East Texas Proving Ground

After leaving San Angelo in 1970, Jim worked in Dallas for a couple of months before beginning what he calls his 5-year "off Broadway" development period in East Texas. His first gig was in Nacogdoches, Texas, where he met up with Rodney Crowell. The two played as a duo for several months during which time, Rodney taught Jim's first wife, Linda, to play drums. The three continued to play as a trio until Rodney moved to Nashville to work for Jerry Reed and later Emmylou Harris.

Between 1970 and 1974, Jim and Linda rotated among several Holiday Inns and Ramada Inns in Dallas and East Texas. The centerpiece of their circuit was the Holiday Inn in Longview, Texas, where the two formed treasured lifetime friendships with a number of music-loving families.

"I'll never forget Dan and Emily Felsenthal, Dick and Sue Rathbun, George and Carmen Hilliard, Chuck and Ann Phillips, and Joseph Bramlette," remembers Chesnut. "They each opened their homes to us and gave us a place to crash when we lived in motels and didn't have a home of our own."

Pictured on the right is the living room of Bramlette's elegant East Texas home featured on the cover of the Winter 1968/1969 Architectural Digest magazine. Bramlette was one of East Texas' foremost patrons of the arts, and together with Dan and Emily Felsenthal and Ann Phillips, funded Jim's first demo album.

George Hilliard, a physician and amateur photographer, took many of Jim's early publicity photos such as the one shown here. Dr. Hilliard introduced Chesnut to his brother, Jim Hilliard, a music industry attorney, who helped him negotiate his first publishing and recording contracts in Nashville.

Among other Longview fans were Laughton and Martha Whitehead. Martha was the state's last Texas State Treasurer, having won election in 1994 on the campaign promise to abolish the office and turn over its duties to the State Comptroller.

"I'm certain that my career would never have gone anywhere without the financial support and encouragement given to me by these wonderful people," explains Chesnut. "I, to this day, consider them  to be among my closest friends."