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Column: Remembering Eddy Arnold, and a memorable drive

WORTHINGTON -- Eddy Arnold died last month. I would have guessed Mr. Arnold's passing would have earned greater attention from the press.

My word. In his career, Eddy Arnold had 37 recordings in the Top Ten of the pop charts. On country music charts, Eddy Arnold's records spent more time, including time as No. 1, than any other entertainer's in all the history of country music. Eddy Arnold had 57 consecutive recordings in the country Top Ten.

I mentioned this in a conversation -- I did not have all those figures. Someone said, "I didn't know you were a country music fan." I really am not. This is a very important point, but I am going to put it aside for a minute.

When I heard Eddy Arnold had died, I remembered the summer night Eddy rode with me back to Worthington. This is my story.

In the great long time ago, we people in the Daily Globe newsroom got calls from police and sheriffs, day or night, Sunday or Christmas Eve, whenever there was a fatal car crash in the region. Car crashes were bigger news in that time.

I have told before of a fatal crash near Round Lake late one night in which two young men were killed. Harold Tripp, Nobles County's brave deputy sheriff, was on the scene alone when I got there with my camera. I felt it was wrong to drive off once again and to leave Harold alone another time. I stayed to give Harold company. The four of us, two living and two dead, sat in the dark beside a lonely road until at last a hearse arrived.

There was another night, a moon-lit summer night, when I got a call for a fatal crash -- one young man -- along Highway 16 near Magnolia. I was out of Harold's jurisdiction that night. I was alone. That was the night Eddy Arnold rode with me.

I got in the car and turned around, on my way back toward Adrian. I never felt more lonely than at such a time. I turned on the radio. Eddy was singing "Cattle Call."

"Cattle Call" is a great, great record. "The cattle are prowlin', The coyotes are howlin', Way out where the doggies roam. When spurs are a jinglin' and the cowboy is singin' his lonesome cattle call ..."

Eddy then goes into a chorus that he really could do for only one song. He made the most of it. Some have called it a yodel, but really it is not that. Eddy sings in a falsetto. "Whooo, ooooo, ooooo, ooooo, ooooo..." Wonderful to hear. No one else ever has done another thing just like it.

Well, I suddenly felt good. I was connected with the world once again. Not alone. I saw lights in a couple of barns, and I imagined (this was likely) those people also were listening to Eddy sing to his cows. Probably the guy going by in a truck was listening, too.

In that time, we all were on the same page -- that page being, most of the time, WCCO Radio. Six-year-old kids and 66-year-old women and sick old men all were on the same place on the dial most of the time.

I said I didn't think I was a country music fan. In that time, we hardly knew that term. We listened to Eddy Arnold and The Beatles and Frank Sinatra and Spike Jones and Montovani and Linda Ronstadt all in the same half-hour, all on the same dial setting.

We all had things in common to talk about. Grandpa could tell a grandson, "Arthur Godfrey said a funny thing this morning ..." A high school boy might tell his mother, "Listen for the new Tony Bennett song." Everyone sat together listening to Jack Benny. A traveling salesman could open a sales pitch with, "Did you hear George Burns and Gracie Allen last night?"

Garrison Keillor was writing about this lately. Garrison said, "I grew up in a country where we all knew the same songs and watched the same TV shows, and now we live in tiny niches. Most famous people are people most people have never heard of."

We lost a great, precious thing.

Oh -- and thank you Eddy Arnold for riding with me that night.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.