How Eddy Arnold's Grandson Is Furthering the Country Great's Legacy

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Eddy Arnold

When the subject of country greats comes up, some of the first names that get brought up are Merle, George, and Dolly. Interestingly, Eddy Arnold sometimes gets left off such lists. It's not a knock on the man known as "The Tennessee Plowboy," who still stands as one of the most successful country artists of all time. With his crooning style, he was a little bit different from most of his contemporaries, and though he did add chart records in 1996 and 2008 (following his passing) to extend his chart reign to seven consecutive decades, he hadn't really been much of a chart force since the early 1980s. It's something that his grandson, Shannon Pollard, has thought about many times during the decade since his passing.

"There was a lot of media attention after he passed away – and I'm really grateful for how the city of Nashville came out for that and did some wonderful things to help try to educate about his legacy, but after a couple of years, that started to fade away," said Pollard, who also owns Plowboy Records – named in honor of his grandfather. "I was really worried about what we could do to inform younger people – especially those under fifty who weren't around to buy his records or weren't really interested in the style of country music that he was doing at the height of his popularity, and all the things that he did to push country music into an industry."

That legacy is a story certainly worth telling. Eighty-five million records sold. A staggering 146 singles that hit the charts. The first sitting member of the Country Music Hall of Fame to be named Entertainer of the Year – at the inaugural CMA ceremony in 1967. The list of accolades runs deep. This week (May 15) marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Eddy Arnold – an artist who is known for his two very successful, yet very different, careers. From the beginning of his career through the mid 1950s, the Pinson, TN native recorded some of the most traditional-sounding material of the day, accentuated by the steel work of Little Roy Wiggins. The instrumentalist is somewhat forgotten these days, something that raises Pollard's ire.

"I think it's sad how little attention is paid to Little Roy's contributions. This is just my opinion, but to me, his band is what Hank Williams patterned the Drifting Cowboys after. I think there are a lot of parallels about what Eddy Arnold started and what Hank took forward with Don Helms – and both were fantastic."

In 1955, Arnold reached back and covered one of his earliest hits, "The Cattle Call" – though this version was a lot different. "He recorded it with Hugo Winterhalter's Chorus and Orchestra, so he was already experimenting with using the string section at that time," said Pollard, alluding to Arnold's 1960s run of successes. "That's when he was starting to think about the broader picture. He had already fired Tom Parker as his manager, so he was starting to chafe a bit as being known as simply a hillbilly singer. He wanted to broaden his horizons, and that was one of his first attempts at doing that."

He would flirt briefly with the folk market on records such as "Molly" and "Tennessee Stud," before settling into the crossover sound that he became more identified with. Songs like "What's He Doing In My World" and 'Make The World Go Away" broadened not only his appeal – but also that of country music itself, helping to pave the way for later multi-format mainstays as Kenny Rogers and Shania Twain.

Another side of Arnold that has been well-documented was his business acumen. The singer wisely invested his earnings in a wide variety of businesses, with land representing his primary investment. Pollard said his drive to succeed was due to the tragic circumstances of his early years. His father passed away before young Eddy was a teenager, setting about a series of circumstances that forced the Arnold family to be sharecroppers on their own land.

"He grew up very poor, and to the end, he was very concerned about never having to return to that. That's why he ended up purchasing land. It's the old Gone With The Wind maxim of 'land's the only thing that lasts.' He knew if he could buy land… and sit on it…it would always accrue value."

Pollard is aiming to keep the Eddy Arnold legacy going in a number of ways. He is looking at re-releasing You Don't Know Me, a multi-artist tribute record comprised of Americana/alternative artists, in the coming months (the original was released in 2013). And he is overseeing Você Nashville, a residential development on the final home of his grandfather. Just like Arnold himself was a different breed of country singer, Pollard is trying to make Você unique as well.

"Well, a typical developer, if they've got a piece of land like this, they're trying to maximize density. There's nothing wrong with that. When we were looking at this, yes; we wanted to maximize density as well, but do it in a way that we could be responsible. A typical developer, if he's a piece of land, will go in, just blow a road in, blow the trees down, scrape everything down flat, and then put as many houses in as they possibly can. That's just a typical development situation that we see all over Nashville and Brentwood, as well as everywhere else. There's nothing wrong with that. I grew up in a Ranch house in suburban Brentwood. But with this, I just felt like this was such a special piece of land and the last of its kind in this area that through his mandate and the way I felt about this land, I didn't want to see it done like that. We went through the process. We started with tree surveys and identified over five hundred specimen trees and tree clusters that we wanted to try to save as much of as possible. We tagged a lot of those trees. If you're walking around the front of the property especially, you'll see these medallions on trees and those are numbered. So, we can actually go on a map on a survey and look and see that this tree is #942, and it's sitting right there. If that tree has to get taken out for some reason, then if we reclaim that wood and do something with it cool, like make a mantle out of it, or do something interesting, then you know the providence of that tree."

Pollard says the name of the development does have a special meaning to him. "It's called Você in connection with the musical term, which is mezzo você - the actual Italian word for what you would call crooning. That was the style, obviously, that he sang in, so it fits with the character of the property as kind of a soft touch."

And, speaking of that soft touch, what is one of Pollard's favorite Eddy Arnold songs?

"I love his version of 'The Wayward Wind,' which is again in that same era when he was doing folk songs. That's one of those that just grabs you. Another one is I love his version of 'Across the Wide Missouri.' These are all obscure songs. They weren't big hits or anything like that, but you can hear the emotion in his voice. He was very much a word guy. And like any good singer, like Frank Sinatra or anybody else, they internalize those words. When they go inside the studio, they're painting a picture and trying to connect with the listeners and find connection within that song. Those are just examples of ones that I just really love because you can really hear it. Even in 'Across the Wide Missouri,' there's like a crack in his voice at one point and it's this beautiful moment. You could tell he was feeling the song when he was recording it."

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