Chuck Wright And The Willis Brothers aka As The
CHUCK WRIGHTDuring his long illustrious career, Eddy Arnold has been fortunate to have worked
By Bill Winstead
with some extraordinarily gifted people in the music industry. Arnold has been
backed by many talented musicians including Roy Wiggins, a master of the steel
guitar; fiddler Howard (Speedy) McNatt, Arnold’s first professional partner; Chet
Atkins, the great guitarist who also served as producer; Floyd Cramer, the pianist of
“Last Date” fame; Boots Randolph, Nashville’s most famous saxophonist; Bill
Walker and Charles Grean who arranged and conducted many of Eddy Arnold’s
hits; the Anita Kerr Singers and the Jordanaires, two of the best vocal groups in the
business. Another musician who has fond memories of his days backing Eddy
Arnold is bassist Chuck Wright.
“The working conditions with Eddy were just great,” says Wright who began an
eight-year association with Eddy Arnold in 1945. “Eddy’s a great guy, a class act.”
Born in Grove, Oklahoma 80 years ago, Wright, who is part Cherokee Indian,
comes from a musical family. His father played “violin or fiddle, whichever you
prefer.” Originally drawn to the guitar, Wright switched to bass “because
everybody else was playing guitar.” His daughter, Dixie, who passed away four years ago, was also an accomplished musician, vocally and at the piano.
When World War II engulfed the United States in December, 1941, Wright was
playing at KMBC in Kansas City, Missouri. He answered his country’s call, serving
in the Field Artillery of the 86th Infantry. Chuck also played in the army band even
though he could not read music at the time. Wright served part of his tour of duty
in the Philippines.
In 1945 Wright and the Willis Brothers, Vic, Skeeter, and Guy, were hired to join
Little Roy Wiggins in backing Eddy Arnold on the radio. Interestingly, Arnold had
nothing to do with their hiring. That was done by Brown Advertising Agency which
handled Arnold’s broadcasts for the Ralston-Purina Company. At first, Wright and
the Willis Brothers were known as the Oklahoma Wranglers. Later, at Arnold’s
suggestion, they were introduced as the “Willis Brothers and the smiling Indian,
In addition to playing bass on the radio, Wright traveled on the road with Arnold.
Surprisingly, he did not perform on all Eddy Arnold records.
“Traveling was a problem in those days,” recalled Wright. “When Eddy went to
New York to record, other bass players were used. Charles Grean was employed at
RCA, so he usually played bass.”
However, Chuck, when on a break from his musical duties with Eddy Arnold, was
often involved in making records in Nashville, especially with Hank Williams.
Fred Rose, who wrote several Eddy Arnold songs and teamed with Roy Acuff to
form the music publishing company that bears their names, preferred Wright to
play on Hank Williams’ records. On one occasion Chuck was unavailable, so
another bass player was used. Rose was so disappointed with the results that the
songs were redone later when Wright could lend his talent to the session.
While working with Eddy Arnold was a pleasure, the almost constant traveling was
“Col. (Tom) Parker tried to take advantage of Eddy’s popularity by sending us all
over the place. We were the first country group to perform at Constitution Hall in
Wright remembers that the road trips in those days were pure drudgery.
“We traveled in two cars, taking turns driving and sleeping. There was no such
thing as tour buses then. We finally got a little trailer to carry the instruments in.”
One grueling experience is still fresh in Wright’s mind:
“Once we had to drive from Miami to Nashville to meet our commitment at the
Grand Ole Opry. After the show we jumped back into the cars and drove back to
Wright also vividly remembers when Arnold and the troupe severed ties with the
Opry in 1948.
“The Opry took 15% of the gross we earned on the road because they claimed that
our connection with the Opry helped us sell tickets. Eddy was so popular he didn’t
need the Opry. Another problem was we had to rush back to Nashville for the Opry
shows and traveling in those days was much harder than today because there were
no interstate highways.”
Wiggins, the Willis Brothers, and Wright appeared with Eddy Arnold in his two
movies, “Feudin’ Rhythm” and “Hoedown.” Chuck’s son, Ronald, remembers the
train trip to Hollywood in 1949.
Ronald Wright admits that he did not see the movies until a few years ago.
Reminded that Eddy Arnold once said that he was shocked that the movies did not
kill his career, Ronald opined: “The movies were not very good, but I thought
Eddy’s acting was pretty good.”
A widower, Chuck, who also has a daughter, Nanette, is still active in music.
“We have a little group,” explained Chuck. We’re mostly gospel. “We play at
churches and do benefits.”
Wright, who also enjoys playing jazz, does not look or act his age. “Dad could pass
for sixty,” says Ronald, “and he can out-walk me.”
Chuck Wright has particularly pleasant memories about the making of the Eddy
Arnold radio shows. Arnold did a daily broadcast on the Mutual Radio Network.
But the Arnold troupe also cranked out 15-minute shows in rapid fashion to be sent
to radio stations throughout the country.
“We’d come in off the road and then head for the studio. We often started at 8 in
the morning and worked until midnight. We could do enough shows in one day to
cover an entire year. I remember one time I made enough money in one day to buy
a little house trailer.”
When asked to name some of his favorite Eddy Arnold songs, Wright chuckled.
“There are so many that I can’t pick a favorite. “Eddy used to turn out hits one
right after another. RCA often delayed planned release dates of Eddy’s next record
until his previous song slipped in popularity.”
Asked to offer his opinion on Eddy Arnold, chuck Wright’s voice crackled with
“Eddy is A-plus in every way. He’s in a class by himself.”
What did Chuck think about Eddy Arnold’s musical move to the middle of the
“Eddy just adjusted to the times. He has such a great voice. He’s so versatile. He
can sing anything. He sang pop songs when I was with him, so when he started
doing more and more pop-sounding songs, it didn’t surprise me.”
Chuck revealed an interesting insight into Eddy Arnold, the man.
“When Col. Parker signed him to appear in Las Vegas, Eddy didn’t want to do it
even though it meant big money. Eddy was worried that appearing in Vegas would
not set well with his fans.”
Another interesting tidbit about Eddy Arnold was his aversion to partyings.
“Eddy was not much of a partier,” and we had to go to a lot of parties. While others
were drinking, Eddy was happy with a big ole orange juice.“
In Wright’s opinion Eddy Arnold is a lot like pop singer, Perry Como. ”Did you
ever see Eddy on the Como shows? They were both so smooth and made it look so
Eddy Arnold has often been lauded for his talent and humanity. Similar praise
would be appropriate for Chuck Wright.
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