Although he was only 21 years old when he first recorded for Rebel, multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Arnold was already a seasoned professional. A native of Galax/Fries, Virginia, he started playing guitar at age 10 but soon switched to banjo. He formed a group with several local pickers that included fiddler Jimmy Edmonds and guitarist/vocalist Wes Golding. He later worked with fiddler Joe Greene and bluegrass legend Curly Seckler. It was after working with Cliff Waldron and the New Shades of Grass, with whom he recorded three albums for Rebel, that Jimmy made his first solo recording.
Appropriately titled Strictly Arnold (Reb-1538), the 1974 album was, like all his early recordings, strictly instrumental. Jimmy rearranged several tunes to pay homage to a number of his musical heroes. “Forked Deer” was renamed “Tommy Jarrell” to honor the old-time North Carolina fiddler. “Home Sweet Home” was recast as “Boarman’s Way” to signify his friendship with banjoist Andrew Boarman while “Cincinnati Rag” became “Wayburn’s Fiddle” as a tip of the hat to Wayburn Johnson. Lastly, the album’s title cut was Arnold’s tribute to banjo legend Earl Scruggs, a la “Shuckin’ the Corn.”
Jimmy found musical employment and recording opportunities with several bands during the early and middle ‘70s. He recorded one album with Charlie Moore and the Dixie Partners and another with New Tradition, a group that included Keith Whitley and Jimmy Gaudreau. It was during this time, 1977, that Arnold released his second solo album, Guitar (Reb-1565). Although the project boasted a number of bluegrass heavyweights (such as Mike Auldridge and Ricky Skaggs), it was recorded at a time when Jimmy was experimenting with the guitar and some of the results were, he noted, “nearly classical sounding.” One tune even had a Latin tinge to it.
Rainbow Ride (Reb-1603) saw Jimmy’s return to his more familiar banjo. The 1982 album garnered a highlight review that praised Arnold’s “excellent and energetic” banjo picking. The release was evenly divided between six originals and six deftly chosen covers. His versatility as a musician was evident as he glided from pounding bluegrass banjo on “Little Rock Getaway” and melodic styings on “Londonderry Hornpipe” to old-time clawhammer on one of his own tunes, “Mountain Man.” As on previous releases, Jimmy honored some of his musical heroes with recordings of tunes associated with them. “Cattle in the Cane” was for Joe Greene. “Crazy Banjo Rag” was Jimmy’s reworking of Howdy Forrester’s “Wild Fiddler’s Rag” while another of his original tunes, “Hub’s Rag,” called attention to Banjo Newsletter magazine founder Hub Nitchie. Guest artists included Mike Auldridge, Wayne Yates, and Mark Newton.
Jimmy’s last studio recording for Rebel has often been touted as his best and an “enduring legacy.” Southern Soul (Reb-1621) marked his debut as a vocalist and as a writer of more than just instrumentals. It was a Civil War concept album. Familiar tunes such as Charlie Moore’s “Legend of the Rebel Soldier” and The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” were balanced nicely alongside of Arnold originals such as “Jesse James,” “Heroes,” “Georgia Moon,” “The Dixon Line,” and others. Several songs, including “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains,” were given new and/or additional lyrics to make them more Civil War-friendly. Instrumentally, Jimmy shone on tunes such as “Sail Away Ladies,” “Southern Comfort,” and “Bonaparte’s Retreat.”