RIP Chet Flippo

Noted music critic Chet Flippo dies in Nashville

The road ain't what it used to be. Chet Flippo, for 'Rolling Stone'
The road ain't what it used to be. Chet Flippo, for 'Rolling Stone'

Let us now praise iconic rock critics like Chet Flippo, whose inner light extinguished in the early hours of this Wednesday June 19. To many, his death is no surprise, for his beloved wife Martha Hume died in December 2012. For others, like me, his passing is bittersweet, part peer and part hero.

I say praise to Chet Flippo not only because he stood at the vanguard of rock criticism, when being in Rolling Stone meant something. The Fort Worth-born Flippo had just gotten his master’s in journalism from UT when he became the publication’s New York bureau chief in 1974. Flippo wasn’t there to beat the press drums though. He was forthright and candid, famously arguing with Mick Jagger before publishing the back-and-forth.

That was also the year progressive country arrived, at least according to the Big Daddy of gatekeepers, Rolling Stone. Flippo investigated the sound bubbling from his home turf and wrote about it for the May 1974 issue, introducing the music press-reading world to Willie Nelson and the like.

By 1977 he’d escalated to senior editor at Rolling Stone, departing in 1980 and going on to write books on Hank Williams, Paul McCartney, the Stones, David Bowie, and Graceland. Flippo contributed to The New York Times, Texas Monthly, and Q magazine, and taught journalism at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, before becoming Billboard's Nashville bureau chief in Nashville in 1995.

Flippo was gone from Austin by the time I started writing for the Austin Sun in 1976, but his legend loomed large - especially if you were an upstart scenester with eyes to write about music. When Ramsey Wiggins opined of his days as Armadillo World Headquarters’ PR man that Flippo “was the only journalist who didn’t need a backstage pass,” I made a point to aspire to that status.

In more recent years, Flippo went to work at CMT as editorial director and “Nashville Skyline” columnist, writing about what he loved best next to Martha: country music.

No cause of death has been made available to the public.

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