by James W. Chesnut
I was born in Midland, Texas, in 1944, and I couldn’t wait to leave. At least that was true the first three times I left as an adult. Anticipation of going off to school at McMurry College in Abilene was the first instance. But after the JFK assassination in November of ’63, nothing made much sense, and I lost what little interest I had in higher education. I returned home in the Spring of ’64 to work in my family’s construction business. In the fall, however, I enrolled in Odessa College and commuted daily with Todd Aaron as the co-pilot of my ’64 VW Bug. I was tired of building houses in the West Texas heat.
In the second year, I fell in love and dumped Todd Aaron to get married in December of ’66 to an Odessa woman. We moved to Austin and both enrolled in UT in the fall of ’67. While there, I caught a severe case of the impossible-to-cure music malady. It was probably due to my work as a morning DJ at KVET-AM. I began writing songs, dropped out of school again, and returned to West Texas, working in the oil patch repairing Motorola communication systems.
I was restless, couldn’t shake the music fever, and in 1970, started performing professionally on a Holiday Inn circuit in Dallas and East Texas. After a couple of years, my dad asked me to return to Midland to eventually take over the family business; so, I did. It didn’t work any better than oil mixes with water. The business went south during the Arab oil embargo, banks foreclosed on our assets, and I left town for the third time anxious to start over somewhere else, hoping to never see Midland again. I hit the road playing music and and continued to write songs.
In 1976, Charley Pride recorded one of my songs, Oklahoma Morning. Doors in Nashville opened, and I was signed to a five-year publishing deal with Acuff-Rose Music (in the shadows of Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers, and Hank Williams). Within a couple of months, I signed a three-year, three-album recording contract with MGM/Hickory Records, a deal brokered by Mike Curb in Los Angeles. My head was filled with me during this flirtation with fame. I was represented by the William Morris Agency, consumed copious amounts of alcohol, was divorced from my wife-at-the-time, and returned to Austin to perhaps become part of the music scene there. Darrel and Edith Royal gave me tremendous support. I still have a book Edith gave me in support of my eventual decision to quit drinking.
Sobriety had a way of getting me out of my way. My career had peaked, and at 37, I left the music business. I remarried in 1982, and started a small marketing consulting firm using the skills I developed promoting my records. In 2008, I dusted off some songs I had written after leaving Nashville and began recording again. I have released five self-produced albums, which have received modest support from small market radio and indie country charts. A complete discography can be found on my website: http://www.chesnutproductions.com. Since 2008, I have returned to Midland several times to perform, and each time I leave, I now look forward to my next visit.
In 2009, I returned to pursuing a college education after retiring as a marketing communications practitioner. I graduated with an undergraduate degree “Finale Cum Laude” in 2010 from Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, at the ripe age of 65! Seven years later, I was diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer at the age of 72. During my treatment and recovery, I became interested in how chronic stress negatively affects the human immune system and how it might negatively impact cancer patient outcomes.
So, I applied to graduate school at Texas State, and, with fingers crossed, will graduate in December this year at the age of 76 with a master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and a completed thesis on chronic stress and communication discord in cancer patients
I cannot say that my entire life’s journey has been a joy. It has not. But I think the water (spirit) of Midland helped create my sense of entrepreneurship that has equipped me to survive. I can now say that I am extremely happy with my life at this time, and that despite its provincial point of view, I owe a great deal to Midland, especially to its tremendous school system.
Mrs. Philippus was a hoot!
Or, was it a beatzle?
James Chesnut wrote:
> Mrs. Philippus was a hoot!
James, Mrs Philippus was a true inspiration for me. I loved her class, her perfectionism, and her whole demeanor. I suspect she is a key reason I went on to major in Math, minor in Physics (at Baylor) then work on the technical side for IBM on the NASA Apollo and Space Shuttle programs.
I still think about Mrs Phillippus appreciatively.
___ J. Peter Creasey ___
___ Crehan Company, Realtors … 713-520-0270 ___
Thx, Pete. She was awesome!
This story was well worth waiting for and I apologize for not trying to find you sooner. I think this story is probably the most fascinating I have read so far. I hope you let us post your website and promote your musical skills.
We would also like to hear more about your thoughts on what you’ve learned about the business of life. The latter is something I have to deal with every day in the medical profession and I would like to hopefully learn something from you. I know that many of our readers which are now into the 4-5 K range would also appreciate any help they can get since most of them are our age or older. Thank you so much for joining us and I hope possibly to have a reunion with some musical folks coming and hopefully you can lead the way for us. John
Thank you, John. Good to hear from you.
Hey James, great story of keep keep carrying on. Masters at 76!
James, great story, great life! Such a drive to educate yourself at “our” age. I’m a ’58 MHS grad, so I shared the water…. and when you mentioned Ms Philippus at the end, it brought back such memories. She was always going to bet you “A case of Cokes”, or, “A white horse”, and was so good at what she did! Ironically, I worked with her nephew at a J&J plant in San Angelo. He was a Master Machinist and he also had her “smarts”, as he was very good at what he did.
I just turned 80, and reading your story really impressed me. Again, good read and I think it just HAD to be because of the water (ie, spirit) from living in Midland. Stay safe, well and happy!
Thank you, Mike.