Kokomo-ArnoldKokomo Arnold is not well known today, but in Chicago in the mid-30s, he was a big player. The song that gave him his name, ‘Kokomo Blues’ was adapted by Robert Johnson as ‘Sweet Home Chicago’; ‘Dust My Broom’ came from another Kokomo song; and his ‘Milk Cow Blues’ has been covered by many artists. Kokomo was a dramatic slide-guitarist, who could also launch his strong, flexible voice into a powerful falsetto. His recordings were almost all made as a solo player, probably because he often took his guitar lines into a time signature that was a totlal mystery to anyone else.

James Arnold was born in Lovejoy GA in 1901 and was taught to play guitar by his cousin John Wiggs before he moved North in search of work. He was first seen playing the Blues in Buffalo NY in the late 20s, but he relocated to Chicago to get involved in the bootlegging business in 1929. He made his first record in Memphis for Victor in 1930, when he was billed as ‘Gitfiddle Jim’, but music took second place to the more lucrative work of shifting booze. After Prohibition was repealed, he took his playing more seriously, and Kansas Joe McCoy introduced him to ‘Ink’ Williams, who signed him to the Decca label. His first cut for them was ‘Kokomo Blues’, an adaptation of Scrapper Blackwell‘s tune from 1928. Kokomo was a popular brand of coffee, and the name stuck when the record was a big hit. During the next four years Kokomo recorded 88 tracks, almost all of which were released and sold well. His eloquent guitar style saw him play on records by Alice Moore, Roosevelt Sykes and Peetie Wheatstraw, who returned the favour by playing piano on a few of Kokomo’s tracks.

Sparkling guitar playing on ‘Kokomo Blues’;

Kokomo Arnold Discography
This 20 track collection of Kokomo’s work, from his first efforts as Gitfiddle Jim to his biggest sellers, is remastered to a pretty high standard.


Both Peetie and Kokomo were a big influence on Robert Johnson, who adapted Kokomo’s namesake track as ‘Sweet Home Chicago’; the line ‘Dust my Broom’ is from his ‘Sagefield Woman Blues’; and ‘Milk Cow Blues’ was reworked as ‘Milkcow’s Calf Blues’. ‘Milk Cow’ has also been covered by artists as disparate as Elvis, Aerosmith and Willie Nelson. Kokomo quit the business in 1938, reportedly in disgust at the meagre returns from the notoriously tight-fisted contract he had signed with ‘Ink’ Williams. He went to work in a Chicago factory and dropped out of sight, but after the 1960 release of an album of 30s material he shared with Peetie Wheatstraw, he was located by Blues researchers. However he had no enthusiasm for resurrecting his recording career, and refused the opportunity to be part of the Folk/Blues revival. He passed away from a heart attack in Chicago in 1968.