Noted music journalist and author Chet Flippo passed away in the early morning hours of Wednesday, June 19, 2013, at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. He died unexpectedly of complications from a brief illness. He was 69.
Flippo was editorial director at cable channel CMT and CMT.com, where he had worked for twelve years and wrote a popular weekly column “Nashville Skyline.” As a writer and editor for Rolling Stone in the 1970s, he covered such artists and subjects as the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Joseph Heller, Tom Wolfe and the Who, and he initiated country music coverage for Rolling Stone, profiling such artists as Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker and Waylon Jennings.
In the foreword to The Country Reader (CMF Press, 1996), Flippo recalled Jennings contacting him after Rolling Stone published “a very critical review” he had written about the Jennings album Ladies Love Outlaws. Jennings wanted to meet with him in person about the review, and Flippo admitted he was apprehensive, considering Jennings’s reputation. “But he put me at ease, shook my hand, got me a beer, and said, ‘Hoss, you were right about that album. The things you said were right on target and I appreciate that. We need that.”
Born October 21, 1943, in Fort Worth, Texas, Flippo 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 magazine while in graduate school at the University of Texas in Austin, he became Rolling Stone’s New York bureau chief in 1974. After Rolling Stone moved its offices from San Francisco to New York in 1977, he became Rolling Stone senior editor.
“Magazine writing can be enervating. It can be degrading. It can also be one hell of a lot of fun,” Flippo wrote in 1991. “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.”
Flippo left Rolling Stone in 1980 to write the book Your Cheatin’ Heart: A Biography of Hank Williams, and he went on to write 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. Flippo wrote articles for the New York Times, TV Guide, Texas Monthly, Q Magazine of London and other publications, and he wrote TV scripts for VH1, CBS and CMT.
He also contributed liner notes to Wanted! The Outlaws, the 1976 album that brought the Outlaw movement to the attention of a broader audience, and, by a fluke of scheduling, sang backing vocals, with his wife, Martha Hume, on the 1972 Nitty Gritty Dirt Band album Will the Circle Be Unbroken, which united the young California band with pioneering country artists such as Roy Acuff, Maybelle Carter, Earl Scruggs and Merle Travis.
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 Flippo with the Charlie Lamb Award for Excellence in Country Music Journalism.
Before joining CMT in 2001, he was country music editor for Sonicnet.com. From 1995 until joining Sonicnet in 2000, he was Billboard’s Nashville bureau chief.
Flippo’s wife, noted music journalist and author Martha Hume Flippo, died December 17, 2012.
Survivors include sister Shirley Smith of Brandon, Fla., and brothers Bill Flippo of Saginaw, Texas, and Ernest Flippo of Abbington, 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.