May 15 marks what would have been the 95th birthday of Eddy Arnold. The day before, Plowboy Records will release “You Don’t Know Me: Rediscovering Eddy Arnold” – a tribute album that features many artists from outside the mainstream country realm paying tribute to the singer. Jason Isbell, Mandy Barnett, and Frank Black are three of the artists involved on the set, as is punk legend Cheetah Chrome. The former Dead Boys guitarist can be heard on the project doing the song that became Arnold’s first number one hit in 1946.
“Well, the one I ended up choosing is ‘What Is Life Without Love,” he told Billboard. “The reason I chose it was the lyrics are so happy, yet the music was so sad. So, I decided to take a different approach, and make it more of a toned-down song. It ended up working out well. We had Ralph Carney in town — he plays with Tom Waits. We ended up putting him to use, and it took on a New Orleans-kind of direction.”
Listen to the premiere of “What Is Life Without Love” here:
How do Arnold’s songs hold up after all these years? Very well, says Chrome.
“He chose and wrote really good songs. They all really lend themselves well to a different interpretation – regardless of which genre you’re in. Each artist put their own spin on it, and it turned out great – even better than we hoped for.”
The artist is not only involved with Plowboy on the Arnold project — he is also one of the founders of the label along with journalist Don Cusic and Arnold’s grandson Shannon Pollard. He says it’s an exciting time.
“To start a new label at this time seems kind of daunting. So, one of the first things we decided was that we were not going to limit ourselves to country music. We would branch out and do some other things. Obviously, our basis is being a legacy label, and we’ll always be doing that. But, we will bring in some new acts, some rock and roll, a little bit of everything. Once we get a roster going, we’ll be set.”
The flagship release for Plowboy was last year’s “Darker Than Light” from Bobby Bare. The attention given to that album combined with his legendary career no doubt helped the singer earn induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame last month – a distinction that everyone at Plowboy was proud to be a part of, says Chrome.
“That was a stroke of luck. Bobby Bare deserves it, there’s no doubt. I’ve been on the road with him a little bit. To just put a guitar in that guy’s hands is magic.”
For the second release for the label, Cheetah says they are hoping to introduce the music of Eddy Arnold to a new audience.
“That’s what we’re hoping for. When I first started listening to his catalog again was that there were so many songs I remembered when I was a kid. He was on AM radio between the Beatles and the Stones. It all got played together, which radio doesn’t do anymore. I think that’s the feeling of what we wanted to get on this record – like you were listening to a radio station with different versions, different styles, all in one place.”