GAC extends condolences to the family and friends of groundbreaking music journalist and author Chet Flippo, who passed away in the early morning hours of June 19 at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville. He died unexpectedly of complications from a brief illness. He was 69.
At the time of his passing, Chet served as editorial director at CMT where he wrote the popular weekly column, Nashville Skyline. As a writer and editor for Rolling Stone in the 1970s, he covered artists and subjects such as the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Joseph Heller, Tom Wolfe and the Who. He also pioneered country music coverage for Rolling Stone, profiling such artists as Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker and Waylon Jennings.
In the forward to The Country Reader, Chet shared the story of Waylon Jennings contacting him after Rolling Stone published “a very critical review” he had written about Waylon’s album Ladies Love Outlaws. Waylon wanted to meet with him in person and Chet admitted being leery as Waylon’s reputation proceeded him.
“But he put me at ease, shook my hand, got me a beer, and said, ‘Hoss, you were right about that album,” Chet wrote. “The things you said were right on target and I appreciate that. We need that.”
Born October 21, 1943, in Fort Worth, Texas, Chet served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism. After working as contributing editor for Rolling Stone while in graduate school at the University of Texas in Austin, he became Rolling Stone’s New York bureau chief in 1974. When the magazine moved its offices from San Francisco to New York in 1977, he became senior editor.
“Magazine writing can be enervating,” he wrote in 1991. “It can be degrading. It can also be one hell of a lot of fun. In some ways it reminds me of the military. You get to travel and see the world and meet lots of interesting people. You also have to follow the rules and put in your time before they let you out to do what you really want to.”
Chet left Rolling Stone in 1980 to write the book Your Cheatin’ Heart: A Biography of Hank Williams. He went on to publish books on Paul McCartney, Graceland, the Rolling Stones and David Bowie. St. Martin’s published an anthology of his articles, Everybody Was Kung-Fu Dancing: Chronicles of the Lionized and the Notorious, in 1991. He also wrote articles for the New York Times, TV Guide, Texas Monthly, Q Magazine of London and more as well as TV scripts for VH1 and CBS.
From 1991 to 1994 Chet was a lecturer in journalism at the University of Tennessee, before moving to Nashville to work for Billboard. He received the Country Music Association’s 1998 CMA Media Achievement Award. In 2006, The International Country Music Conference honored him with the Charlie Lamb Award for Excellence in Country Music Journalism.
As the news of Chet’s passing spread, country stars began to pay their respects through statements and social media sites. Alan Jackson, one of the artists Chet championed, spoke to Billboard about Chet.
“Chet respected the importance of real country music – he had a genuine understanding of its history and a true appreciation for it,” Alan said. “He was out there telling the world about country music long before it was the ‘cool’ thing to talk about. He told it like he saw it, and I’m glad he did.”
Taylor Swift offered her condolences through Twitter. “We’ve lost Chet Flippo, one of my favorite journalists, who devoted his life to writing about music from a place of integrity. So sad,” she wrote.
“Chet Flippo may be best known as one of Rolling Stone’s most famous critics, but he was also a smart, willing-to-tell-the-truth advocate of country music,” Kenny Chesney said in a statement. “It’s hard to believe he’s passed on, but something tells me he’s wherever the really good music is.”
Chet’s wife, noted music journalist and author Martha Hume Flippo, died December 17, 2012. He is survived by a sister Shirley Smith of Brandon, Florida, and brothers Bill Flippo of Saginaw, Texas, and Ernest Flippo of Abbington, Massachusetts.
Plans for a memorial service are incomplete. The family asks that memorial contributions be made to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.