Today, my colleague Chet Flippo died. Chet and I worked together at Billboard for five years. He was in Nashville, I was in New York and then Los Angeles.
Though Chet didn’t come to Billboard until 1995, I, of course, already knew who he was. I’d grown up reading his stories in Rolling Stone. One of the first things I did after he started at Billboard was buy his book, “On the Road With the Rolling Stones: 20 Years of Lipstick, Handcuffs, and Chemicals.” It was hard to reconcile this genteel southerner that I met with someone who had gone on the road with rock’s bad boys.
What I remember most about Chet, in addition to his writing talent, was his humility. He’d regal you with stories if you asked, mainly because it would be impolite to refuse, but otherwise, he was happier fading into the background and watching the proceedings rather than being part of the show. That’s part of what made him such a good reporter. Even when he injected himself into a story, he never made the focus about him.
Chet had a sly sense of humor that generally showed itself in quiet moments. Everyone else would have had their say and he’d finish the conversation with a summary comment that would have you laughing and shaking your head because you hadn’t thought of it first.
Chet was a champion of great music. He didn’t care how many copies a record sold, he only cared about the quality of the music.
After leaving Billboard in 2000, he went briefly to Sonicnet and then to CMT and CMT.com, where he was at the time of his death. I would see him every now and then on my trips to Nashville and we were Facebook friends, but we weren’t in close contact, simply because Chet was very private. When Billboard asked me to write his obituary today, I told my editor that I wasn’t sure that I was the best person to do so: I respected him and had enjoyed working with him, but was sure there were people that knew him better. Then throughout the day, friend after friend posted tributes to Chet, but they almost all said that they hadn’t been that close to him. He was never aloof —just the opposite— he just separated his work life from his personal life.
His personal life was dealt the ultimate blow in December when his wife of more than 30 years died. I never met Martha, but people talked about how she was the yin to his yang. She talked, he absorbed, and they loved each other fiercely.
So today as word spread of Chet’s death, I wasn’t the only one who thought that maybe he was just ready to rejoin Martha. That’s a romantic notion that Chet might laugh at, but it just might be true.
In a CMT.com piece on Chet, his friend Kinky Friedman commented, quoting Larry King, that God “had bugled Chet home.” I love the image of that. If anyone deserved music to accompany him on his journey, it would be Chet.
Chet Flippo died at 3 a.m. this morning at Saint Thomas Hospital in Nashville. Today’s $10 goes to St. Thomas’s Baptist Hospital Foundation, which helps patients in need.
June 19: Saint Thomas Hospital
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