The Austin Years
In 1966, Jim completed his coursework at Odessa College in Odessa, Texas, and moved to Austin where he attended The University of Texas fulltime and worked for KVET AM, which block-programmed MOR and country music at the time. Chesnut was a licensed broadcast engineer and served as relief DJ for Arleigh Duff, a loveable, country music curmudgeon who was one of Austin's most-listened-to air personalities.
"Arleigh didn't introduce me to country music, but he was a big influence on me. He was a good songwriter and definitely a force of nature. For example, Lyndon Johnson was president, and Arleigh called the White House on the air and asked to speak to Johnson. 'What do you mean I can't talk to him. I'm Arleigh Duff. I'm a tax-payer from Texas, and I need to get some things off my chest,'" Chesnut explained.
Arleigh eventually left KVET and went to work for KOKE AM, another country station in Austin, and Jim took his place on the air, not that anyone could really take Duff's place.
Bill Josey Jr. was one of Jim's classmates and worked at KNOW AM, Austin's leading Top 40 station. The KVET studios were located on Bradford Alley in the same physical block as KNOW. In the early morning hours, Chesnut and Josey would talk on the phone frequently to discuss broadcasting, school topics, and occasionally music.
On one such occasion, Josey mentioned that he and his dad, Bill Josey Sr. were looking for someone to sing on a demo recording of some original songs written by Herman Nelson, an Austin songwriter whose material they were interested in promoting on their new label. Jim auditioned for the Josey's, got the job, and within a few months, the Josey's released About to Be Woman, Chesnut's first single on their label Sonobeat Records in 1968.
When Jim left Nashville in the spring of 1981, he was in deep depression and involved in traumatic divorce proceedings. The Rose Is for Today had been released on Liberty and was dead on arrival at America's country radio stations. He believed that pop-country records were killing his career, and he moved to Austin to pursue a different musical direction. He began to play dates in and around Austin such as The Silver Dollar, Don's Depot and events such as the Austin Livestock Show and Rodeo. At one point he worked as the chief sound engineer at The Silver Dollar but was fired for being drunk on the job.
Darrell Royal and Jim Chesnut in the early 1980s during and after a UT fraternity party
(l-r) Jim's fellow Acuff-Rose songwriter Mickey Newbury, Darrell Royal, 2-Alarm Chili's Shorty Frye,
KOKE-FM General Manager Jim Ray and Jim Chesnut.
(Photos by Rick Henson)
With the encouragement of Darrell and Edith Royal, Chesnut began his recovery from the divorce and dependency on alcohol and quit drinking on the first Saturday of October, 1981. About a month after that, it occurred to him that it was time to do something else in life. He called his contacts in Nashville and Los Angeles and asked to be released from all recording, management and agency agreements. Jim Chesnut, one-month-sober, was officially retiring from music. What began in Austin in 1968 ended in Austin in 1981.
Chesnut is still sober, is now a college graduate, and is performing, writing and recording again.