A Tribute To Eddy Arnold
By Bill Winstead
Eddy Arnold is a living legend. His extraordinary voice has captured hearts for over a half a century. However, to me Eddy Arnold is much more than a gifted singer and entertainer. During my lifetime Eddy Arnold and his romantic songs provided me with a kind of much-needed therapy. This is a brief look at my life and the important role Eddy Arnold has played in it. I am writing this for several reasons: to show how a negative can be turned into a positive; to prove that miracles can happen; to relate the power of love; and to reveal what a sentimental, sensitive, and caring man Eddy Arnold is.
I was born in Norfolk, Virginia on May 30, 1936, two months premature. I appeared to be healthy. But when I was six months old, I could not sit up. Doctors informed my parents that, apparently, I had suffered a brain injury during birth. I had a form of cerebral palsy called spastic paralysis. Years later my mother tearfully told me that the doctors had heart-breaking predictions for me: I would never walk and I was probably mentally retarded. The doctors even suggested that since my condition was so severe, my parents should consider placing me in an institution. Fortunately, my parents wouldn't think of "putting me away" because my mother said that my eyes were too bright and I seemed to be noticing things.
There is no doubt that I was severely afflicted. My legs crossed almost like scissors, and I could not put my feet flat on the floor. I also did not have full use of my hands, especially my left one.
My parents, particularly my father, tried to make me as independent as possible. Dad would put me on the floor, place various objects on the floor, and then make me pick them up over and over in an attempt to improve my manual dexterity. My mother, in contrast, was overly protective, partly because of her guilt feelings. She had the incongruous idea that it was somehow her fault that I was handicapped.
At the age of six, I had extensive surgery on both legs. For six months I lay flat on my back with a stick between my legs, which were in full casts, to keep them apart. The surgeries did make it possible for me to become somewhat ambulatory. I was nearly seven when I took my first shaky steps. I really didn't walk; I stumbled, swayed and staggered like a drunk. I fell all the time. I remember reaching and grabbing for hands to keep from falling. That is why holding hands is so important to me. Even today I hold hands with the ones I love as a way of feeling secure and loved.
Enter the voice of Eddy Arnold. My parents were habitual listeners of radio's Grand Ole Opry. In those days what is called country music today was referred to, often derogatorily, as "hillbilly music." Even as a young boy, I believe I had a good ear for music. I remember making fun of the Opry singers who had that annoying, to me, nasal twang. I'll never forget the first time I heard Eddy Arnold. I distinctly remember telling Dad, "He (Eddy Arnold) doesn't belong on that show. He can sing." Eddy Arnold was so much smoother. As one reviewer wrote years later, "Eddy Arnold sings without the use of his nose."
I remember hearing Eddy Arnold's first record, a tearful tune called Mommy, Please Stay Home With Me. In 1946 my brother, Walter, bought me my first Eddy Arnold record. That's How Much I Love You was his first big hit and started my Eddy Arnold collection.
By 1947 Eddy Arnold had become a major recording star. In fact, he dominated the charts like no one else, before or since. Seven of the top ten songs in 1947 were Eddy Arnold songs. I'll Hold You In My Heart was number 1 (one) for 21 weeks and crossed over to the pop charts. In 1948 Eddy Arnold had six hits in the top ten, including Bouquet of Roses, his first million seller.
Since I was physically unable to attend school, I was assigned a homebound teacher. I remember not being able to write in the first grade because I had so much difficulty holding a pencil. By the third grade I was assigned one of the most important teachers of my life. Carrie Smith was a strict, but encouraging, teacher who would be there for me for the next seven years.
Receiving homebound instruction only three days a week in the afternoon made it possible for me to listen to Eddy Arnold's daily radio show. I also heard him on the programs of Bob Hope and Perry Como.
In 1948 my brother, Sam, bought our first television set. One Tuesday night I had my first chance to see what Eddy Arnold looked like. He was a guest on Milton Berle's hit television show.
In 1949 Eddy Arnold went to Hollywood. He made two movies, Hoedown and Feudin' Rhythm. Low-budget films made to capitalize on Eddy Arnold's popularity, the movies made money because of Eddy Arnold, not because of their quality. Even at my young age, I realized that neither movie was very good, but I got to see Eddy Arnold sing and that's all that mattered to me. Years ago Eddy Arnold joked about the movies: "I'm surprised they didn't kill my career."
Eddy Arnold did much more than just entertain me. His voice also provided me with a kind of physical therapy. One of the characteristics of someone with my type of cerebral palsy is the difficulty in relaxing. My muscles were usually tense and tight. I found out that listening to the soft, smooth voice of Eddy Arnold helped me relax. I would put a stack of Eddy Arnold records on my record player, which was in my room, and I would slowly relax. I fell asleep many nights with the voice of Eddy Arnold as my tranquilizer.
In the 1950's Eddy Arnold's career continued to soar. The early fifties provided a clue to Eddy Arnold's future musical direction: he started doing pop songs like Moonlight and Roses, I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Right Myself a Letter, and Angry.
The year of 1953 was a very difficult one for me. A Mr. Milner became the director of the Cerebral Palsy Center where I went for therapy. He wanted me to start going to school. I'll never forget what Mr. Milner said; "Bill, I believe you have a lot of ability. But you'll need to go to school to prove it and prepare yourself for college."
To put it mildly, I was upset at Mr. Milner's suggestion. I had received my first ten years of schooling at home. The thought of going to school scared me. Yet, I knew Mr. Milner had faith in me when I had very little in myself. I realized I had to go to school.
Just a month before I was to start attending school, tragedy struck. On August 3, 1953, my dad died of a heart attack. The father who had carried me on his back when I couldn't walk, who had pitched baseballs to me while I was on my knees, and who had bought me an old piano to be used to improve the use of my hands and to encourage my interest in music was now gone. I was overwhelmed. Being overprotective and concerned for my safety, my mother tried to block my going to school. In retrospect, I am glad Mr. Milner forced me to go to school because it was something I needed to do.
The day before I was to start school, I played my Eddy Arnold records all day, trying to forget how frightened I was. A lady named Mrs. Parker had volunteered to drive me to Maury High School each day, but I would have to catch a regular bus in the afternoon and stagger two blocks home.
I'll never forget that first day of school. I was nervous and shaking. What I feared the most happened: I fell in the hall between classes. I was ashamed and embarrassed. I remember thinking to myself: I wish I were dead!
Mom met me at the bus stop. I wanted to cry, but I was not about to do it in front of Mom because she would have gone to pieces. Suddenly, in an outburst of bravado, I said: "I don't want you to meet me again. I'll make it by myself."
When we arrived home, I refused to eat and went to my room. I remember telling my crying mother: "Please leave me alone. I want to be by myself." From about 4 o'clock to 10 o'clock, I played Eddy Arnold records, non-stop. As I fought back the tears, the voice of Eddy Arnold helped me forget for a little while. Somehow, Eddy Arnold's songs provided me with an emotional and psychological release. The Good Lord was with me. As I fell asleep listening to Eddy Arnold, I promised myself I would not give up.
As each school day became a little less frightening, I began to realize that I seemed smarter than most of my classmates. My self-esteem rose a little. But I measured my daily success, not by my grades but by the number of times I had fallen at school and/or on the way home. I was doing my best, but I was still ashamed of myself. Everyday I played Eddy Arnold. His music was my refuge from my feelings of inferiority. I was so self-conscious, particularly when I knew people were staring at me.
Mr. Milner took a real interest in me. He umpired high school baseball games. Learning about my love for the diamond sport, Mr. Milner often took me to games. I enjoyed kidding him about his umpiring.
One of my classes was journalism. My teacher was sufficiently impressed with my writing to pull me out of study hall to work with her on the high school paper. The teacher thought I had a good sense of humor. So I began writing humorous features. I'll always remember my first by-line. Seeing "by Bill Winstead" provided a real boost for my ego. I was thrilled when someone complimented me. Maybe I was worth something, after all. Even as I made adjustments to school, the voice of Eddy Arnold still dominated my afternoons and evenings.
Eddy Arnold appeared in Norfolk in 1954. My brother, Homer, had promised to take me. But we did not buy tickets in advance, and both shows were sold out. I thought I had missed my only chance to see Eddy Arnold in person.
My disgust with myself reached new heights in my senior year. I had much to be thankful for, but I was too busy feeling sorry for myself. I was definitely interested in girls, but I couldn't imagine any girl caring about me. My sister-in-law kept telling me: "When the right girl comes along, she will love you for what you are, and your physical problem will not make any difference." I thought that Iris didn't believe that drivel anymore than I did. When someone told me how handsome I was in my senior picture, I thought to myself: "That's because you only see me from the neck up." I avoided mirrors, especially full-length ones because I saw only my bent, twisted legs.
Mr. Milner was so proud of my progress. I had stayed on the honor roll since I began school. Mr. Milner's interest in me ended up costing him his job. Parents of other kids complained that he was devoting too much time to me. I am certain that his resignation was precipitated by his attention to me. I will always be grateful to Mr. Milner whose faith in me helped to turn my life around.
During my senior year, I played Eddy Arnold more than ever. While my classmates were going to dances and parties, I could usually be found spinning Eddy Arnold records. As I listened to love songs, I wondered what it would be like to love and be loved. I longed for affection, to be hugged and kissed. I knew my mother loved me, but she was old fashioned and seldom gave me any physical affection.
The year 1955 marked a turning point in the career of Eddy Arnold. No one else could have been happier than I when RCA released his signature song, Cattle Call, backed by Hugo Winterhalter's Orchestra. Cattle Call climbed to the top of the charts. The pop-sounding background upset some country music fans. But the more polished arrangement behind Eddy Arnold did exactly what he wanted: broadened his appeal. I had told my friends for years that Eddy Arnold was so smooth he could sing with any orchestra. The success of Cattle Call gave credence to my evaluation of Eddy Arnold.
At the same time, I was preparing for my high school graduation. During my senior year I did even more writing for the paper. In addition to being sports editor, I wrote feature articles, usually humorous ones.
I had two major concerns my final year. Dr. John Vann, himself a victim of polio, wanted to perform experimental surgery on my legs. Since there were no guarantees that the operations would help me physically, my mother was against my having the surgeries. I finally convinced her that the chance the operations could lead to my getting around better and becoming more independent made them worth the risk.
The other worry was about my future. I knew how important it was for me to attend college. How could I go? My father was gone, and we were poor. I prayed to God that, somehow, I would get to go to college.
When the list of honor graduates was announced, I was proud to be on it. I was awarded two scholarships, but they were partial grants. The final piece of my prayer was answered when I won a writing contest conducted by the Norfolk Newspapers. I was so thankful. I did not want charity. Fortunately, I earned the scholarships as a result of my grades and my writing. My college education did not cost a penny.
In my senior year another important person entered my life, a woman who taught me lessons that I have tried to pass on to my students. Jean GeogHagan, a physical therapist, joined the Cerebral Palsy Center. Being a "normal" teen-age male, the first thing I noticed was that Mrs. GeogHagan was not nearly as pretty as the previous therapist. But Mrs. G took a profound interest in me. Knowing how inferior I felt, she did more than just exercise my legs; she also worked on my self-esteem. She was always asking to see my latest writing. Weary of what I perceived to be insincere compliments, I, at first, shrugged off her encouragement. However, I began to believe that Mrs. G meant everything that she said to me.
As my experimental surgery drew near, I wondered if I should have it. I had been told that the operations would straighten my legs a little, help me relax more, and probably make it possible for me to drive. But I was also informed that I would end up on crutches, and I was against that. One day, following therapy, Mrs. G invited me to go to lunch with her. On the way to the restaurant I fell. A lady on a porch then said something I will never forget: "That's disgusting. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, young man, being drunk like that!" As I tried to get up, I saw the look Mrs. G shot at the lady. I'm surprised that lady didn't die on the spot.
While I was fighting back tears, Mrs. G tried to console me. "Bill, don't let that ignorant woman bother you. But after your surgery you need to use crutches for your own safety." I decided to heed that advice.
The night of my senior prom, Eddy Arnold came to my emotional rescue. Of course, I did not go to the prom. I tried to convince myself that it didn't matter. But this was just another time I felt different, inferior. I thought about my friends having a good time at the prom. Once again I retreated to my room, playing Eddy Arnold records for about eight straight hours until I finally fell asleep.
Three days after graduation, I had surgery on my left leg that went so well that an expected cast wasn't necessary. However, a week later I awoke to find a cast on my right leg. While I was in the hospital, I received a real boost to my fragile ego. I got a letter from the sports editor of the local newspaper. It seems someone, I never found out who, had sent the sports editor copies of my high school articles. I stared at the page in disbelief: "You definitely have writing talent. When you can get around, come see me about a job writing for the Ledger-Star." A dream came true! I was going to be a sports writer.
After a recovery and rehabilitation period of eight months, I reluctantly agreed to go on crutches. Mrs. G worked with me on the use of on-the-arm-crutches. Then she devoted one full day to me, guiding me over curbs, up stairs, and on and off buses. As always, she tried to jack up my ego, and she did it on her day off!
"I know you don't think any girl will go out with you, but I'm telling you that if I were your age, I would jump at the chance to be with you. I think you have a great future. Think about what you can do and not about what you can't. Sure, there will be girls who won't go out with you, but you don't want to go with those kinds of girls anyway. Someday the right one will come along and look beyond your legs to see what a wonderful, talented person you are. Remember, people don't love each other for the way they walk."
That last line really stuck with me. But, in all honesty, I forgot about it when I went through my periodic bouts with self-pitying depression.
I previously mentioned that I did not think Mrs. G was very pretty. However, I'll never forget the last time I saw her before she moved back to Delaware. I cried as we hugged. Then I realized something: Mrs.G was truly a beautiful woman. That was the first time that I realized that what is inside a person is far more important than physical appearance.
In the spring of 1956, I bought my first car with $500.00 from a savings account my father left for me, and I started writing for the newspaper. I think my mother showed my first "by Bill Winstead" to everyone in the neighborhood. About the same time RCA released Eddy Arnold's classic, You Don't Know Me, co-written by Eddy Arnold and Cindy Walker. You Don't Know Me has been recorded by other artists, including the pop hit by Jerry Vale. The song was also featured in the movie, Postcards From The Edge.
Mr. Arnold also had another hit with Hugo Winterhalter, The Richest Man (In The World), a personal favorite. Years later we had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Arnold perform this positive, up-tempo, show-stopping song many times.
I started college in the fall of 1956. Continuing to write for the newspaper, I covered all sports at Norfolk William and Mary. I still dreamed of finding that special girl, but my time was devoted to college and writing. My leisure time consisted of going to movies (usually alone), attending church, and, of course, spinning Eddy Arnold records.
By my sophomore year I actually had had a few dates, usually arranged by my nephew, Walt, who is just three years younger than I. Every time I went on a date I thought the girl was doing charity work.
During that period LP's had become popular. Eddy Arnold came out with A Little On The Lonely Side and My Darling, My Darling, two albums of pop standards.
Nineteen fifty-eight turned out to be a pivotal year in my life. The impossible happened; I met a girl, Patricia Harvey who, miraculously, fell in love with me. In fact, she told a mutual friend, Henry Esber (now a microbiologist in Massachusetts) that she fell in love with me at first sight and was going to marry me. I did not know about this ridiculous-sounding statement until much later. I didn't realize Pat had her claws out for me. We almost broke up during our courtship because I had difficulty believing she could really love me. After all, I thought I was ugly. How could she love me? But she obviously did. We recently celebrated our 40th anniversary.
Naturally, Pat just had to become an Eddy Arnold fan. She liked the 1959 hit, Tennessee Stud, better than I. In the early 1960's Eddy Arnold stopped using the steel guitar of Roy Wiggins and started using a background of violins and the soft harmonies of the Anita Kerr Singers. Pop love songs like Smile, Hold Me, and She's Funny That Way highlighted albums. Even country tunes had an up-town sound. Eddy Arnold's voice became deeper and more mellow.
Just over a year after Pat and I married, I had to make a life-changing decision. I gave up sports writing because I finally faced the fact that climbing to the top of stadiums was just too dangerous. This decision led to a deep depression. I felt I had failed at what I wanted to do. I sincerely believe that God closed the door to sports writing and opened a more important door to teaching. I had never really thought about teaching. But I believe it was God's plan for me. I am now in my 39th year as an educator.
Pat started bugging me to write Eddy Arnold. "I'm sure Eddy Arnold would appreciate knowing how much his music has meant to you."
Although I still thought writing was a waste of time, I typed a long letter to Eddy Arnold in August of 1964. Two months passed with no reply, lending support to my belief in the futility of writing. However, in October I received a personal letter from Eddy Arnold. I knew he had read my letter because he referred to several of my comments. I had told him that I was not really a country music fan. I just liked him. He wrote me that his next album, Pop Hits From The Country Side, featured a large string section of violins, violas, and cellos. What I remember most about that letter was how Eddy Arnold closed it: "If you are ever in Nashville, and I'm here, I would be delighted to meet you!"
I didn't know it at the time, but that letter was the genesis of a warm, personal relationship with Eddy Arnold. The relationship is the direct result of my persistent Pat. Her nagging me to write Eddy Arnold provides an important lesson. Husbands: listen to your wives.
In August of 1965 my mother, Pat, and I drove 700 miles to Nashville to meet Eddy Arnold. We had just found out that Pat was pregnant, and her doctor advised us to travel leisurely. What's He Doing In My World had just become a big hit.
When we arrived at Eddy Arnold's Brentwood office, we were met by Mary Grizzard, his personal secretary. While waiting we had the pleasure of meeting Roy Wiggins.
Mr. Arnold came in, shook our hands, and said he could see us in a few minutes. Shortly, we were invited down into his office. Mr. Arnold stayed in front of me as I went down the stairs on my crutches.
Over the years I had read many nice things about Eddy Arnold. We soon found out that all those positive things about him were true. He spent nearly three hours with us. He made us feel that he was just as glad to meet us as we were to meet him. He made us feel like friends, not fans. Mr. Arnold kept directing the conversation toward us. Even my extremely shy mother talked. We told him how much we were enjoying his latest album, The Easy Way, and the arrangements. The fact that I knew his new arranger was Bill Walker seemed to surprise him.
Mr. Arnold even gave some parental advice. Informed that we had just learned that Pat was expecting, Mr. Arnold advised: "Let your baby cry a little. It's good for the lungs."
Mr. Arnold seemed to be interested in the fact that I was not a real country music fan. "Some radio stations that have both country music segments and pop music segments play my records as a bridge between the two."
I told Mr. Arnold that I'd always wanted to see him perform in person.
"Isn't Baltimore fairly close to you? I have a concert there in October."
Armed with information about the Baltimore concert, and a personalized, autographed picture, we left Eddy Arnold, still marveling at the caring, considerate way he had treated us.
During that first trip to Nashville, we met a lady who had known Eddy Arnold for a long time.
"I knew him when he first came here, when he was poor and struggling," she said. "He is no different now from when he didn't have anything."
In October of 1965, Pat and I took my nephew, Sam, who is like a son to me, and his sister, Julie, to Baltimore to see Eddy Arnold perform at the Lyric Theater. To say that I was impressed by that first concert would be a monumental understatement. Immediately, I had the feeling that the man on stage was not putting on an act. The people were seeing a genuine gentleman who established an instant rapport with them.
There are several things I remember about that Baltimore concert. Mr. Arnold called himself a "Heinz 57" singer, then proved it with a variety of songs. I particularly enjoyed the medley of Dear Heart, Oh, Lonesome Me, and Hello Dolly. Pat and I also liked a little-known spiritual, Up Above My Head, which started softly and rocked at the end. This was the second time I had heard Up Above My Head. Ed Sullivan's producers had been so impressed with Eddy Arnold's performance of this song that they asked him to sing it on the Sunday night television show.
I was also captivated by arranger and conductor Bill Walker. This Australian-born musician played piano incomparably, while often conducting the orchestra with the bounce of his head.
Another distinctive feature of the concert was a song I had never heard before. No one could have guessed the impact that this song would have on the career of Eddy Arnold and the music world. The song: Make The World Go Away!
After several years as a classroom teacher, I made another important decision. I also decided to become a homebound teacher after school. I felt a real calling to do this. I believed I had an obligation to help others. After all, if it had not been for Carrie Smith who was willing to do homebound teaching for me, I honestly have no idea what might have happened to me.
As Make The World Go Away climbed to number one on the country charts and number six on the pop charts and the subsequent album, My World, headed for gold status, Eddy Arnold's career soared again. Actually, this "second career" had started the year before with the huge success of What's He Doing In My World?
Eddy Arnold started popping up all over the television schedules. Mr. Arnold first began appearing regularly on TV in the early 50's. He was a summertime substitute for both Dinah Shore and Perry Como. In the 1960's he appeared on the shows of Ed Sullivan, Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, Andy Williams, Danny Kaye, Jack Lawrence, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, Dinah Shore, Dean Martin, Carol Channing, Perry Como, and Johnny Carson. He also hosted the Tonight Show and a special, Music from the Land. His summer shows for the Kraft Music Hall drew such high ratings that he frequently hosted the same program in the 1970's.
In January of 1966 I started homebound teaching a girl named Becky Modlin who was recovering from a near-fatal operation. Suffering from low self-esteem and depression, this pretty 17 year-old was also an unmotivated student. I made up my mind to try to help Becky, not only educationally but also psychologically. With the aid of Pat, I did everything I could think of to try to improve Becky's self-image. Becky had real difficulty accepting our sincerity and concern. Pat and I ultimately decided to name our baby after Becky, who didn't believe us.
On the first day of spring, 1966, our daughter, Becky Belinda, was born. That day was the closest I ever came to walking without my crutches: I was a proud father! Becky Modlin told us that naming our daughter after her marked a turning point in her life. She went on to become an honor student and is now a registered nurse in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Pat and I are grateful that we were able to help Becky and we are very proud that Becky says that she would not be a nurse today if it were not for us.
The summer of 1966 Pat and I decided to drive to Ohio to see Eddy Arnold perform again. We invited Becky Modlin to go with us.
As Eddy Arnold sang, I noticed that Becky, who took turns with Pat holding our Becky, was enthralled. Following the show, which was at a fair, we flashed our letter from Eddy Arnold giving us permission to go backstage, which was a large trailer.
The steps into the trailer were so high, I could not get up them on my crutches. So Eddy Arnold and another gentlemen grabbed me and lifted me into the trailer.
For the next couple of hours, we watched Eddy Arnold patiently perform his magic with his fans. One woman asked him to sign her hand. "Don't you plan to wash?" he asked. Mr. Arnold also whispered to a boy scout to zip his pants. The thing I remember most was when Mr. Arnold tactfully declined to sign a bra strap.
Following the autograph session, we informed Mr. Arnold that we would see him perform again the next night. Then he invited us to have lunch with him the next day at his hotel. What a pleasant surprise that was!
The inconsideration of people really bothered me. While trying to eat, Mr. Arnold was hounded by autograph seekers, some of whom had neither paper nor pen.
After lunch we had pictures taken with Mr. Arnold. Pat told him how much she enjoyed his singing of Dear Heart. When Mr. Arnold came on stage that night, he seemed to look for us. He stood right in front of Pat as he sang Dear Heart. I thought Pat was going to melt right there in her seat. Becky Modlin loved the crowd-clapping The Richest Man (In The World).
During the late 1960's Eddy Arnold's new image with the polished, middle-of-the-road sound did exactly what it was designed to do: expand his audience. A primary reason for the new success of Eddy Arnold was the masterful management of Jerry Purcell. It is no coincidence that Eddy Arnold's career took off again not long after Jerry Purcell became his manager in 1964. A no-nonsense kind of guy, Purcell set out to change the image of his client. Clad in a custom-made tuxedo and backed by an orchestra, Eddy Arnold succeeded in reaching a wider audience. Jerry Purcell orchestrated that. Although Jerry Purcell and Eddy Arnold come from distinctly different backgrounds they both believe that a man's word should be his bond. They do not have a written contract. A handshake was good enough.
Another reason for Eddy Arnold's musical resurgence was the aforementioned Bill Walker. Born in Sydney, Australia (Pat just loves Bill's accent), this marvelously talented musician, arranger and conductor was a perfect fit for Eddy Arnold. Bill Walker's fresh, innovative arrangements provided the appropriate musical showcase for Eddy Arnold's melliferous baritone. When Eddy Arnold started appearing with symphonies, Bill wrote extended arrangements for the large orchestras. Even the symphonies could not overshadow Bill's piano work. Bill Walker wrote the arrangements for a string of Eddy Arnold hits in the late 1960's. Later, Bill served as musical director of the Statler Brothers television series.
The pop-sounding arrangements of Bill Walker bothered some country music purists who were upset that Eddy Arnold had abandoned the traditional background music. But I concur with what Eddy Arnold once said: "Basically, we just took out the fiddles and put in the violins." I wonder what these same traditionalists think about the trend toward rock in country music.
Actually, Eddy Arnold, influenced by Bing Crosby and Gene Autry, has not changed much in his approach to music. True, his voice deepened and mellowed. However, his choice of song material has remained basically constant. He has always preferred sentimental love songs and new ways to say "I love you." Eddy Arnold reasoned, correctly, that for every fan he lost because of his easy-listening sound, he gained four or five.
In October, 1998 we attended out last Eddy Arnold concert in Myrtle Beach. That marked our 48th Eddy Arnold show in the past 34 years. Although every concert has been memorable, some stand out. We particularly remember the symphony appearances in Memphis, Knoxville, and Baltimore.
Two other concerts were unforgettable. Since we usually know Eddy Arnold's schedule in advance, we normally order front-row seats. For a show in Raleigh, North Carolina, we were sent tickets for the balcony. Even if I had not been on crutches at the time, I would never have accepted balcony seats. I called Eddy Arnold's secretary, Roberta Edging, and explained the seat problem. I received a note from Roberta a few days later, advising us to ask for a certain gentlemen when we arrived at the coliseum. The gentleman walked us down to the front row. There were four folding chairs in front of the front row. We learned later that Eddy Arnold had told the promoter: "Bill Winstead and his party are to have front-row seats even if you have to put a front row in front of the front row."
In the early 1980's Eddy Arnold did a benefit for the USO at Constitution Hall in Washington. There was to be a reception in honor of Mr. Arnold following the concert. We did not go to the additional expense of reception tickets because we could not afford them. But when we arrived at the box office to pick up the regular tickets, there were also reception tickets reserved for us. It seems that when the promoter talked to Mr. Arnold and told him that he had spoken to me, Mr. Arnold informed him that he wanted us at the reception. We were pleased and shocked that we were going to the reception, after all.
Another memorable Eddy Arnold occasion was when he invited Pat, Becky and me to a recording session. We had been to a recording studio once before, when Bill Walker arranged for us to watch Chet Atkins record. Mr. Arnold had already done his vocals. We watched as strings were added to A Daisy A Day and That's What I Get For Loving You.
For many years Pat and I used my breaks from teaching to travel to see Eddy Arnold perform. Over three decades we have attended concerts in our home state of Virginia, and North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee, The Nation's Capital, and Florida.
Our interest in Eddy Arnold has led to some significant fringe benefits. In addition to the enjoyment of concerts, visiting backstage, and seeing much of the country, we have met some wonderful people along the way. Roberta Edging, Mr. Arnold's secretary for over 30 years, is the epitome of the Southern lady. We have visited Roberta several times, and we chat on the phone. Over the years Roberta has kept us informed about Eddy Arnold's schedule. Pat and I consider Roberta a dear friend. Years ago when our daughter, Becky, had to have surgery, Roberta wrote Becky a long, encouraging letter that really touched our hearts.
Jerry Purcell is an expert in two areas: managing Mr. Arnold and giving me a hard time. Jerry seems to get an inordinate amount of pleasure out of teasing me. He has a nickname for me which I would rather not divulge. Jerry is a great guy. If he did not tease me, I would be disappointed.
I am also lucky to know Bill Walker. He and his wife, Jeanine, who has been a backup singer on some Eddy Arnold recordings, are genuine Christian people. We have visited them several times in their Brentwood home, had dinner with them, and been their guests at recording sessions. Bill and Jeanine are now going through the trauma of watching their newly licensed daughter, Beth, hit the highways.
We have also enjoyed talking to Lisa Carrie, one of Eddy Arnold's backup singers. This stunning redhead plays violin and does concert duets with Mr. Arnold. Lisa has always been very gracious to us.
Another plus in our life with Eddy Arnold is getting to know Lou Grasmick, a highly successful Baltimore businessman. Lou has been responsible for bringing Mr. Arnold to Maryland many times. In May, during a sold-out engagement in Las Vegas, Eddy Arnold announced that he was retiring from personal appearances. I hope that Lou Grasmick can use his persuasive powers to convince Eddy Arnold to appear one more time in the Baltimore area.
The greatest fringe benefit from loving Eddy Arnold is the unbelievable relationship with Bill Comer, the man responsible for this web site. A phone call from Bill, concerning a vintage Eddy Arnold record, started our wonderful, rare friendship. Our mutual love for Eddy Arnold brought us together. I love Bill very much. He is like a brother. Every time we go to Orlando, he treats Pat and me as if we were important. If the Orlando air cost to breathe, he wouldn't let us pay for it. Bill and I have shared four Eddy Arnold concerts together. Pat and I treasure our relationship with Bill and his wife, Glenda. Bill's secretary, Frances, should get some kind of endurance award for putting up with Bill for nearly three decades. Pat says she wishes we lived next door to the Comers. "I could send you over to Bill and then Glenda and I could disappear for weeks and you two wouldn't even know it!" The unique love that Bill and I have for each other wouldn't have happened if it weren't for Eddy Arnold.
Eddy Arnold is the subject of four books. His autobiography, A Long Way From Chester County, gives insight into his life and career up to 1969.
Mike Freda's book , Eddy Arnold Discography 1944-1996, was a labor of love. Freda, a life-long Eddy Arnold fan, spent over 20 years compiling this discography. A recent conversation between the two of us revealed that Mike remembers Pat, Becky, and me from Eddy Arnold concerts in Maryland.
Two biographies have been written about Eddy Arnold. Ironically, Don Cusic's I'll Hold You In My Heart and Eddy Anold: Pioneer of the Nashville Sound by Mike Streissguth came out almost simultaneously two years ago. Cusic, who teaches courses on musical history at Nashville's Belmont University, relates the impact Eddy Arnold has had on the growth and acceptance of country music. Included in Cusic's book are many of the positive reviews Eddy Arnold has received from critics over the years.
Mike Streissguth's biography is written from a different perspective. Mike did not know who Eddy Arnold was until 1981 when the joyous song, Happy Everything, caught his attention on the radio. His meticulous research chronicles the contributions to Eddy Arnold's career of musicians like Roy Wiggins, Bill Walker, Charles Grean, and guitarist-producer Chet Atkins.
I am happy that Mike Streissguth and I have made connections. We have talked by phone several times, sharing Eddy Arnold stories. Among the things on which Mike and I agree is the brilliance of the Eddy Arnold album, Standing Alone. This album, for some reason poorly publicized by RCA, demonstrates Eddy Arnold's versatility with a variety of songs. Mike and I hope that Eddy Arnold will reconsider his retirement from the stage so that we will have the opportunity to share a future concert.
During my career as a teacher, I have introduced many of my students to Eddy Arnold. One of the students was Linwood Wilkins. Linwood, who attended a concert with us in Richmond, Virginia, has a pretty extensive Eddy Arnold collection. Linwood turned his parents into fans of Eddy Arnold. Although he now lives in Georgia, he and I stay in close contact.
I wanted this piece of prose to do more than just chronicle my life-long interest in Eddy Arnold. I also hoped it would serve a didactic purpose, imparting important lessons I have learned. That old Johnny Mercer tune, Accentuate The Positive, Eliminate The Negative, is sound advice. Wallowing in self-pity never helps anyone. I wish I had realized when I was younger how lucky I have been. Even the profound disappointment of giving up sports writing was turned into a veritable blessing when I became a teacher. My teaching career has brought me some unforgettable experiences and led to some lasting friendships.
Being a teacher has been an integral part of my life, bringing me both sorrow and joy. One of my students was killed in Vietnam, two died of cancer, one succumbed to leukemia, and one 17 year-old hemophilia victim died of the AIDS virus as a result of a blood transfusion. And one fellow teacher, who attended an Eddy Arnold concert with us, committed suicide.
However, the vast majority of my experiences, teaching and tutoring, have been positive. I have always tried to take a palpable interest in my students, for I believe if students know a teacher genuinely cares, most of them will try a little harder.
There is no way I could have helped so many young people over the years without the understanding and support of my wife. Pat is truly a caring, compassionate woman. Many women would have resented and objected to the extra time I have devoted to students. Instead, Pat has been a rock of support and often helps me when I try to do something extra for someone. Pat realizes that teaching is my life. Jerry Purcell claims that Pat should receive a special medal for putting up with me for all these years.
I thank God I have been privileged to play a role in the ultimate success of so many youngsters. Tutoring someone on a one-to-one basis is the best possible teaching situation, leading to close interpersonal relationships. I have already related the success story of Becky Modlin. One of the most amazing cases is that of Lee Walters. Like a son to me, Lee overcame a learning-disabled label to use his remarkable tenacity to earn a Masters Degree in business. A once shy, inferior-feeling young man named Vernie Incognito has become a successful artist. Another long-time student of mine, Nick Fortunato, now runs his own private investigation agency. One of my current students, Jeremy Raczkiewicz, is a gifted artist who will be very successful some day.
Along the way, I have picked up a little foreign culture. I have tutored youngsters from South Africa, England, Iran, and Iraq. At the time of this writing, I am having the pleasure of helping an exceptional young man from Panama, Rafael Donado.
One of the most blessed experiences in my life has occurred during the past three years. It started with a beautiful little girl (she's since become a big girl) named Rachel Dickey. Rachel, whose father, Scott Dickey, is a prominent Virginia Beach building contractor, and I quickly developed a loving relationship. She responded positively to my tutoring.
The next year I started working with Rachel's dynamic little sister, Megan. Rachel and Megan, who are twelve and seven years old, respectively, are like grandchildren to me. Recently, Megan was overheard saying her prayers. She asked God to make her stronger, so she could lift my wheelchair out of the back of the car and put it together "so Mr. Winstead and I can go the mall together." Along the way I also tutored Rachel and Megan's cousin, Jake, a delightful little boy.
My greatest joy came when Rachel and Megan's mother, Beth Marler-Dickey, whose father, Wayne Marler, helped develop the Tomahawk Cruise Missile, informed me that she was ready to set aside a successful career in real estate to enter college to study to be a teacher. As I began to tutor Beth, I was impressed with her dedication, determination, and eagerness to learn. There is no greater feeling for a teacher than to have a student who has a thirst for knowledge. Beth soon became like a daughter to me. She has been so good to me and for me. I have never known another person more unselfish and caring than Beth. She has told me that I have been an inspiration to her, but she has inspired me, too. Beth has really spoiled me. It is impossible to put into words how much I love Beth and what she means to me. I am so lucky that she is a part of my life. God has blessed Pat and me through Beth and her girls.
Measured by the world's standards, I have not been much of a success. I don't own a fancy house, drive a new car, or have other materialistic trappings. But I am rich in other ways.
Thirty-three years ago our Becky Belinda was born. I guess I must have influenced her. She wrote for both her high school and college papers and once considered a career as a writer. Like me, she has become a teacher. She is also somewhat of a linguist. She has such a super-charged battery that she has worked three jobs at once. My multi-talented daughter is on the verge of matrimony. Pat and I will have a son-in-law, John (Yonah) Roberts, in the near future.
I'VE SO MUCH TO BE THANKFUL FOR, the song Eddy Arnold uses to close his act, is appropriate for me. My parents could have taken the easy way out and put me away in an institution. I had four brothers who bought me toys, gave me allowance money, taught me to drive and helped Pat and me at various times. My surviving brothers, Leb and Homer, are sources of encouragement when not on the golf course. My nephew, Sam, gave Pat and me a wonderful gift: A trip to Florida to see Eddy Arnold and Bill Comer. My nephew, Mark, just presented Pat and me with a computer.
Pat and I have been blessed with some loyal friends who have shared more than one Eddy Arnold concert with us. They include Mary Jane Walters (Lee's mother), Lynne Belanger, our former next-door neighbor, Mary and Willis Chase, Dave and Fran Hudelson and George and Ray Morgan. My brother, Leb, my sister-in-laws, Nita and Esther, my nephews, Sam, Mike and Mark, and my niece, Julie, have all attended Eddy Arnold concerts with us.
When I had to give up sports writing, my depression was inexplicable. But God had a much better plan for me. If I had not become a teacher, I would never have known such great people as George and Maggie Garbark, Tommy and Pam Veal, Jerry and Ann Smith, and my extended family of Beth Marler-Dickey.
Biologically, Pat and I have only one daughter. But we have had the pleasure of having "adopted" children along the way. Jill Hickman has been like a daughter to Pat and me for about 20 years. We consider it an honor when Jill and her daughter, Crystal Johnson, call us "Momma Pat" and "Daddy Bill". We "Eddy Arnolded" Jill a few years ago in Myrtle Beach.
I have tried to teach my students that loving relationships are much more important than material possessions. Pat and I just experienced proof of the intrinsic value of friendship. Returning home from celebrating our 40th anniversary with Pat's life-long friend, Jane Johnson, we discovered that the front of our house had been decorated with balloons and streamers and "Just Married" banners, and a large bouquet of "Happy Anniversary" balloons. Lisa Ike and her children, Sunday, Mark, and Tabatha, were responsible for this honor to us. The Ike family also "did" our car and took us out to dinner.
I'm certain that many who read this will find it incomprehensible how anyone could have so much interest in a singer. However, if it had not been for Eddy Arnold, I wonder what would have happened to me. Eddy Arnold's voice gave me a respite from worrying about myself. Eddy Arnold was my faithful friend, my Prozac. When Pat came to love me, Eddy Arnold became important to her, too, and Becky of course, was reared on Eddy Arnold records and concerts.
We are lucky! We have had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know the man behind the voice. Eddy Arnold is sensitive, sentimental, and caring, traits that are reflected in his choice of song material. During his act, he does a medley of famous love songs, "hand-holding" songs he calls them. Eddy Arnold practices what he sings. Next November, he and Sally Arnold will celebrate their 58th anniversary.
Before singing a positive love song, Eddy Arnold used to say something like this:
There are all kinds of love
There is the love between sweethearts,
the love of a mother for her child, and there's the
greatest love of all: God's Love!
Eddy Arnold could have mentioned a father's love. When his son, Dick, had a near-fatal automobile accident in 1971, Mr. Arnold put his career on a virtual hold. During Dick's long, painful rehabilitation, his father took care of him personally. Pat and I have had the pleasure of meeting Dick, who has made a remarkable recovery.
In the field of entertainment, where money and fame often inflate egos, Eddy Arnold is truly a rare individual. He could serve as a blueprint on how to handle success graciously. Pat and I would be honored to know him as a person if he couldn't sing a note.
Well known for his business acumen, Eddy Arnold is a very wealthy man. However, his greatest accomplishment is his ability to touch hearts with his humor, charm, and that incomparable voice.
Roberta Edging once told us that in the dictionary, the word gentleman should have a picture of Eddy Arnold next to it. The following little story illustrates the accuracy of Roberta's assessment of her boss:
Years ago Pat, Becky, and I attended weekend concerts in the Baltimore area. Before the Friday night show, we noticed that the sound system guys were from our hometown, Virginia Beach. I went up to the head man of the crew and introduced myself. During the concert the sound system wasn't right: It made sizzling, frying-pan sounds, prompting Mr. Arnold to joke that he thought it "would be done for breakfast."
Following the show, I went to talk to the boss of the sound crew. He expressed his reluctance to go backstage. "Eddy Arnold is going to be mad about the sound problems and I can't blame him. I expect to get yelled at." I tried to reassure him that Eddy Arnold was not that kind of person.
Before the show the following night, I asked the crew chief how it went backstage: "You were right. As I tried to apologize, Eddy Arnold put me at ease right away. He told me not to worry about it but to try to have the sound system ready for tonight. He was so nice about it. What a pleasure it is to meet a man with class."
Last year the Bear Family of Germany put together a five-CD set (with liner notes by Mike Streissguth) of Eddy Arnold's first 120 recordings. Eddy Arnold fanatics like Bill Comer and me hope that, eventually, the Bear Family will package the entire RCA catalog, including dozens of songs that have never been released. Then Eddy Arnold enthusiasts can follow the vocal evolution of the "Tennessee Plowboy" to the man, who in the words of Don Cusic, "put a tuxedo on country music."
Anyone reading this who has never seen an Eddy Arnold concert has missed the total performer. Recordings deliver the voice, but only a stage performance can capture the class and talent of the man who has sold nearly 90 million records.
I would like to recognize several people who helped to make this tribute to Eddy Arnold possible. I owe so much to my wife Pat. If she had not persevered in nagging me to write Eddy Arnold, we would never have had the pleasure of knowing him. I am also indebted to Lisa Bailey, a dear friend who has become almost like a member of our family. Lisa's hard work helped to get this article in its final form. I would also like to thank my adopted daughter, Beth Marler-Dickey, who used her unique ability to read my hand writing to serve as a copyist for the early part of this piece.
I honestly do not know how to thank Bill Comer. It was Bill's faith in me that made this article possible. Although we are 700 miles apart, my "brother," Bill, has earned a special place in my heart. And if he wants to stay in my heart, he better stop calling me "Billy Boy". Bill Comer can't wait for me to get online. The cost of our frequent, long-distance calls is approaching the national debt.
I know that I reflect the feelings of Bill Comer and millions of other fans: Thank you, Eddy Arnold, for giving us so many marvelous memories and lifting our spirits for over 50 years. You are living proof that a person can achieve tremendous success and still remain a compassionate, unselfish human being.
A final note from Pat to Eddy Arnold: "We did not see your first concert, and we did not see your last one in Las Vegas, but we enjoyed the 48 concerts we saw. Bill and I hope that you reconsider your retirement because we want to fulfill our goal to attend 50 Eddy Arnold performances."
I really do not know how many people I have introduced to Eddy Arnold's music. So many have been captured and surprised by his versatility and vocal range. He dips down low in songs like Soul Deep, If I Had You, and Bad News. His incomparable touches of falsetto highlight Sweet Bunch Of Daisies and I Need You All The Time. His yodeling skills sparkle in Cattle Call, Cowboy, The Valley Below, and Cowpoke.
Recently, Eddy Arnold reached another amazing musical milestone. In December 1999, his duet with LeAnn Rimes of his signature song, Cattle Call, appeared on the Billboard charts. During the third week of January 2000, the song returned to the charts. This meant that Eddy Arnold had the distinction of having hit recordings in seven consecutive decades. I sincerely believe that the Eddy Arnold fans who have visited this web site have contributed significantly to this latest Eddy Arnold success.
Curb Records is on the verge of releasing Eddy Arnold's latest Compact Disc. Bill Comer will place the release date on this site as soon as possible. Eddy Arnold supporters reading this can help put him on the album charts, too.
Mike Streissguth closes his biography by concluding that Eddy Arnold achieved his goal of not being categorized just as a country or pop singer, but just as a singer. Unfortunately, the current generation has not had the opportunity to be exposed to the unique talent of Eddy Arnold. That, to me, is truly sad. For anyone who has ever loved and been loved would be enriched by becoming acquainted with the voice of Eddy Arnold. Once again, thank you, Mr. Arnold, for making this world a better place.
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