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The Nashville Years
Much of Jim Chesnut's "paper trail" has been lost over the years, but here are a few surviving items and comments that give some idea of what his life was like during his Nashville career.
Here Jim is visiting with KOKE FM General Manager Jim Ray and his wife Sharon in Austin, Texas, in 1980 just prior to Chesnut's retirement. The two Jim's were classmates in the College of Communications at the University of Texas in Austin in the 1960s. Sharon is amused at the conversation in which Jim Chesnut is likely telling Jim Ray how to run his radio station, and Jim Ray is likely telling Jim Chesnut how to manage his career. Chesnut and Ray worked for KVET as DJs while both were full time students at UT.
After moving to Nashville from Texas and drawing on his earlier experience in radio, Jim became directly involved in the promotion of his recorded music. He was perhaps the first person to utilize emerging computer technologies by mail-merging and distributing relevant data to his vast network of radio contacts. Here is a limerick that Chesnut wrote and sent to radio music directors throughout the nation in 1979 to announce the MCA/Hickory release of his original composition Let's Take the Time to Fall in Love Again . . .
There once was a record man named "Hype."
None of his records were little.
He died a success from, as you may guess
His telephone finger turning brittle.
All the radio guys'll miss him I'm sure,
'Though his motives were seldom pure.
His conscience was black. He never cut slack
To the "fish" he caught with his lure.
Remember his words to us all
The next time some record guy calls.
"All my tunes are hits, like all women have tits.
Some are just bigger than others, that's all."
-Copyright 1979 Jim Chesnut
The result of this promotion was impressive. Let's Take the Time was the last single MCA had agreed to release on Chesnut under the terms of the Hickory/MCA distribution agreement that expired in 1979. Relations between MCA and Hickory had soured, and Jim's third album promised in the agreement was never released.
The record entered the Billboard Country Chart at #87 with a bullet, which indicates significant momentum to those who use the charts to program radio stations. Within four weeks, the record jumped into the 40s where it began an eight-week journey into the 20s, the most competitive part of the national chart.
Despite the fact that MCA would not re-sign Chesnut or any of the other Hickory artists included in the MCA deal, as a personal favor, MCA Records Nashville Vice President Jim Foglesong agreed to give Chesnut several weeks to "see what the record does" before pulling it's promotional and distribution support.
In those weeks, Chesnut, along with the help of his close friend, John Curb, an independent record promoter in Los Angeles at the time, worked the record aggressively. Another friend and independent promoter, Bob Saporitti climbed on board to help for a couple of weeks, and Chesnut's career was kept alive.
At one point, Let's Take the Time jumped from #66 to #46 in one week! Irv Woolsey (George Strait's manager) who was then in charge of MCA promotions called Jim with congratulations and asked, "What in the world are y'all doing over there? That's a fantastic move. Keep up the good work."
"The song peaked at #27 after 13 weeks in the charts partly due to the fact that there was no album associated with it. But, I'm proud of the airplay success of the single, and I'll never forget that experience. I'll never forget Foglesong, Woolsey, Curb and Saporitti who literally saved my ass," says Chesnut. "Without them, I would not have been signed later to Capitol/EMI."
Within a few weeks of the record's decline, Jim was signed to a new contract to United Artists, a division of Capitol/EMI, through Mike Curb Productions. Bob Montgomery was chosen as the new producer, and more songs were recorded. The pop-country record Outrun the Sun was the first release and peaked in the 40s, a big disappointment to everyone involved. Chesnut and Montgomery met to discuss reasons for the single's limited success, and it was decided that the two should part company.
"Bob was a great producer and a great songwriter. He produced Faron Young's giant hit Four in the Morning (a Jerry Chesnut song). He wrote the classic Misty Blue that has been recorded by dozens of well-known artists," according to Chesnut. "But, from that meeting it was clear that he and I had divergent opinions about the direction of my career.
"This was in the early 80s. Urban Cowboy with John Travolta had been a huge hit and influence on country music. George Strait was beginning to happen. John Anderson was happening. Moe Bandy was still topping charts, and John Conlee was a dominant force in country music. Bob was having airplay success with Razzy Bailey, a pop-country artist, but I thought it would be better for me to get back to the country roots I had established a few years before at Acuff-Rose and Hickory."
Chesnut then teamed with Jerry Gillespie (producer for The Kendalls), and they co-produced two singles Bedtime Stories and The Rose Is for Today. Bedtime Stories did reasonably well but peaked in the 30s. The Rose was still too pop and died after only three weeks on the chart.
By then, Jim was embroiled in an extremely painful divorce. He moved to Austin to get his act together, and after a few months, decided to leave the music business in search of something else. The Rose Is for Today was the last recording he made for release until 2007.
Jim Chesnut in concert in 1979.