Industry icon pioneered the 'Nashville sound'
Eddy Arnold, whose mellow baritone on songs like “Make the World Go Away” made him one of the most successful country singers in history, died Thursday morning, days short of his 90th birthday.
Arnold died at a care facility near Nashville, said Don Cusic, a professor at Belmont University and author of the biography “Eddy Arnold: I’ll Hold You in My Heart.” His wife of 66 years, Sally, had died in March, and in the same month, Arnold fell outside his home, injuring his hip.
Arnold’s vocals on songs like the 1965 “Make the World Go Away,” one of his many No. 1 country hits and a top 10 hit on the pop charts, made him one of the most successful country singers in history.
Folksy yet sophisticated, he became a pioneer of “The Nashville Sound,” also called “countrypolitan,” a mixture of country and pop styles. His crossover success paved the way for later singers such as Kenny Rogers.
“I sing a little country, I sing a little pop and I sing a little folk, and it all goes together,” he said in 1970.
The reference book “Top Country Singles 1944-1993,'” by Joel Whitburn, ranked Arnold the No. 1 country singer in terms of overall success on the Billboard country charts. It lists his first No. 1 hit as “What Is Life Without Love,” 1947, and for the following year ranks his “Bouquet of Roses” as the biggest country hit of the entire year.
Other hits included “Cattle Call,” “The Last Word in Lonesome Is Me,” “Anytime,” “Bouquet of Roses,” “What’s He Doing in My World?” “I Want to Go With You,” “Somebody Like Me,” “Lonely Again” and “Turn the World Around.”
Most of his hits were done in association with famed guitarist Chet Atkins, the producer on most of the recording sessions.
The late Dinah Shore once described his voice as like “warm butter and syrup being poured over wonderful buttermilk pancakes.”
Reflecting on his career, he said he never copied anyone.
“I really had an idea about how I wanted to sing from the very beginning,” he said.
He revitalized his career in the 1960s by adding strings, a controversial move for a country artist back then.
“I got to thinking, if I just took the same kind of songs I’d been singing and added violins to them, I’d have a new sound,” he told The Associated Press in 2002. “They cussed me, but the disc jockeys grabbed it. … The artists began to say, `Aww, he’s left us.’ Then within a year, they were doing it!”
Among his recent albums were “Looking Back,” 2002, and “After All These Years,” 2005.
Joe Galante, chairman of Sony BMG Nashville, which includes RCA country artists, said he was talking about making another just a few weeks ago. “There was a special kind of happiness about him whenever he talked about music, and that is how I will remember him,” Galante said.
Over the years, he invested wisely, especially in real estate in the Nashville area, and was regarded as one of the wealthiest men in country music. He once had this advice for young singers: “Get a good lawyer, a good accountant and be on time.”
Friends said his wife helped handle his business dealings and was the inspiration for many of his love songs.
“What hurts me more than anything else is that he died of a broken heart,” said Grand Ole Opry star Jim Ed Brown, a friend. “I don’t think he ever recovered from that.”
Arnold was born May 15, 1918, on a farm near Henderson, Tenn., the son of a sharecropper. He sang on radio stations in Jackson, Tenn., Memphis, Tenn., and St. Louis before becoming nationally known.
Early in his career, his manager was Col. Tom Parker, who later became Elvis Presley’s manager.
His image was always that of a modest, clean-cut country boy.
“You cannot satisfy all the people,” he once said. “They have an image of me. Some people think I’m Billy Graham’s half brother, but I’m not. I want people to get this hero thing off their mind and just let me be me.”
Arnold lived in Brentwood, a Nashville suburb. Survivors include a son, Richard Edward Arnold Jr., and daughter, Jo Ann Pollard, both of Brentwood.