Chet Flippo, country music’s pre-eminent journalist whose career spanned from Rolling Stone magazine to CMT, died Wednesday morning (June 19) at a Nashville hospital following a lengthy illness. He was 69.
He served as editorial director of CMT and CMT.com until his death.
“This is a stunning loss to all of us,” CMT president Brian Philips said. “Chet was a stoic Texan, fiercely loyal and intensely private. He was honest to the core and widely regarded as a bit enigmatic, even among his closest colleagues. For all, it was a terrific privilege to work with Chet Flippo.
“Chet Flippo was one of the early Rolling Stone writers and a legendary rock critic. He was the author of seven books, including On the Road With the Rolling Stones. Long ago, I read and re-read my frayed paperback copy of this book, living vicariously through Chet’s exotic pirate stories. Chet’s 1978 Rolling Stone magazine cover story “Shattered” — featuring his nose-to-nose confrontation with an angry Mick Jagger — is the kind of no-holds-barred music journalism that doesn’t exist anymore, anywhere.
“Chet was a fierce advocate for country music long before country was cool. In books such as Your Cheatin’ Heart: A Biography of Hank Williams, in his writing for Texas Monthly and The New York Times and during his five-year tenure as Billboard magazine’s Nashville bureau chief, Chet articulated the virtues and joys of country music with a passion and intelligence that helped make the genre respectable even among snobs and city slickers.
“Chet joined CMT in 2001 and brought that same integrity to his role as editorial director. He interviewed with artists, oversaw the music content of CMT programming and, perhaps most influentially, wrote a regular column for CMT.com called ’Nashville Skyline’ in which he celebrated artists who would benefit from his attention and took the industry to task for crimes of trend-hopping, image manufacturing and anything that smacked to Chet of disloyalty to country’s core values.
“He was not conservative in his tastes — Chet championed legitimate musical innovation — but he loved country music too much to let Music Row get away with fostering hypes and copycat artists on the public. Because his criticisms came from a respected insider and known country music-lover, his columns were taken very seriously by the Nashville community. Chet kept everybody honest.”
Before joining CMT in 2001, he was country music editor for Sonicnet.com. From 1995 until joining Sonicnet in 2000, he was Billboard magazine’s Nashville bureau chief.
Born in Fort Worth, Texas, he served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism at the University of Texas in Austin. After working as Rolling Stone’s contributing editor while in graduate school, he became the magazine’s New York Bureau chief, opening its East Coast office in 1974. After Rolling Stone moved its offices from San Francisco to New York in 1977, he became the magazine’s senior editor.
In addition to covering such artists and subjects as the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Joseph Heller, Tom Wolfe and the Who, he initiated Rolling Stone’s country music coverage, profiling such artists as Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker and Waylon Jennings and expanding their fan base to a larger, younger audience.
He left Rolling Stone in 1980 to write Your Cheatin’ Heart: A Biography of Hank Williams. His other books include On the Road With the Rolling Stones: 20 Years of Lipstick, Handcuffs and Chemicals (1985), Yesterday: The Unauthorized Biography of Paul McCartney (1989), It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll: My On-the-Road Adventures With the Rolling Stones (1989), Everybody Was Kung-Fu Dancing: Chronicles of the Lionized and the Notorious (1991) and Graceland: The Living Legacy of Elvis Presley (1993).
From 1991 to 1994 Flippo was a lecturer in journalism at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, 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 (ICMC) honored him with the Charlie Lamb Award for Excellence in Country Music Journalism.
Flippo’s wife, music journalist and author Martha Hume Flippo, died Dec. 17, 2012.
His survivors include sister Shirley Smith of Brandon, Fla., and brothers Bill Flippo of Saginaw, Texas, and Ernest Flippo of Abington, Mass.
Plans for a memorial service are incomplete. The family asks that memorial contributions be made to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.View photos of Chet Flippo and some of his books.