Jim Chesnut, a Texas native, began as a professional singer/songwriter in San Angelo, Texas, in the early 1970s. For six years, he performed in Dallas and East Texas first as a single and then as a duo, teaming with Rodney Crowell in Nacogdoches. Crowell taught Jim’s first wife, Linda, to play drums, and the three played as a trio for several months until Rodney moved to Nashville to expand his horizons.
After a couple more years, he followed Crowell to Nashville after signing writing and recording contracts. Wesley Rose, President of Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., signed him in part because Roy Acuff was willing to allow Jim to take his place on the full roster at Hickory Records (distributed at the time by MGM). In the years that followed, 15 top-100 singles and two albums were released on Chesnut. One of the singles, Show Me a Sign, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1979.
When Charley Pride endorsed Chesnut’s first album (Let Me Love You Now on ABC/Hickory Records) he said, “He has a tremendous talent for writing, and as you can see from this album for delivering a good country song, also.”
Chesnut, represented by Bob Neal (Elvis Presley’s first manager) and the venerable William Morris Agency, performed in nightclubs and concerts, appearing with such folks as Willie Nelson, Charley Pride, Rodney Crowell, Mickey Newbury, Tom T. Hall, Bobby Bare, Con Hunley, Danny Davis & the Nashville Brass, Sammi Smith, Don Williams, Ed Bruce, Gene Watson, Moe Bandy, Don Everly, Eddie Raven, Larry Gatlin, Dottie West, Reba McEntire, Janie Fricke, Lorrie Morgan, B.J. Thomas, Pat and Debby Boone, Ernest Tubb, Ed Bruce, Grandpa Jones, Jan Howard, Helen Cornelius and a number of other Grand Ole Opry stars.
Chesnut’s emerging career was muted in the early 1980s, when he returned to Texas. Battered emotionally by divorce and a changing landscape in Nashville and country music, he began a new career in marketing communications. Lately, he has begun writing, producing and performing once again with a renewed passion for certain American classics and his own timeless originals.
Encouraged by the response Chesnut wrote and recorded 12 new songs for the 2008 release of “Reflections,” his first recordings since the early 1980s.
Many of the songs contain glimpses of Chesnut’s sense of humor. For example, Cheatin’ Heart Attack is a story about a married middle-aged man who yields to temptation, dances with a younger woman in a crowded bar, and has a heart attack.
What’s Come Over Me is the first song on the CD and deals with the effects of aging. “I might as well enjoy the fact that I’m in my 60s now and will be for the next 20 years or so.”
In the summer of 2012, Chesnut began work on a new CD, a roots music anthology entitled, “J. W. Chesnut’s Sippin’ Whiskey,” which reflects a different view of his musical tastes. “I attended a music workshop at Trinity University several years ago that dealt with authenticity in music. I then realized that most, if not all of my previous work lacked a certain amount of authenticity. Each arrangement lay within a well-constructed box called “The Nashville Sound.” Each song, while original in every respect, had already been expressed musically thousands of times.
“My early work in Nashville reflected the pop country tastes of the time, and the complex arrangements included section sounds of multiple guitars, strings, choruses, etc. While those things are beautiful, they almost always get in the way of an authentic performance of a song. So, I have tried to remedy that with this project.
“This album starts with a simple bass, acoustic guitar and vocal arrangement of ‘Copper Kettle,’ a folk song made popular by Joan Baez in the 1960s. I first recorded it in my late teens in 1965 or so, when I sang with The Dan Blocker Singers. One might notice that I have used the bass as a lead instrument to some degree. Since the acoustic guitar is taking care of the root and fifth accents, it leaves an opportunity for the bass to be more expressive.
“The arrangements on the CD evolve somewhat on successive tracks with fuller vocal harmonies and tasteful percussion added to subsequent selections. The last song on the CD, “Get Aboard A Catamaran,” is what I call Caribbean country and reflects the influence reggae and Latin music have had on me through the years.
“Like the album jacket says, ‘J.W. Chesnut’s Sippin’ Whiskey’ should be consumed slowly to receive the full benefit.”