(15 February 1901
— 8 November 1968
) was an American blues musician
Born James Arnold
in Lovejoy's Station
, Arnold received his nickname
in 1934 after releasing "Old Original Kokomo Blues" for the Decca label
; it was a cover
of the Scrapper Blackwell
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, 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 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 the bootlegging center of Chicago, though he was forced to make a living as a musician after the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution
ending Prohibition 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 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 Bumble Bee Slim, 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. Johnson turned "Old Original Kokomo Blues" into "Sweet Home Chicago", 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 Aerosmith on their 1977 album, Draw the Line; and became "Milk Cow Blues Boogie", as performed by Elvis Presley.
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 at the age of sixty-seven in 1968, and was buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois.