By Doug Hill
“If I couldn’t play with this caliber musician I probably wouldn’t be doing it anymore,” John Arnold said. “It would be hard to play with guys who aren’t as experienced and good as my band.” He’s the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist for a group bearing his name that draws from among Norman’s most talented musicians. They’ll be performing a free show Sun. evening as part of the Summer Breeze Concert Series in Lion’s Park. Currently John Arnold Band includes lead guitarist Bob French, fiddler Gary Howe, Victor Rook on bass, drummer John Spencer and keyboardist Dennis Borycki. Guest appearances with the band are planned by vocalist Susan Herndon and T. Z. Wright on accordion. ‘We’ve kind of been like a family,” Arnold said. “Victor has been with me for 20 years and John for 15. Guys like Mike McCarty who used to play with us are still real good friends.”
That musical camaraderie will be on display for a set of country sounds featuring plenty of dance tunes. “We’re going to do some obscure numbers with a Santa Fe style,” Arnold said. “It will be songs by buddies Bill and Bonnie Hearne and Michael Murphey who put out a lot of great music in the 70s and 80s. We like to do those in shows where people don’t expect to hear George Strait (covers).” Arnold described his outfit as a “musician’s musicians band,” where leads are passed around and virtuosity is first and foremost. “They’re some good players, I’m definitely the weak link in my band,” he said with a chuckle. “I organize things and get them all together.” Arnold has been the festival’s sound technician for the past four years and looks forward to being on the other side of the board for a change.
Arnold’s recent song writing has included collaboration with Norman High School English teacher Mark Levy. “We don’t perform a lot of the original songs because most places we play they want to hear dance music,” he said. “The stuff I write is in the Americana and folk vein. I enjoy writing the kind of music I grew up listening to.” In high school he listened to John Denver and Michael Murphey (“Wildfire”). Arnold gave praise to Norman songwriter John Hadley as an example of the kind of music that has influenced him since youth. “I got to do a show with him once in the old Wild Horse Tavern days,” he said. “Kevin Welch, Hadley and Mike McCarty were in a couple of different configurations that traveled around the Midwest. Blue Rose Café was one of their bands and Hadley wrote most of their stuff.” Arnold’s career took off in 1980 when he was named Male Vocalist of the Year at the Oklahoma Opry in Oklahoma City. A few years later his band snagged a $50,000 grand prize beating out fifty other competitors at the Wrangler Country Music Showdown in Nashville. That included a nationally televised performance of John Arnold Band’s original song “Take Another Chance.”
“It was a lot of fun traveling around playing Texas dance halls in the 80s and early 90s,” Arnold said. “That was kind of our thing.” Kind of their thing, indeed. They relocated residence to the Lone Star State and toured like Energizer bunnies, once covering over 25,000 miles in just four months. Performances included the main stage at the Texas State Fair for several years running. They opened nationally in arena shows with both Ricky Skaggs and Exile. Sweet gigs included the National Finals Rodeo and Cotton Bowl Parade. John Arnold Band went before the TV cameras frequently on both "Nashville Now with Ralph Emery" and "Crook and Chase" on TNN. “That was really good experience,” Arnold said. “We don’t play that much differently now, there’s just a lot less pressure. Most of our shows people aren’t paying a lot of money to see us. Sometimes I think they’re surprised to find out we’re not bad, for a concert they didn’t have to pay to see.” Presently John Arnold Band’s performance schedule revolves around private parties, corporate events and public festivals. “Music now is just something we enjoy doing,” Arnold said. “We are definitely a home town-type band now.”
If You Go
What: John Arnold Band in concert as part of the Summer Breeze concert series.
When: Sunday, July 13 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Lion’s Park, 450 S. Flood.
Cost: free admission.
John Arnold leads a "musician's musicians" band.