Eddy Arnold passed away this morning.
Not only was he the number one selling solo artist in country music history, but he’s also been a sort of common thread in my life.
My paternal Grandfather was from Manchester, TN. He wasn’t a huge music fan, as far as I knew, but he always had some Eddy Arnold 8 tracks around and played them when I would spend summers with my grandparents in South Padre Island, TX. When you’re a kid, you tend to think a lot of that type of music is stupid or bad, but it definitely laid the groundwork for some of my musical tastes later in life.
Jump to 2001. I started volunteering at the new Country Music Hall of Fame. I hated it. Well, not at first, but pretty quickly I realized that spending 4 hours of my Sunday helping people find the bathroom and hearing snippets of songs OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER wasn’t my cup of tea. However, there was one film that I loved to watch and when it was slow I would sneak in and watch the short documentary on Country Music in Television as many times as possible. Eddy Arnold was featured in it and he was so handsome. Handsome in that 50’s tv kind of way. Handsome in the way that can only be captured in black and white. He had a soft drawl and a sweet face and I couldn’t believe that this was the same person my grandfather had listened to for so much of my youth.
Shortly after I became enamored with this documentary, I went to lunch at Melpark (now Sylvan Park in Melrose). Eddy Arnold was there. He ate lunch there pretty regularly. He looked nothing like the suave TV persona that I thought of him as. He was, rather, a frail old man. But there was still a twinkle in his eye. He was so sweet to all the staff there and they loved him right back. I’ll never forget one day he walked past my table and told me I had “lovely, shiny hair and amazing blue eyes and a silly laugh”….I wanted to say “Um, you’re Eddy Arnold!” But I think he already knew that and it’s Nashville, we don’t do that kind of thing here.
I continued to see him there at lunch time quite often. Just a few months ago I was sitting in the booth behind him and two other men, who had obviously been in the music business for a long time, and they were discussing Britney Spears….I loved it! I made it a point to make eye contact with him when he would walk by and he would always smile back. Years simply don’t change a person’s smile.
A few weeks ago I heard his wife had passed away. I had seen her with him a few times and she always looked even more frail then he did. I worried that her death would speed up his trip to the end of his life. Turns out I was probably justified in my fear. But this man lived a life that few can imagine. He entertained countless generations of people. Sang songs that became a part of the patchwork of our American culture and always had a smile for those he passed, even at the little meat & three on Franklin Rd.
I’ll miss Eddy Arnold being on this planet. But I’m sure thankful for the numerous memories I have of him and the interesting role he played in the first 34 years of my life.