By Jay Orr / Tennessean Staff Writer
Ivan Leroy "Little Roy" Wiggins, 73, steel guitarist for
many years with Eddy Arnold, died yesterday at his
home in Sevierville.
The cause of death was unknown. He had suffered
from a variety of illnesses, including diabetes and
A Nashville native, Mr. Wiggins picked up the
Hawaiian-style steel guitar at age 6 after hearing early
Grand Ole Opry musician Burt Hutcherson play. At
age 13, he was expert enough on the instrument to
join Paul Howard's Arkansas Cotton Pickers on the
Later, he joined Pee Wee King's Golden West
Cowboys as a temporary replacement for Clell
Summey. When Arnold left the Golden West
Cowboys, he hired Mr. Wiggins for his own band,
the Tennessee Plowboys. He played on Arnold's first
recording session as a solo artist, Dec. 4, 1944, at
WSM Studios in Nashville. Arnold made his original
recording of Cattle Call at that session.
"Little Roy Wiggins' crying steel guitar was the
hallmark of Eddy Arnold's early style, the style that
made him country music's biggest star in the late
'40s," said country music historian Ronnie Pugh of the
Country Music Hall of Fame.
"You just can't imagine the early Eddy Arnold sound
without that," he said. "It would be like not having
Billy Byrd on Ernest Tubb's records."
Mr. Wiggins stayed with Arnold for 25 years,
providing a "ting-a-ling" sound that distinguished the
"When you heard him play, you knew it was him and
you knew it was going to be an Eddy Arnold record,"
said Grand Ole Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs.
"Artists' recordings aren't that easily identified in this
era. There's no telling how many people took up the
steel guitar as a result of hearing the records Little
Roy played on."
In the late 1950s Mr. Wiggins made instrumental
records for Dot, Starday and several smaller
independent labels. He went on to play in the same
style with George Morgan, the Willis Brothers, Ernie
Ashworth and other Opry acts.
Mr. Wiggins joined the insurance and real estate
business in Brentwood with Arnold's partner and
accountant, Charles Mosley.
He was a Nashville representative for Vox
instruments, and in the late 1960s he opened a music
store, Little Roy Wiggins' Music City, at 427
Broadway, near the Ryman Auditorium.
When the Opry moved to Opryland, Wiggins
eventually closed his store and moved to Pigeon
Forge, Tenn., where he performed for tourists and
ran a music shop.
Mr. Wiggins was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall
of Fame in St. Louis in 1985. "He inspired a
generation of players to pursue the beauty of the
smooth, pure melody line," reads Mr. Wiggins'
plaque. "A man of character and quiet determination,
he viewed 'artful simplicity' as a performer's first virtue
for advancing the steel guitar."
Survivors include his wife, Faye Wiggins, Sevierville;
three daughters, Karen and Kristi Wiggins, both
Sevierville, and Barbara Jean Malone, Franklin; a
son, Howard Wiggins, Brentwood; and three grandsons.
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