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Kokomo Arnold (1901-1968)

Kokomo Arnold

A Real Bootlegger

Born James Arnold in Lovejoy's Station, Georgia, on February 15, 1901, Kokomo Arnold received 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 "Kokomo" brand of coffee. 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, Kokomo 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. In 1929 he moved to Chicago and set up a bootlegging business, an activity he continued throughout Prohibition. In 1930 Kokomo Arnold moved south briefly, and made his first recordings, Rainy Night Blues and Paddlin' Blues, under the name Gitfiddle Jim for the Victor label in Memphis, Tennessee. Kokomo Arnold soon moved back to the bootlegging center of Chicago, though he was forced to make as living as a musician after the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution ending Prohibition in 1933. From his first recording for Decca on 10 September 1934 until his last on 12 May 1938, Arnold made eighty-eight sides, seven of which remain lost. Along with Peetie Wheatstraw and Amos Eaton, he was a dominant figure in Chicago blues circles. His major influence upon modern music is, along with Peetie Wheatstraw, upon the seminal Delta blues artist Robert Johnson, a musical contemporary. Robert Johnson turned Old Original Kokomo Blues into Sweet Home Chicago, while another Kokomo Arnold song, Milk Cow Blues, became Milkcow Blues Boogie, performed by Elvis Presley. In 1938 Kokomo Arnold left the music business 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. On November 8, 1968, Kokomo Arnold died of a heart attack in Chicago at the age of sixty-seven, and was buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois. (quoted from

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