with a refined style, but the pop market was increasingly dominated by rock and
roll. Grean faded along with Betty Johnson. "I went back to Victor in 1958 for one year," said Grean. "It
was kind of a disaster year. Nothing happened. I couldn't get a hit. I wasn't going with the business. I think
what happened was Steve Sholes had to go into the hospital, and he wanted somebody there to protect
his interests. "
Disheartened, Grean zipped through a number of short-term jobs (at Dot Records and on Jack Paar's
Tonight Show, among others) and spent more and more of his days on a trawler he owned in Florida. But
he continued to maintain a sporadic presence in the country music world. He worked on the popular
Jimmy Dean Show in the early 1960s, and produced Eddy Arnold's minor hit "I'm the South" (#91
country, 1978). And during the mid-1970s, when Arnold needed a conductor for his shows in Las Vegas
and in other cities across America, he looked up Grean. Fifty years after first meeting the singer once
known as the "Tennessee Plowboy," Grean still works the occasional Eddy Arnold concert.
Tell me how you came to work with Steve Sholes at RCA Victor.
I was working for this fellow Russ Case on NBC's Kraft Music Hall, and Russ did a lot of work for
Victor. He was a musical director. We recorded a lot of people, and I was his assistant. I was his copyist. I
did some arrangements. When he would want to hear what the band sounded like, I would help balance
the band in the control room. Steve Sholes was always there, and we got to know each other. I guess he
liked the way I worked, and one day he said, "Hey would you like to come to work with me in country
music?"I think he gave me a job for about $100 a week which was pretty good money then. I started
working for him. I remember one of the first things he did was give me a pile of acetates and records and
told me to take them home and listen and evaluate them. I listened to them, and some of them were very
corny, hillbilly songs. But there was one song in there that struck me as being a great idea. It was called
"That's How Much I Love You. "It had a couple of extra bars and extra beats -- which a lot of country
songs do -- and at that time it annoyed me because being a musician, I wanted it even. So I came back to
Sholes and said, "There's one song in here that's a great idea, but we should change it. We should
eliminate those extra beats. " And he said, "Well, let me show you something. "And he took out the sales
charts, and that week Eddy Arnold's recording of it was the number one seller of country music for
Victor. From then on, I never doubted an extra measure or an extra beat because country singers would
sing along, and if they wanted to take a breath they'd just add a bar. It didn't have to come out even. So
that was my big lesson on forgetting some of the rules of music.
During World War II, when I was in the Coast Guard, there was this kid on the ship I was on that loved
country music, and he used to play it all the time. I couldn't stand it. Musically, I just thought it was so
awful, just terrible. When Steve first asked me to work for him I thought, "Gee? Country music?"It
took me a while to figure out what they were driving at and what it meant. I got to so I could understand
it. Some of it seemed very naive. In the early days, some of the musicianship wasn't that good although
some of it was fabulous, like Chet Atkins. He was superb. I learned by working with them to understand
it and appreciate it.
Did you come to like country and western music?
No. I still listen to it and figure "that's a great idea" or something, but I don't go out and play it like an
old Nat Cole or Sinatra or big band arrangement.
What did Steve think about the music?
He felt pretty much the same as I do. He understood it much more than I did. When we did a session and
there was a good song on it and it came off, we enjoyed it. In those days, you looked at songs differently
than you do now. You looked at the song itself first. If the lyric made sense. If the song construction is
good. If it's a good melody that will last.
Tell me about working with Steve in the studio.
We worked together like clockwork. I could look at Steve in the control room and tell whether he was
going to like it or not. He didn't have to do any explaining to me. We hit it off beautifully. We both
thought of the same thing:"Hey let's get a good record, and let's not go overtime. "
Did he tinker much with the music?
He would if he didn't like something, or if he thought somebody was playing too much fiddle. Usually I
would know what he was going to say at the end of the take.
Did he have musical knowledge?
He had been a saxophone player. He hadn't been very active at it. But he had a good ear. We really were
good friends and good workers together. I remember I worked for him for about two or three weeks,
and one night we were working late, and I said something to him, I remember. He was a very heavy
guy. He weighed a lot. I said, "All right. Let's go, 'fatso. '"He turned to me and stopped and said, "Hey
don't ever call me 'fatso. 'I can't take that. "I never said anything about that after that. He was a very
sweet, nice guy, and everybody walked all over him at Victor. He should have been president at RCA
Session musicians often say that Steve had a gentle style in the studio.
That's totally right. He was gentle with everybody. He was just a real gentle soul. He never got terribly
angry. In the control room, he was always calm and collected and whatever dramatic situations came up,
he would just calmly defuse them.
How would he deal with people who were more blustery. . . like the Aberbachs [Julian and Jean, the successful music publishers of Hill and Range Songs]?
They treaded very lightly with him. They tiptoed around him. They didn't push him around at all.
How did the RCA Victor brass -- executives above Steve -- view the country division?
We got brushed off. We used to go to meetings to discuss the weekly releases, and everybody would be
interested in what the big pop artists were doing. They didn't pay too much attention to it. They didn't
Was Eddy Arnold valued?
Eddy was very much valued because he was the top seller. Everybody knew who he was. But some of the
other people, they didn't pay that much attention to. I'm talking about Texas Jim Robertson and some of
the lesser artists like that. When an Eddy Arnold release came along, everybody listened to it. We used to
have a weekly meeting to discuss upcoming releases. When I was working for Steve, the meeting was in
Camden, New Jersey. That's where the main offices were. The brass was down in Camden. Every week we
would get on the train and go to Camden, and at this meeting was the sales manager and all of those
guys. They weren't in New York. The only thing in New York was just the A&R department.
But at these meetings country music generally wasn't taken seriously?
No. They were more interested in the Como records. When an Eddy Arnold record came along, they paid
attention because they knew they'd sell thousands of them. In those days, they had "standing
orders. "When the record came out, each distributor would have a standing order. The guy in Atlanta
would get probably 40,000 Eddy Arnold records. The guy in Minneapolis might get 10,000. In other
words, the average that they sold, they would order right away. When I was there he was one of the top
artists on the label.
What would the reaction be at the meetings when you played the records of more rustic country
acts. . . like Wilf Carter?
Generally, the guys in the meeting wouldn't understand it or know what it was all about. Some of them
kind of put it down a little bit, like most pop people would. In those days, real country was real
country. It was hillbilly. I don't think we would play the whole record through. We would play a couple
of bars of it or explain it.
How did the lack of attention manifest itself. Did you get the short shrift in terms of advertising and marketing dollars?
No. We didn't get the short shrift. There just wasn't as much concentration on us because sales weren't as
big. In certain markets, the Atlanta market and other places, there was a lot of country and western sales
compared to the pop. It's hard to say we were brushed off. They just didn't pay that much attention to us.
You produced a number of country acts while working under Steve. One was Wilf Carter.
He was a real country boy. We would record eight songs in three hours. He had just four pieces. We just
knocked them off, one after the other. He was "Montana Slim and the Big Hold Broncobusters. " He was
never that great of a singer. He was very rustic and not very polished at all.
With Wilf, you just did it, and that was it. He couldn't get any better or worse. By the way, on a lot of
Eddy Arnold's sessions, Eddy was a first take man. Sometimes the first take was better. When he started
working on a song, he would maybe make three or four takes then I remember I used to say, "Steve
listen to the first one. "It was a spontaneous reading.
In some of the early stuff with Montana Slim, when he would have these songs that he'd written (they
weren't written down in anyway), he would come to the session, and he would just play it. We would
listen to it. Most of them were very simple construction, musically. I mean five or six chords or
something, but a lot of the real country guys didn't have any particular form in their heads. The songs
were not necessarily eight bar phrases. They might be eight and a half bar phrases or nine bar phrases
because country singers in those days would just hang on to a note as long as they felt like it. So I
watched their hands. I'm playing bass, and I see they're on F chord, and all of the sudden I see them go to
something else. Well, I figure here comes a chord change and it's probably the C7th or something. You
weren't sure -- even if he sang the song two or three times -- when he was going to change. So, I'm
watching his hands and playing along.
You also produced Cecil Campbell [who with his Tennessee Ramblers had one hit on RCA Victor,"Steel Guitar Ramble," #9 in 1949]?
He always wanted to do his own songs and would argue with you when you gave him a better song. The
band [had an] accordion and a trumpet. He was a non-descript guy. Cecil played a lot of Hawaiian
stuff. Hawaiian and country mixed a lot.
Tell me what you remember about producing some of the other Victor artists . . . June Carter?
She recorded "The Thing," a real hillbilly version of it. They changed the lyric of it a little bit. Instead of
finding the box on the beach, I think she found it in a field of corn. I recorded the Carter Family. I knew
the family pretty well.
The Sons of the Pioneers?
RCA Victor used to record just the Sons of the Pioneers with their own instruments and maybe one or
two extra men. What happened is that they became popular, and what Steve tried to do was to get them
more in the pop field. That's why they put big bands with them. [Bass vocalist Ezio Pinza and the
Fontaine Sisters also recorded with the Sons. ]Walt Heebner also produced them -- he was in charge of
the Hollywood studios for many years. They had a definite sound that was just great. It was Bob Nolan's
voice and the combination of the rest of them.
Texas Jim Robertson?
Big bass singer. Very square. He had a distinctive sound. He would do anything you asked. He and Rosalie
Allen and Elton Britt were the three New Yorkers (and Zeke Manners) that were country -- question
mark -- singers from New York. They were people who loved country music. Cy Coben wrote a song for
Texas Jim called "I'm So Low" because he sang low.
He and Rosalie Allen did a couple of duets. One of them made it . . . "Beyond The Sunset" [#7 country,
1950]. Nice guy. A very simple guy. He was very cooperative . . . never gave us too much of an argument. [I
wrote]"That's How the Yodel Was Born. "That record still gets played and still gets sold in Europe. I
wrote it with Joan Javits. The one thing I do remember, and I can't remember what song it was, it was
one of the first times we ever patched something together. We weren't recording on tape. We were
recording on acetates. I remember his last note on a yodel song, he didn't get. We some way or another
put two [parts] together on acetate. I can't remember how. I did another one with him called "The
Skater's Yodel" where we took the "Skater's Waltz," however it goes, and he yodeled the thing.
I recorded Roy in Chicago. I recorded him with Dale Evans too for RCA Victor in the late '40s. I always
remember in Chicago we recorded Roy, and there was some kids -- maybe the studio manager's
children. Three or four kids came in and watched for a while. Roy was very gracious and wonderful with
kids. He said to me, "Do you think maybe we could kind of move them on out. "I said, "Okay, fine. Are
they bothering you?"He said, "No, but I like to smoke, and I don't smoke in front of kids. "That image of
him was just a pure cowboy.
In Chicago, you also produced Vaughn Monroe's "Riders in the Sky" [#2 country, #1 pop, 1949].
At that time, RCA Victor was a little confused about what to do . . . whether they should have an A&R
man with all the power (because previous to that there was a fellow by the name of Eli Oberstein -- he
was a kingpin, and there was a lot of payola and everything else going on). So they decided to make a
committee of all of us to pick songs. They had about six or seven guys. We would sit there, and publishers
would come in and play their songs. It was stupid because half the guys had no idea how to pick a
song. You could hear a song and it sounds good, but you might not know what to do with it. You have to
have some training. They brought this demo of "Riders in the Sky" written by Stan Jones, and as soon as
I heard it, I said, "Oh my God!What a piece of material. What an idea!Let me have this song. I'll get
Vaughn Monroe to do it!"I called Monroe up, and found out he was going to be in Milwaukee, and he
would have an open date in Chicago in a few days. I said, "All right we're going to book you into the
Chicago studio. I'll come out and bring you the song. You can learn it over night. "I went to Milwaukee
the night before the session. I made the arrangement ahead of time, and I showed it to Vaughn. He said,
"Fine, I'll try it. "I remember I sat in on Monroe's band in Milwaukee. That was a kick. The next day we
went to the studio and recorded it. Bucky Pizzarelli and Don Costa were on the session.
Did you expect the record to click among the country audience?
No. I'm surprised it made the country charts.
You're listed as a co-producer with Steve Sholes on Eddy Arnold's sessions just before the 1948
musicians' strike. What do you recall about those sessions? [These sessions in August and December of 1947 were among the most productive of Eddy's career and produced hits such as "Anytime," "Molly Darling," and "Texarkana Baby. "]
I don't remember any particulars about them at all, except I know that we did a lot of sessions. We did a
lot with Eddy, especially. He worked hard. He was always willing to do anything. He never complained
or griped or anything. If something bothered him, he would tell you. If he wasn't getting something, he
worked very hard. He's one of the most professional workers I've ever seen.
In general, did you write arrangements for the country artists?
I would help them layout some things. Like, "Hey let's use this as an introduction. " or "You should play
this. " and "Let's go to the second chorus here. " or "No. We can't do it here. "I had to make these
comments because you're stuck to 2:40, 3:00 minute records. That was it. You'd never go any longer or
any closer. I didn't write arrangements for them. I would help lay them out. I wrote some arrangements
for Eddy Arnold's albums when we used strings in the '50s.
In most of those cases, the artists would sing the song and I would say, "Okay. Let's use the last four bars for an introduction. " or "Let's do a turnaround here. "We never changed keys. It was always in the same key throughout the whole song. Nothing tricky at all. Anybody with any musical sense could follow the construction of their songs.
They'd have ideas too, and we would incorporate them. Then Steve would be in the control room and
we'd say, "Is this okay?"And he'd say, "Yeah. Fine. " or "No. I think you should do this . . . "It was a
combination of working together that was really great. He had good input. He would not just take
anything. He'd say, "I don't think we should use an intro. Why don't we start at the beginning, right
here. " or "That's going to be too long. " or "Hey. That didn't come off. There's something wrong in the
middle part, Charlie. Somebody's playing the wrong chord. "
Most of those artists, like Cecil Campbell and Montana Slim, had been performing these songs. So we
just came in to record them. In a lot of cases, with new material that we found, we had to teach them the
songs. But Eddy Arnold was prepared. Eddy used to come in the day before and go to bed early. He
wouldn't drink. He would be in training for sessions. He would be ready to go. He knew the songs. That's
why I said in a lot of cases the first take was the most spontaneous.
Country artists on Victor recorded many Hill and Range songs. Did Steve have a deal with the
The Aberbachs had a way of giving you things. I used to get gifts. In those days, Christmastime was a
bonanza. Every publisher would give you something. I remember the time Bobby Mellin of Mellin Music
came to me and gave me a Christmas present. It was a gold watch with diamonds on the face instead of
numbers. It was the last thing in the world that I'd ever wear. Finally, I called him and said, "I got to tell
you something. It's a wonderful gift, but I just can't use it. "He was shocked. He said, "I want to give you
something. "I said, "Well you don't have to give me anything, but give me a gift certificate to Saks Fifth
Avenue. "I had a bill there. He gave me a $100 which was a lot of money. I don't know whether the
Aberbachs had any kind of arrangement with Steve or not. It wasn't necessary. I got a lot of stuff from a
lot of publishers. It didn't make a bit of difference. I don't think Steve Sholes did "Bouquet of Roses"
because the Aberbachs gave him gifts. He would have done it anyway.
Was it important that your artists have exclusives?
You wanted to be first with it. The publishers would bring you songs, and if it was real good, you'd say,
"Hey look. This is ours. "With the Aberbachs, you'd say, "We're going to try to get Eddy to do this. "And
they'd say "Yes Charlie!"They were a couple of real operators. Interesting guys . . . I kind of half liked
them . . . never trusted them.
So, publishers would bring songs to you, as well as Steve?
Usually together we worked. I kept track of them. I had a filing system. I had a book, and as a song came
in, I wrote it down and made comments on alphabetical pages. Like "Anytime," I would say, "Great
song. Good idea. Good for Eddy Arnold. "Then I had another sheet that had Eddy Arnold possibilities,
and I had all those songs listed. So when the time came for Eddy Arnold to record, Steve and I would get
the book out, and we'd have maybe 15 songs for Eddy Arnold. We would go over them carefully and
figure out which ones we wanted and which ones we didn't want. Then we would present them to him,
and he would give us input on whether he thought they were good or not. It was pretty well-organized.
The people around him gave him a lot of material. Once in a while, we would talk him out of
something. Generally, everything was pretty set before we came into the session. I used to make lead
sheets for the musicians, the guys who could read music (the guys from New York). Roy Wiggins and
whoever else came up with Eddy, they had gone over it already. I think he had probably rehearsed them
So, the only lead sheets you'd make would be for the New York musicians?
Yes. Or whoever wanted them. I had the stuff laid out ahead of time . . . what the routine was or an
introduction or something else. We sort of winged the arrangements.
When you recorded country music in New York, who were your session musicians?
I used drummer Phil Kraus all the time. He was good, and he did what you wanted. He was a great
drummer. He was an accomplished drummer. He has died since. George Barnes on guitar. Whenever you
used fiddles you used a fellow by the name of Mac Zeppos who had feeling for country music. He was a
New York musician. Al Chernet we used a lot. He was a guitar player who died in 1995. We used Marty
Gold on piano. The only steel guitarist we could find that played anything country at all was a fellow by
the name of Vaughn Horton, and we used him on a lot of sessions in New York. He wasn't really that
great of a Nashville steel guitar player, but we didn't have to pay somebody's transportation.
Would the artists from the South be nervous about recording in New York?
They were very nervous. It kind of scared them a little bit. I was pretty good about making them feel at
home, and when I played with them, it made it a lot easier. That's how I got to know the guys pretty
well. I was on their level as a playing musician, so it made it a little easier. They were very
apprehensive. As a matter of fact, that's how I got to work on the Jimmy Dean Show. Jimmy Dean had a
pretty popular television show. Eddy Arnold recommended me for the job because evidently they were
having trouble with guys coming up to New York. Nobody on the staff really understood country music
at all. I was called the music coordinator, and I worked with the country people when they came to New
York. Two or three days before the show, we'd have a production meeting, and these artists would come
in. They'd walk in this room, and there's 10 or 15 guys all dressed up, nothing like Nashville. I was there,
and it made them feel a little bit better.
When I first went to Nashville in the '40s, they were a little apprehensive of me. They would always use
certain bass players, and Steve would want me. I was a good bass player, and I also understood recording
bass. Different basses have some notes you can hear, some notes you can't hear. I could figure out on the
bass which ones they were. There was always a pretty steady bass sound. At first I remember, they were a
little bit apprehensive of me. But I got to know the guys pretty well. We all got along very well, I
You recorded with a group of Nashville musicians [Jerry Byrd, Chet Atkins, Homer Haynes and Jethro Burns] as the Country All Stars in the early '50s. How did that come about?
Steve got the idea. We all got along well and played well. He said, "Hey let's do a session. "Steve and I
used to room together when we went down there. We always stayed at the same hotel. We were probably
talking and said, "Hey let's do a session. "That's just the way those things happened. We went in and kind
of winged the whole damned thing. They were fun. We enjoyed it. It was like a jam session.
By the late '40s, Steve began recording in Nashville more often. Why?
We needed sides, and we couldn't bring artists to New York. It was cheaper for us to go down there. Jeff
Miller, an RCA engineer, used to bring the equipment down. He must have driven down. There was a lot
of stuff he had to carry.
It was hard bringing musicians to New York. Some of them were intimidated by New York. Eddy
wasn't. We had good portable equipment and Jeff Miller was a great engineer. We could go down there
and do a lot of sessions in a week. We used Brown Brothers Transcription Service. I don't think it cost
anything like what the studios in New York would cost. Even if RCA owned the studios, it would still
cost money to use them.
You also brought a lot of artists to Chicago to record.
Yes. That still was closer to Nashville than New York was. I don't know why Steve recorded in Chicago a
lot. It must have been cheaper some way or another. Steve was very budget conscious. He always stayed
within his budget. That didn't mean anything in the long run at RCA Victor, because I did too when I
went back in '58. It didn't mean anything. They didn't give a damn if you were within your budget or
not. They wanted a hit.
Can you make comparisons among the three towns in terms of recording?
It was just more relaxed out there in Chicago for some reason or another and more relaxed in
Nashville. The Nashville musicians always had a style and a sound and it worked better when we were
Let's talk more about your association with Eddy Arnold. In 1953, you and Joe Csida managed Eddy. How did that come about?
I think Joe Csida cooked it up. I was instrumental. I had a great relationship with Eddy all of those years,
having played bass with him and done a lot of arrangements. That might have cinched it. I think it helped
a little bit that I was around.
Did Eddy talk about how he split with the Colonel?
Not with me. I never really discussed it with him. I think he probably did with Joe a little bit. The
Colonel probably crossed him somewhere or another. You crossed Eddy, and that's it. The guys in the
band used to tell me that the Colonel made them buy cigars from him. He was really a bad guy. I think
Eddy found out that he was doing something behind his back, and that's all you need with a guy like
Harking back to your RCA days, how effective was the Colonel as an advocate for Eddy at the label?
People jumped when he showed up. He was really quite a character. He made himself very important. I
didn't have much to do with him. Steve had more to do with him, but Tom could even go above Steve's
head if he had to.
What was Eddy like as a client?
Easy. Terrific. You could be honest with him and talk to him about anything that happened. He's one of
the easiest guys to work with. Joe had more to do with him as far as managing. He made it that way. I just
did the music thing. When we first did the ill-fated TV series, Eddy Arnold Time, Joe started it. [Filmed
in Chicago during the mid-1950s, Eddy Arnold Time was produced by Joe Csida and bankrolled by Eddy
Arnold. It never became the entree to popular acceptance for Eddy that Csida-Grean and Eddy had hoped
it would be. ]I wasn't involved in it at all. Then when I saw the first one or heard the problems they were
having, I realized they needed, more than anything else, somebody to organize their music. That's how I
got involved with it.
Why did you say the TV show was a failure?
Nothing ever happened with it. I just don't think they were that good. They were really country
bumpkin. The show was done for peanuts. You look at the thing and you'll see how square it is, how
simple it is. Eddy is as stiff as a board on it.
In the mid-1950s, RCA Victor started recording Eddy with a lot of strings, in a pop fashion. Why did that happen?
The whole of country music started expanding and getting away from just the small band.
Was that Joe Csida's idea?
He was always pushing for all of us to expand. It think it was probably his idea. Eddy, at that time, started
wanting to get away from being the "Tennessee Plowboy. "But I can't remember just when that
happened or how that happened or why.
How would you work with Eddy to create the more sophisticated sound?
You just got the songs that weren't as real low-down country songs as some of them were. You got more
sophisticated songs and more sophisticated background. Mostly it was just the fact that we used strings
with him and got away from the plain sound. If you listen to those early records, there's nothing going
on but the guitar playing rhythm and Roy Wiggins tinkling away.
Had Eddy changed by that stage to be able to tackle pop songs?
If you listen to the early stuff, he always sang a song well. He had a good sound and he had good
control. He knew what a song says. That's the main thing. He knew how to sell a song. He didn't try to sell
himself. He sold a song.
In listening to some of Eddy's pop interpretations from the 1950s, though, it doesn't sound like the transition worked.
It didn't come off -- "September Song" and all of the tunes he was doing. I thought it was pushing too
much at the time. Some of those so-called "pop records" didn't come off at all.
Why don't you think they "came off"?
I think he was still basically a real true country singer. I don't think he could, even today, sing songs that
Do you recall if RCA Victor voiced any skepticism about Eddy wanting to be a pop singer?
No. I don't remember that at all. They did mostly what Steve wanted to, anyway. It seems to me it was
more Joe Csida pushing than anything else.
With the pop experiments in the '50s, were you just trying to plug Eddy into a Perry Como format?
That's it. That's right.
Looking back on it, do you think the effort failed or succeeded?
I think it failed. The records never sold.
In 1978, you went back in the studio with Eddy to record a single record, "I'm the South" backed with "You Are My Sunshine. "
I thought that would make it. First of all, it was a great piece of material -- "I'm the South. "I re-wrote a
lot of it, and he did it in person. He did it in person when we worked with the Memphis Symphony
Orchestra. It was a great piece of material for Southern audiences. Then I just got the idea for "You Are
My Sunshine. "We started it completely alone with one violin. It was a good record. I produced that for
Victor, but they brushed it off. They didn't do nothing to promote it. Whether they didn't like the fact
that I did it or what, I don't know.
When did you begin conducting for Eddy on the road?
'75. The night before my son was born, I started my first job with Eddy Arnold. The first night I
conducted was in Connecticut somewhere.
From what you recall of working Eddy's live shows, what does Eddy do to prepare? You said he was well prepared for his recording sessions.
Same thing. He behaves himself. He gets plenty of sleep. He gets there early. Takes his time. He's very
serious about it. He doesn't fool around before a show. Just before the show, you can see that he's just
thinking about it.
Is there a spontaneity to his shows?
We did the same show every night, and it always had spontaneity. It's amazing. He comes out like it's the
first time he's ever done it. He tells jokes over and over again. The same jokes, I hear every night, but I
laugh. I love to hear it, and I like to hear the people laugh.
At the concerts, I've noticed that Eddy's personal manager Jerry Purcell is always hovering nearby.
He sees that the sound check is right. He sees that the lights are right. He follows up on everything. He's
around with Eddy all the time, protecting him from the hoards of people that would devour him. He's
good at that.
Does Purcell get involved with the musical aspect of the show?
A little bit. He suggests songs here and there. He talks over with Eddy what they should do and what they
Does Eddy ever flub lines?
Very seldom. Very seldom. He knew the words. Maybe once or twice in the whole time I worked with
Eddy, he came in on the wrong chorus, but he would cover it up very well. Or if it got obvious, he'd
Eddy doesn't seem to like taking hollered requests from the audience?
I've never noticed that he didn't. But I can see why somebody might not like it. It throws off their
routine. Eddy has a good sense of pacing, too. He knows how to put which number in front of which
number, when to stop and talk and how to time himself. When the audience requests, psychologically,
they're taking over. I think he wants to run the show. Good singers don't particularly like that.
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