Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Great One

In 1996 I had the pleasure and responsibility of mounting a show for 500 radio personalities and programmers on The General Jackson Riverboat at Opryland USA in Nashville, TN. As an employee of the Nashville division of RCA Records I had direct access to the large roster of gifted artists that graced RCA and its affiliated labels. With little hesitation I put together a 2-hour presentation that included live performances by Alabama, Clint Black, Martina McBride, Lorrie Morgan, Kenny Chesney, Mindy McCready, Lonestar and Sarah Evans. With that lineup how could I lose? Well, the event was a huge success until the final act walked onto the stage. When that happened it went from huge success to a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The combined performances of all those who preceded him on that stage that night could not hold a candle to the final 15 minutes in which Eddy Arnold made the world go away.
In planning this event I consulted often with my friend and boss, Joe Galante, regarding the acts we should highlight and the order in which they should be presented. I recall mentioning that I was conflicted about Eddy’s health and stamina and my belief that his stature dictated he should be the one to close the show. With a bit of apprehension and utter respect for Eddy, Joe and I placed him in the proper chronology - the last one to grace that stage. We also kept his scheduled appearance a secret.
Mr. Arnold was 77 years old that night and when the house lights went dark and Gerry House announced, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Eddy Arnold,’ the entire venue unraveled with shouts, astonishment, thunderous applause, stamping feet and a prolonged standing ovation. He strolled slowly to a stool and microphone center stage dressed in a handsome suit, an elegant white shirt and a bolo tie with a gut string guitar strapped across his broad shoulders. Almost 60 years later Eddy Arnold was a beloved superstar.
The effortless and good-humored performance that transpired over those next 20 minutes was as graceful and complete as any I had ever witnessed. As Eddy moved his pure and familiar voice across the melodies of those classic songs I quietly slipped through the crowd and whispered to each of our newly-signed acts, ‘I hope you’re taking notes.’ The response from the crowd at the end of Mr. Arnold’s set was more enthusiastic than his entrance.
Stories abound in this town about the legends that laid the foundation of Nashville’s music industry. Chet Atkins, Roger Miller and Billy Sherrill seem to be at the center of most of them. But there is no shortage of stories about Mr. Arnold. The most-repeated is the one in which it is alleged that a woman saw him cutting his lawn on a riding mower, pulled her car into his driveway and, not knowing who he was asked, ‘What do you charge for that?’ Eddy responded, ‘The lady who lives here let’s me sleep with her.’ 
Given my 15 minutes of undeserved, record executive fame I had the privilege of spending a good deal of time with Eddy and his wife, Sally. They were kind, funny, down-to-earth, unpretentious and generous. I saw Joe a couple weeks ago and he mentioned to me that Sally had passed away earlier this winter – a fact that had eluded me. He also said that Eddy wasn’t doing very well but that he had just spoken with him and he wants to make another record. Joe told him, ‘As soon as you get out of here we’ll get to work on that new record.’
Eddy Arnold
‘Go rest high on that mountain’


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