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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Jerry Chesnut--An appreciation

Jerry Chesnut discusses his classic hit composition "A Good Year for the Roses"

Nashville Songwriters Association Hall of Fame inductee Jerry Chesnut, who died Dec. 15 at 87, wrote classic country songs cut by over 100 artists including 30 County Music Hall of Fame members.

One of them, “T-R-O-U-B-L-E,” was a hit for both Elvis Presley and Travis Tritt, and was certified by the performing rights society BMI in 2010 as totaling over four million performances.

Among his other major hits were “It’s Four in the Morning” (a big hit in 1972 for Faron Young) and “A Good Year for the Roses” (George Jones’ 1970 hit that Elvis Costello successfully covered in 1981). His compositions were also recorded by the likes of Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Anderson, Tammy Wynette, Hank Williams Jr., George Strait and Willie Nelson.

After serving in the Air Force, Chesnut worked as a railroad conductor while honing his country music career in Florida honky-tonks. He moved to Nashville in 1958, selling vacuum cleaners while writing songs and plugging them himself.

Del Reeves brought Chesnut his first hit in 1967 with “A Dime at a Time,” and delivered the bigger “Looking at the World Through a Windshield” the following year. In 1972, Chesnut was named Billboard’s Country Songwriter of the Year.

“Johnny Cash took a chance recording Jerry Chesnut’s brutally frank ‘Oney,’” says music historian John Alexander, whose book The Man in Song—A Discographic Biography of Johnny Cash was published earlier this year.

“The song chastises a cruel boss as the singer rewards him with a ‘right hand full of knuckles’ upon his retirement. It was the highest charting single from Cash’s 1972 album Any Old Wind That Blows, hitting No. 2 on the country chart. Chesnut’s song also predated the similarly themed Johnny Paycheck classic ‘Take This Job and Shove It.’”

Alexander continues: “Jerry Chesnut wrote some great uptempo hits like ‘T-R-O-U-B-L-E’ for Elvis Presley and Travis Tritt, but it was on the heartbreaking ballads that he truly excelled. ‘A Good Year for the Roses’ is a quintessential country standard--a huge hit for George Jones, with memorable covers by Alan Jackson and Elvis Costello.”

“He left behind an incredible body of work and truly epitomized the term ‘underrated songwriter.’”



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