Country music lost a staunch champion with the death of Chet Flippo, a pillar of 70s rock criticism and one of the most respected country journalists. He was 69 years old. Flippo died on June 19 at a local hospital after a long illness, leaving a legacy of articles and books that brought the music to new fans as well as a new respect from cultural referees.
Flippo is perhaps best known for his acclaimed 1980 Hank Williams biography Your Cheatin ‘Heart. But it was at Rolling Stone in the 1970s, at the height of his influence with rock audiences, that the star editor and writer used the credit he had built for himself with his thunderous, uncensored coverage of Rolling Stones and other acts to convince the mag to cover the country.
He wielded a similar influence for five years as Billboard’s bureau chief in Nashville, where he was among the first to draw attention to the honky-tonk revival that revitalized Lower Broadway in the mid-1990s. For the past 12 years, he had held the position of Editorial Director at CMT. The Scene asked two people who knew Flippo from different angles – his friend and colleague, music journalist Ron Wynn, and his frequent subject, singer, songwriter and conductor Paul Burch – to share their memories.
I first met Chet Flippo in Memphis almost 25 years ago. Being a huge fan for a long time, I mumbled something about the importance of his writing to me. He immediately put me at ease by thanking me for a review I had written on his superb Hank Williams Your Cheatin ‘Heart biography almost eight years ago for a Connecticut newspaper.
It shocked me that he remembered it and loved it. Before the evening was over, we were talking about a multitude of topics ranging from baseball to detective fiction. A friendship developed that was unlike any other that I have enjoyed.
Chet was keen to stay in touch whenever he came across something that I had done that he enjoyed. We have often discussed the links between country and various types of black music, especially blues and soul. We both lamented the fact that there are so few black artists who have ever had a chance to be successful in country. We were also disappointed that there wasn’t more interaction between blues, soul and country fans.
When I moved to Nashville in 1995, we got to see each other more. But with Chet, it didn’t matter if you saw him once a month or once a year. He was always warm and supportive.
The appeals and / or praise he gave me for my participation in film projects on Muddy Waters and Deford Bailey, in CD boxes on blacks in country music and in the first volume of the R&B compilation Night Train to Nashville meant more than I can ever document. .
He was a master at finding and describing the essence of great music. Chet knew and loved the country’s tradition thoroughly, but never stopped following current trends and artists. He didn’t let sales or popularity affect his ratings, and he didn’t assume an act lacked talent or integrity just because it had multiple hits.
Chet Flippo constantly debunked the “good people come last” truism, although he certainly had no problem standing up for what he thought was right. He has proven every day that it is possible to be great both in his profession and as a human being. – Ron Wynn
Chet Flippo was the first person in the music business to support me in Nashville, and his efforts – indeed his insistence that I be counted – were a monumental moment in my youth and in my work. He included me in his full page story on the Lower Broadway stage in 1995 for Billboard (and I later found out he extended his deadline to include me after hearing my first album).
I remember putting my picture under his office door after hours, completely in disbelief that he asked for it. Although my album was made for $ 1,000, for a French label, and was hardly available in the world, for Chet, it was all the more reason to include him in a story of talking thugs. loud and clear of modern country music and were ready to support it no matter what the consequences.
In my youth, I held the label heads of Music Row with contempt for what appeared to be their reckless disregard for the intricacies of their own culture and history, and a barely concealed contempt for their audiences and the musicians they employed. Maybe, I thought then, even their best selves. It didn’t matter whether Chet agreed with me or the other Lower Broadway artists. A lot of people thought these thoughts in private, but in Greg Garing, BR549 and I, Chet finally heard it, and the audience reacted to it. Chet made the news and made us, through his column, musicians: contributors to culture, and artists – high or low – to consider and to consider.
Chet was also my editor at CMT for four years, and he has managed to teach, entertain, and supervise while reviewing my work and that of my peers with unwavering enthusiasm, thoughtful criticism, and keen insight. He was a friend, a chronicler of characters big and small (regardless of good or bad behavior), and never hesitated to give a hard time to lazy artists, even working under the nervous eye of a society that depended on these artists for a filthy income. . Everyone who worked with him felt a sense of accomplishment in getting his advice. And we’ll all enjoy looking back at his decades of essays, books, and sleeve notes that only succeeded in increasing the anticipation of hearing the music inside as he heard it.
Chet made Americana a national name. He was the first to come forward and offer kindling we could put our matches on. He codified it. When it comes to his writing, Chet brought to Rolling Stone, Billboard, and CMT what Gay Talese brought to Esquire – a sense of involvement, connection and dedication at the time, and the promise that his signing alone meant. a belief in humanity to be found. the flange.
And Waylon gave Chet his motorbike – which Buddy Holly gave him. Isn’t that a hoss? —Paul Burch
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