|Birth name||James Arnold|
|Also known as||Gitfiddle Jim|
February 15, 1896 or 1901|
Lovejoy's Station, Georgia, U.S.
|Died||November 8, 1968
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Instruments||Vocals, slide guitar|
James "Kokomo" Arnold (February 15, 1896 or 1901 – November 8, 1968) was an American blues musician. A left-handed slide guitarist, his intense style of playing and rapid-fire vocal delivery set him apart from his contemporaries. He got his nickname in 1934 after releasing "Old Original Kokomo Blues" for Decca Records, a cover version of Scrapper Blackwell's blues song about the city of Kokomo, Indiana.
Life and career
Arnold was born in Lovejoy's Station, Georgia. Although most sources date his birth to 1901, researchers Bob Eagle and Eric LeBlanc date it to 1896, based on 1900 census information. He learned the basics of the guitar from his cousin, John Wiggs, and began playing in the early 1920s as a sideline, when he was working as a farmhand in Buffalo, New York, and as a steelworker in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1929 he moved to Chicago and ran a bootlegging business, an activity he continued until the end of Prohibition. In 1930 he 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, where 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 a producer for Decca Records.
From his first recording for Decca, on September 10, 1934, until his last, on May 12, 1938, Arnold made 88 sides, seven of which have been lost. Arnold, Peetie Wheatstraw and Bumble Bee Slim were dominant figures in Chicago blues circles of that time. Wheatstraw and Arnold, in particular, were also major influences on their contemporary, the seminal Delta blues artist Robert Johnson, and thus influenced much modern music. Johnson turned "Old Original Kokomo Blues" into "Sweet Home Chicago" and "Milk Cow Blues" into "Milkcow's Calf Blues". Another Arnold song, "Sagefield Woman Blues", introduced the phrase "dust my broom", which Johnson used as a song title.
Other notable songs include his 1934 recording of "Sissy Man Blues" with lyrics referring to bisexuality ("Lord, if you can't send me no woman, please send me some sissy man"). This song was later recorded by other blues musicians of the era, including Josh White (Pinewood Tom), George Noble and Connie McLean's Rhythm Kings.
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 resurgence of interest in the blues among young white audiences.
- Kokomo Arnold (Saydisc Matchbox, 1969)
- Masters of the Blues, Vol. 4 (Collector's Classics, 1970)
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- Master of the Bottleneck Guitar 1930–38 (Document, 1987)
- Down and Out Blues (Agram, 1990)
- Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order 1930–1938, vols. 1–4 (Document, 1991)
- King of the Bottleneck Guitar 1934–1937 (Black & Blue, 1991)
- Blues Classics vol. 1 (Wolf, 1997)
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- Old Original Kokomo Blues 1934–1938 (EMP, 1998)
- Old Original Kokomo Blues (Catfish, 1999)
- Midnight Blues (History, 2000)
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- Entry at the African American Registry, retrieved November 15, 2007.
- Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues - A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. p. 268. ISBN 978-0313344237.
- Briggs, Keith (1991). Kokomo Arnold, Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 1 (May 17, 1930 to March 15, 1935). Document Records.
- Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 89. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
- Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 12. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
- "Sissy Man Blues", Kokomo Arnold, Decca 7050, January 15, 1935, retrieved August 12, 2014.
- Doyle, JD, "Sissy Man Blues", Queer Music Heritage, retrieved August 12, 2014
- Find a Grave website, retrieved November 15, 2007