Country music legend Eddy Arnold died Thursday. My thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Arnold's family.
I wish I could say that I was a big Arnold fan, but I hardly knew his music, except for "Cattle Call," which he revisited on a duet with LeAnn Rimes on the latter's debut album.
From reading about Arnold in the past and most recently, reading his obituaries, it's quite clear that he did things the right way. The Nashville industry didn't always love him for it, and the fans don't mention him along with the greats - Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, George Jones, but that's not how Arnold wanted it.
He sang love songs and crossed over because he realized there was little future in 1950's honky-tonk in the mid-1960's. He and Hank Williams Sr. came up through Nashville around the same time. Williams is idolized for keeping it country. His troubles - drinking and living it up - are romanticized through songs by other country artists. There's a mystique surrounding Williams, who died on New Year's Day, 1953.
Williams was always the honky-tonker, Arnold, the respectable Tennessee lad.
But what if Williams had turned his life around and lived through the post-rock period? Would, he too, have chosen to put violins over steel guitar? His most ardent fans would say no, but it's impossible to know. Arnold was a businessman first. And when it comes to making money, it's hard to fault anyone for trying to continue their career and remain relevant.
Because he had little drama in his life or an interesting storyline, few will remember Arnold like they do Williams, Cash and even Lefty Frizzell.
If there was a movie about Arnold's life, it would be rather boring. A young man from Tennessee goes to Nashville and sings under the name, "Tennessee Plowboy." When circumstances change, he drifts towards pop. He makes lots of money off wise investments and lives happily ever after.
His off-stage plan should be a blueprint for aspiring country artists. George Strait, like Arnold did, sings a lot of love songs and has only been married to one woman.
The difference is that Strait has stuck to tradition, by modern standards, and has created a brand image, Wrangler-wearing cowboy, that has attracted fans for many years. Strait's ability to represent something - a reminder of tradition in a genre that often rejects it - is why 50 years from now, people will remember him.
Crossing over is a double-edged sword. You get more money and widespread attention, at least temporarily. The pop audience, however, isn't as loyal as their country counterparts. They'll move on quickly to the next artist. Then, the country audience will have to decide whether to welcome back the crossover artist, who is usually too busy counting his/her money to worry about their standing among the genre's fans.