The warmth and tone in Eddy Arnold's voice have sustained him for more than half a century of superstardom even more remarkably, both qualities are still in his singing to this day.
After All These Years, Arnold's newest RCA album, is being released 60 years since he first appeared on the country charts. It is also the 100th album of his amazing career. At age 87, Eddy Arnold is still crooning new tunes.
"The reason this album came about is that so many people punched me in the side and said, 'Why don't you do another album?'" the star reports. "I'd say, 'Well, I retired six years ago. Heck, I don't even know if I can still sing or not.' Then I started exercising, vocalizing, and that's how it happened. I found out that I could still sing a little.
"I don't sing as well as I did, and I don't pretend to. But I enjoy it. And I think the record turned out really well. I'm very happy with it."
The resulting collection speaks for itself. After All These Years features a tender title tune by Country Music Hall of Fame member Cindy Walker. She and Arnold co-wrote his enduring 1956 classic, "You Don't Know Me," which the singer revisits on this 2005 CD. Eddy Arnold is droll and good-humored on tracks such as "Don't She Look Good" and Hall of Famer Roger Miller's "King of the Road."
But the overall mood of After All These Years is heart-tugging nostalgia, whether in the sad regret of "If Only" or the sweet romance of "If I Had Lived My Life Without You" and "After All These Years." On "I've Been Down Some Roads," "Old Porch Swing" and "To Life," the widely beloved musical elder statesman looks back with fondness and reflection on a life well-spent. "I'm Gonna Be Home with You" yearns for the hearth and the arms of true love.
Two of the album's songs were lifted from a 27-year-old LP that Arnold says he has always loved. "When I Dream" and "It'll Be Her" were both on Jack Clement's 1978 collection, All I Want to Do in Life.
"I have that record in my office," Arnold reports. "I love that album. It had a couple of songs on there that I went crazy about, songs that I have always wanted to sing. I know they were recorded 25 years ago, but they are still great songs."
As it turns out, Jack Clement is the producer of After All These Years. The two men have been working together on the CD for more than a year, Clement says.
Arnold and Clement have known each other for decades, but have never worked together before. Their partnership on this project came about as a result of the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2003, Eddy Arnold donated a lifetime accumulation of artifacts, records, photos, books, awards and memorabilia to the Hall. At an event to celebrate the largest single donation ever made to the museum, Clement sang "When I Dream" for Arnold. He subsequently made a video with Arnold of "To Life" for use in the museum exhibit.
"I noticed when we were out in the woods shooting the video that he was singing along, and that his voice sounded pretty good," Clement remembers. "I said, 'You still have your timbre and the tone and everything.' Along the way, I got to thinking that somebody ought to do a tribute album to him. Then one day he decided he wanted to make a record. So we set out to do this."
"We argued and chatted and tossed ideas about songs back and forth," says Arnold. "Jack Clement is a very talented guy. He has a very unusual studio, but he's got great acoustics up there. Plus, there is Eugene the performing cat. I got a big kick out of him, because I'm a nut about animals anyway.
"I'd take the songs and the instrumental tracks back to my office. I'd play them and sing over and over with the tracks, mostly on Saturdays and Sundays when the phone wouldn't be ringing and no one was around. That was the way we worked. I would keep on learning, and Jack could keep working on other things he was doing. Then we'd record some more.
"After we recorded 'Old Porch Swing' and 'Gonna Be Home,' I took them to Joe Galante at RCA. Joe really liked them. He called me back the next Monday morning and said, 'I am 100% sure that I want to release this record.' That really surprised me."
It shouldn't have. Eddy Arnold essentially built RCA's Nashville division. His 1944 recording session for the label inaugurated Nashville as the capital of country record making. His 1945 chart debut with "Each Minute Seems a Million Years" became the first of his 92 Top 10 hits. That is a tally unmatched by any other artist. It was also the first of 67 consecutive Top 10 hits, again a figure that is unequaled.
In 1947, "What Is Life Without Love" became the first of his 28 No. 1 hits. Eddy Arnold's career total of 145 weeks spent at No. 1 is, again, far in excess of anyone else's.
Another 1947 smash, "I'll Hold You in My Heart," remained at No. 1 for 21 weeks; 1948's "Bouquet of Roses" stayed at the top of the charts for 19 weeks; 1949's "Don't Rob Another Man's Castle" lasted three months at No. 1. During the entire year of 1948, only seven country songs occupied the No. 1 position, and six of them belonged to Eddy Arnold. In 1949, he lodged three more singles at the top of the charts for multiple-week stays. No other artist in history has so completely dominated his genre.
"It's a Sin" (1947), "I Couldn't Believe It Was True" (1947), "Molly Darling" (1948), "Anytime" (1948) and "Take Me in Your Arms and Hold Me" (1949) are other songs of the 1940s that became country standards because of Eddy Arnold. Several of them were also pop-crossover hits.
He was on the silver screen in the 1950 Hollywood films Hoedown and Feudin' Rhythm. In 1952, Eddy Arnold became the first country star to host his own prime-time network TV show. Eddy Arnold Time was unique in that it aired in syndication as well as over all three networks: CBS (1952, three nights a week), NBC (1953, twice weekly) and ABC (1956, weekly). He hosted TV's Out on the Farm in 1954, Today on the Farm in 1960 and Kraft Music Hall in 1968. He also made guest appearances on virtually every pop variety program of the era, starred in more than a dozen TV specials and had several national radio series.
"He was everywhere," says Clement. "He was on TV. He was on the radio. I'd listen to his records and try to play the steel guitar along with them. When I was in the ninth grade, I got up and sang one of his songs, 'Chained to a Memory.' Got a big hand, too. He was kind of my role model for singing. And I've found out that there are a lot of people who feel the same way."
By the end of his first decade as a recording artist, Eddy Arnold was a national icon. Among the evergreens he introduced in the 1950s were "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You" (1951), "I Wanna Play House with You" (1951), "I Really Don't Want to Know" (1954), "Cattle Call" (1955), "You Don't Know Me" (1956) and "Tennessee Stud" (1959).
Next, Arnold soared even higher. He embraced the sophisticated new recording techniques of The Nashville Sound and created such standards as "Make the World Go Away" (1965), "The Tip of My Fingers" (1966), "Misty Blue" (1967) and "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye" (1968). All of them landed on pop as well as country popularity charts. In 1967, Eddy Arnold was named the CMA Entertainer of the Year, one year after he'd already been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. That accomplishment is also unduplicated.
"I was there when he got inducted into the Hall of Fame," Clement recalls. "He bawled like a baby. I remember standing outside the Andrew Jackson Hotel with him after that. And he was talking about how if the people of Nashville were ever going to get anywhere, they had to go to New York. He did it. He showed them how to do it. He was really the first one who created that link between a country singer and being on the Bob Hope show."
"Yes, I do have a wider audience than just the country audience," agrees Eddy Arnold. "One of the reasons for that is that I went to Carnegie Hall. I did bookings in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, over and over. I appeared with I don't know how many symphony orchestras. I went to New York and courted those people. I did national television. And I make no excuses" for vastly broadening country's appeal by adding string sections and pop-crossover arrangements to his ballads.
He remained a consistent chart presence throughout the 1970s, then shot into the Top 10 again with 1980's "Let's Get It While the Gettin's Good" and "That's What I Get for Loving You." He was most recently on the charts in 1999 singing a new version of his 1955 classic, "Cattle Call," with LeAnn Rimes. Remarkably, that was 54 years after his first charted disc.
Billboard magazine's statistics rank Eddy Arnold as the No. 1 country artist of all time. His lifetime sales have been estimated at more than 85 million. In 2000, the White House presented him with the National Medal of Arts. In 2005, he was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. And now we marvel that this octogenarian is making new music.
"All I was looking for when I made this record is good songs," says Eddy Arnold. "That's all I have ever looked formusic that touches people's hearts."