Chet Flippo – Country Music’s Original Outlaw Writer (RIP)

June 19, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Outlaw History  //  13 Comments


What good is your revolution if there’s no one there to tell the rest of the world about it?

In the mid 70’s when country music was in upheaval from a new crop of rough shot artists thinking they should be able to write their own songs, record with their own bands, and keep creative control of their music, Rolling Stone Associate Editor Chet Flippo hit the streets of Nashville to help chronicle what was happening. Not nearly as off-the-wall as his more famous Rolling Stone counterpart Hunter S. Thompson, but just as willing to take an offbeat approach and embed himself amongst his journalistic subjects to get the whole story, Chet Flippo became the eyes and ears for the rest of the world enraptured by country music’s Outlaw revolution.

chet-flippoBeyond writing features for Rolling Stone, Flippo lent his pen to the very music of the Outlaw movement, writing the preambles and liner notes to both Wanted: The Outlaws, the first platinum-selling album in the history of country music, and Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger, arguably country music’s most influential album of all time, and many other albums of country music’s Outlaw era.

Flippo was an editor and writer for Rolling Stone until 1980 when he left to write a biography of Hank Williams, but continued to contribute to the magazine over the years. From 1991 to 1994 Flippo was a lecturer in journalism at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, before moving to Nashville. From 1995 until 2000, he was the Nashville Bureau Chief for Billboard, leaving in 2000 to become the Country Music Editor for Sonicnet.com.

But Flippo was known more recently for his work on CMT.com in his always-enlightening Nashville Skyline columns. For 12 years he oversaw editorial content for CMT. A writer who had seen it all with the courage to say what he believed, Flippo had the ability to stimulate discussion like none other in his field. Though he never seemed exactly at home on CMT with his more traditional country mindset, Flippo’s air brought a sense of legitimacy to the whole CMT operation.

Chet Flippo, whose influence wasn’t just confined to country, was the author of 7 books including

  • Your Cheatin’ Heart, a Biography of Hank Williams
  • On The Road with The Rolling Stones
  • David Bowie’s Serious Moonlight – World Tour
  • McCartney: The Biography
  • Everybody Was Kung-Fu Dancing: Chronicles of the Lionized and the Notorious.

His library illustrated his all-encompassing perspective of the artists he chose to cover, and the intimacy with which he was afforded from the respect the artists had for the Chet Flippo name.

Flippo was born in Fort Worth, TX, and was a veteran of the Vietnam War, serving in the U.S. Navy. He went to college at the University of Texas in Austin, and after working as Contributing Editor for Rolling Stone magazine while in graduate school, he became Rolling Stone’s New York Bureau Chief in 1974, rising to senior editor after Rolling Stone moved its offices from San Francisco to New York in 1977.

Chet Flippo’s wife Martha Hume, also a noted music journalist and author, died on December 17, 2012, and today we got the unfortunate news that Chet Flippo has now joined her in the great newsroom in the sky.

Every third year the Country Music Hall of Fame inducts a non-performer into its exclusive ranks. If there was ever a journalist that deserved to be included amongst the artists he covered so dutifully for so many years, it would be Chet Flippo.

RIP to an inspiration to music journalists from across the world, and across the sonic landscape.



13 Comments to “Chet Flippo – Country Music’s Original Outlaw Writer (RIP)”

  • Has to be a hero of yours! R.I.P. Chet


  • There are two men I can say directly inspired me to take up the pen for the cause of country music, they would be 1) Hank Williams III, and specifically his fight with Curb Records. 2) Chet Flippo. To say he was an inspiration doesn’t even come close. If I could ever be 1/4 of the writer Chet Flippo ever was, I would feel accomplished.


    • Chet has done some excellent work in his career and he will be missed.

      At the same time, I saw some “flip flopping” in the commentary of Nashville Skyline in the later years. For example, here is an article he wrote praising Shania Twain in 2008, in which he describes Shania as “a true role model” and said that she “managed to do everything well without overstating anything”.


      Was this surprising to you at all?


      • I totally agree with this point and would have made it up above, but out of respect of the man’s passing, I decided to keep it all positive.

        About half the time Chet made me stand up and cheer, and the other half I wanted to strangle him. I think that is a sign that he was honest about his opinions, even if it meant he appeared to go back and forth on certain issues.

        Folks say to me all the time, “I don’t agree with you all the time, but…” and taking what I tried to learn from Chet, I hope that means I’m doing something right. When you see people say, “I agree with you 100%,” that means people aren’t thinking for themselves, and you’re not doing your job right.


        • That’s a good point. I’m not looking for a writer to present the same point of view that I already have 100% of the time. It’s good to have some different perspectives.

          I do think almost every traditionalist has strayed at some point in time. In your case it was 2 years ago when you wrote an article praising Taylor Swift as much more than the teen pop singer that she is. Now I disagree with Chet on most things related to Shania, but he was right about one thing – the video for “The Woman In Me” is sexy as hell. If Julianne Hough could make a video like that she might actually have a mainstream music career.


  • R.I.P. Chet Flippo. My favorite music journalist. He was literally the only reason I went to CMT’s website. Every Friday like clockwork, I would go to read his Nashville Skyline column.


  • Sad news. Like Brian above, his column was the only reason for me ever going to the main CMT website.


  • RIP Chet you have my unending respect !


  • This is so sad to hear. There are only 2 webpages that I regularly go to everyday and that is SavingCountryMusic.com and CMT.com for the Nashville Skyline articles. I always felt Chet had a perspective on Nashville that I could understand and appreciate. I felt like Chet was the only person at CMT who fought for the traditions and roots of country music. He will be sadly missed. Now I’m not sure where else to turn to for great articles that are based on real country music.


  • RIP Chet. :(


  • His articles were the only good thing on CMT.com. I didn’t even read them that often but they were worth it whenever I did.


  • It would be great to know–was there ever any correspondence between Chet and Hunter S.? That would be amazing. Hunter is God to me. . . . Well, god-like anyway.


    • Thompson’s heyday was about a decade before Flippo working at Rolling Stone as associate and senior editor, but I’m sure there was some significant overlap there in the mid 70’s.


Leave a comment

Del Maguey
Old Soul Radio Show
Modern Roots
Best Of Lists