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The Boston Globe

Obituaries

Chet Flippo, 69; covered country music for Rolling Stone

NEW YORK — Chet Flippo — whose profiles of artists Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Tanya Tucker for Rolling Stone magazine in the 1970s heralded vast new popularity for country music among mainstream audiences in the United States — died June 19 in Nashville. He was 69.

His death, after a long illness, was announced by the country music cable channel CMT, where he was editorial director. No cause was given.

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Mr. Flippo covered a range of subjects for Rolling Stone from 1970 to the early 1980s, including John Lennon’s legal troubles, the Rolling Stones’ bacchanalian tours, Bob Dylan’s serial reinventions, and Janis Joplin’s 10th-year high school reunion, in 1970.

But in an era of rock celebrity mania, he also insisted on writing about a more down-to-earth musical form, still referred to in the early 1970s as “country and western,” which he had grown up with as a boy.

In 1972, Mr. Flippo wrote about a longtime country singer who had “generally been overlooked,” and who was “probably the most underrated writer in America today,” Willie Nelson. Nelson had written hits for others, but would not have a major hit of his own for years.

The next year, Mr. Flippo wrote about a 36-year-old artist who had been on the verge of stardom for a decade but was still playing four sets a night at roadside joints like Jack Jackson’s Fantastic Cow Palace, Home of the Nashville Stars, outside Colorado Springs, Waylon Jennings. Jennings, he wrote, was finally catching a break, about to hit the road with the Grateful Dead.

“The longhaired kids — they like country music too,” he quoted Jennings saying the day after his last show at the Fantastic Cow Palace. “They just don’t feel welcome in some of these redneck joints.”

And while Parton was a country star, she was seeking crossover success in 1977 when Mr. Flippo wrote the first long Rolling Stone article about her. Later that year she released “Here You Come Again,” her first million-selling single.

Mr. Flippo wrote a historical primer on country music for American Libraries, the bimonthly magazine of the American Library Association, explaining to those at the furthest fringe of the potential crossover audience why they should care.

“Country and western music is, by turns, simplistic, bigoted, emotional, maudlin, jingoistic, provincial, and dominated by male chauvinism,” he wrote in 1974. “Why then is it so durable and so popular? Because its above-listed characteristics accurately reflect the concerns and attitudes of roughly one-fourth the population.”

Bill C. Malone, the author of “Country Music U.S.A.,” said Mr. Flippo was an important mediator between the rock audience and country fans. “He got a lot of people listening who wouldn’t have before.”

Chet Flippo (known to friends as Flippo) was born in Fort Worth. After graduating from Sam Houston State University in 1965, he served in the US Navy until 1969, worked for a small newspaper in Texas, and received a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin in 1974.

He became Rolling Stone’s bureau chief in New York that year, when the magazine was based in San Francisco, and senior editor in 1977, when it moved to New York.

Mr. Flippo left Rolling Stone to write books in the early ’80s, moving to Tennessee, where he taught journalism at the University of Tennessee for three years and was the Nashville bureau chief for Billboard magazine. He joined CMT in 2001.

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