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?