Late in 1949, Eddy Arnold recorded a song called “Take Me in Your Arms and Hold Me,” an “answer” record to a massive hit he had two years earlier called “I’ll Hold You in My Heart (Till I Can Hold You in My Arms).” Although “Take Me” was Arnold’s 12th Number One country hit (remarkably, in that same two-year period), the song did represent a first for the “Tennessee Plowboy” — it was the first time he had recorded a tune by songwriter Cindy Walker, who born 97 years ago this week in Mart, Texas.
Having penned dozens of movie songs for Western swing bandleader Bob Wills in the Forties, Walker was also enjoying hits with her tunes recorded by Ernest Tubb, Al Dexter, Spade Cooley and more. In the early Fifties, Walker wrote “The Gold Rush Is Over” and “I Don’t Care,” which became hits for Hank Snow and Webb Pierce, respectively. She also began to have a number of her compositions recorded by Jim Reeves.
In 1955, as she was leaving a disc-jockey convention in Nashville, Walker ran into Arnold, who told her he had a song title for her. It was “You Don’t Know Me.” Arnold shared writing credit on the heartbreaking tune about a love that was never meant to be. Although Arnold’s recording didn’t reach Number One (it was a Top Ten hit for him), the song has since been cut by dozens of artists in a number of genres. In fact, Arnold’s version wasn’t even the first to grace the charts. That distinction goes to crooner Jerry Vale, who had a Top 15 pop hit with it in 1956. Other hit versions of the ballad were achieved by Ray Charles (a Number Two smash from his landmark Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music LP in 1962), Elvis Presley (in 1967) and Mickey Gilley, who took it to Number One in 1981.
During an all-star 1994 TV special called An Evening of Country Greats, organized by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and featuring dozens of iconic and modern country acts performing some of the most legendary country songs of all time, Emmylou Harris introduced the song as part of a tribute to Eddy Arnold, who was in attendance. Following a segment featuring Vince Gill and guitarist-producer Chet Akins reminiscing about Arnold, Harris, who had recorded “You Don’t Know Me” on her 1993 LP Cowgirl’s Prayer, gathered together a backing vocal group consisting of some of her fellow female country superstars at the time.
Dubbed “the Eddys,” in tribute to Arnold, Harris introduced Trisha “Ed” Yearwood, Carlene “Ed” Carter, Mary Chapin “Ed” Carpenter and Shelby “Ed” Lynne. Backed by an acoustic trio of musicians including Roy Huskey Jr. (who died in 1997) on upright bass, Harris and her Eddys delivered a heart-wrenching version of the ballad that proved an emotional highpoint for the TV special. (Watch the performance, which begins at the 3:25 mark, above.)
“You Don’t Know Me” would be included, in another stellar version, this time by Canadian singer Jann Arden, on the soundtrack of the 1997 romantic comedy My Best Friend’s Wedding. Among the hundreds of others who have recorded the song are Willie Nelson (on his 2006 Cindy Walker tribute LP), Floyd Cramer, Anne Murray, Juice Newton, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Harry Connick Jr., Michael Bublé and Meryl Streep (in the film, Postcards From the Edge). In 2014, Ronnie Dunn included it on his Peace, Love and Country Music LP.
A charter member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970, Cindy Walker was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997. She died in Mexia, Texas, at age 87 in March 2006 — the same month Nelson released his tribute LP to her impactful and enduring catalog of songs.