born on 15/3/1901 in Lovejoys Station, Georgia, United States
died on 8/11/1968 in Chicago, IL, United States
Kokomo Arnold (February 15, 1901 November 8, 1968) was an American blues musician.
Born as James Arnold in Lovejoy's Station, Georgia, he got his nickname in 1934 after releasing "Old Original Kokomo Blues" for the Decca label; it was a cover of the Scrapper Blackwell blues song about the city of Kokomo, Indiana. A left-handed slide guitarist, his intense slide style of playing and rapid-fire vocal style set him apart from his contemporaries.
Having learned the basics of the guitar from his cousin, John Wiggs, Arnold began playing in the early 1920s as a sideline while he worked as a farmhand in Buffalo, New York, and as a steelworker in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1929 he moved to Chicago and set up a bootlegging business, an activity he continued throughout Prohibition. In 1930 Arnold moved south briefly, and made his first recordings, "Rainy Night Blues" and "Paddlin' Madeline Blues", under the name Gitfiddle Jim for the Victor label in Memphis. He soon moved back to Chicago, although he was forced to make a living as a musician after Prohibition ended in 1933. Kansas Joe McCoy heard him and introduced him to Mayo Williams who was producing records for Decca.
From his first recording for Decca on September 10, 1934, until his last on May 12, 1938, Arnold made 88 sides, seven of which remain lost. Arnold, Peetie Wheatstraw and Bumble Bee Slim were dominant figures in Chicago blues circles of that time. Peetie Wheatstraw & Arnold in particular were also major influences upon musical contemporary seminal delta blues artist Robert Johnson and thus modern music as a whole. Johnson turned "Old Original Kokomo Blues" into "Sweet Home Chicago", "Milk Cow Blues" into "Milkcow's Calf Blues", while another Arnold song, "Sagefield Woman Blues", introduced the terminology "dust my broom", which Johnson used as a song title himself.
Arnold's "Milk Cow Blues" was covered by Elvis Presley (as "Milk Cow Blues Boogie") at the Sun Studios produced by Sam Phillips and was issued as one of his early singles, it was later performed by Tyler Hilton who played Elvis in the 2005 film Walk the Line. Eddie Cochran covered "Milk Cow Blues" in the late 1950s. The Kinks recorded it as the opening cut on their 1965 album "Kontroversy". Aerosmith covered "Milk Cow Blues" on their 1977 album Draw the Line, Jerry Lee Lewis recorded "Milk Cow Blues" in 1979, Dead Moon covered it on their 1990 album Defiance, George Strait on his 1991 album Chill of an Early Fall and Willie Nelson on the 2000 album Milk Cow Blues. Robert Johnson recorded a sequel entitled "Milk Cow's Calf Blues" in the late 1930s.
In 1938 Arnold left the music industry and began to work in a Chicago factory. Rediscovered by blues researchers in 1962, he showed no enthusiasm for returning to music to take advantage of the new explosion of interest in the blues among young white audiences.
He died of a heart attack in Chicago, aged 67, in 1968, and was buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois.
- List of Chicago blues musicians
- List of slide guitarists
- Entry at the African American Registry, retrieved November 15, 2007
- 2.0 2.1 Briggs, Keith, Kokomo Arnold, Complete Recorded Works Vol.1 (May 17, 1930 to March 15, 1935, Document Records, 1991.
- 3.0 3.1 3.2 Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray, p. 89, Dubai: Carlton Books Limited.
- Find a Grave website, retrieved November 15, 2007
- Illustrated Kokomo Arnold discography
- [Kokomo Arnold at All Music Guide allmusic.com entry]
- African American Registry entry
- Profile page for James Kokomo Arnold on the Find-A-Grave web site