We had a little spell of theft at work last week. On Wednesday around lunch, credit cards were stolen out of my co-worker’s wallet two desks away from mine. I had just returned from Keith Urban‘s “Somewhere in My Car” number-one party at the Musician’s Hall of Fame when she noticed her cards were missing.
Color leaving her face, she asked, “Has anyone been in here?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “I just got back from downtown. Why?”
“All my credit cards are gone.”
The rest of the day was dedicated to helping track down the thieves who spent their afternoon buying $500 gift cards at Nordstrom and hitting Walgreens for more.
It happened a second time the next day. Around lunch, credit cards went missing from another coworker’s wallet. In both instances, their licenses and medical cards were left. I guess whoever it was wanted to save my coworkers the trouble of replacing those, too. Jerks. The police are involved, and we’re hoping the culprits are caught soon.
I scanned my makeshift standing desk and took inventory of certain keepsakes, that if vanished, I’d be heartbroken. Most of everything is replaceable, including my computer and recording equipment, and all my interviews are backed up online.
But losing my beloved salt and peppershaker modeled after the most obedient terrier I know would have devastated me.
He’s the famous RCA pup Nipper, and he’s been sitting with his head cocked to the left at every work desk occupied by my late mentor, Chet Flippo. He loved Nipper, and the white terrier was graciously passed down to me following Chet’s passing in June, 2013.
Nipper has been my little Chet mascot silently cheering me on whenever I have to think my way out of a creative block. He listens to every story I write before submission to editors in New York and Los Angeles.
Nipper came home with me that Thursday, and now he patiently sits on my 122-year-old upright piano next to framed pictures of Chet and my loving family.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of my first experience volunteering at South by Southwest, and I was thrilled to see Chet’s life celebrated on Friday in a panel discussion with Lyle Lovett, friend Paula Batson, author Joe Nick Patoski and award-winning writer Holly George-Warren. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there. But regular Facebook posts from my dear mentor Beverly Keel kept me updated on what I was missing. I saw that Chet’s family took up the first two rows. Among them were Chet’s sweet brothers, Bill and Ernie.
“I always felt safe when I talked to Chet Flippo,” Lyle said.
Hey Lyle, I did, too.
My friendship with Chet goes back to my first job in music. I was a fresh Middle Tennessee State University graduate, working in radio at CMT where he was an Editorial Director at CMT.com. For six years, we lunched roughly every month at Whole Foods to gab music, gossip and talk journalism. He was the most incredible listener I’ve ever met. When I made a joke, he’d laugh and pat my knee or shoulder. I hung on his every word, thankful to know someone so talented, thoughtful and kind was giving me his undivided attention. It’s a mentorship that is invaluable in today’s new music economy where folks barely have enough time in a day to care for themselves, much less care for another person.
I called Beverly for a quick recap of the Chet panel. She said she mentioned how I placed Chet’s Shar-Pei mix, Trixie, in her care following his passing. It felt good to know I was in Austin in spirit. Had I participated in Friday’s panel with Lyle and the gang, I would have brought notes listing my top Chet lessons and trivia from our time spent together. Also, I would have been a nervous wreck around Lyle. The urge to break out into my best Francine Reed would have been hard to fight.
- Jimmy Reed: He was Chet’s favorite bluesman, and I think of him every time I rock out to my vinyl import of You Got Me Dizzy.
- Listen: A good journalist has unshakable focus and always pays attention.
- Research: He once told me, “There’s no such thing as, ‘enough research,’ when preparing for an interview.” I’m confident his penchant for good research comes from his time serving in the Navy.
- Beans: Legumes were never cooked in his famous Tennessee Velvet Chili. They were a side item at best. Unfortunately, I don’t know his secret ingredient. He took that to the grave.
- Cheese: Chet always sprinkled shredded cheese on Trixie’s dog food whenever she was picky over meals. She’s rocking a slimmer figure now after living the suite life at Beverly’s place for almost two years. I’m happy to report the two are a match made in heaven. Trixie follows Beverly everywhere she goes and Bev lovingly calls her “Sweet Potata.”
- Chuck Berry: He once admitted to me that Chuck was among his least favorite interviews. Chet never went into specifics, but it was clear he wasn’t a huge fan.
- The Rolling Stones: Chet considered them to be the greatest rock band of all time. His adventures with Mick and the boys are documented in the definitive memoir On the Road with the Rolling Stones.
- Cigarettes: When he was smoker, Chet sometimes used his cigarette butts as earplugs at shows when there were none available.
- The Ryman: Chet would always get short of breath when we’d walk by the Ryman on the way back to CMT after our barbecue lunches on Lower Broadway. I miss the way he’d clear his throat.
- Martha Hume: He was seriously devoted to his wife Martha. When she fell ill, I made them a huge chicken dinner with roasted root veggies saving them the trouble of preparing dinner for at least two days. He emailed me that evening, and said, “Thank you for the delicious bird. You have no idea the good you do.” I always thought Martha was a goddess to land an honorable man like Chet.
- Robinson Crusoe: It was his favorite book to read as a child. His family graciously gave me his childhood copy as a keepsake. It still has his boyish signature in cursive on the first few pages. I will treasure it forever.
- Kristen: Kristen is Martha’s daughter, and we met in one of the saddest hours of her life. A few days after Martha passed, I checked in on Chet to visit and feed him more veggies. When he answered the door, he said he was happy I was there. The funeral home was on the way to deliver Martha’s ashes, and he asked me to keep him company until Kristen arrived from the airport. We talked and played with Trixie. Then the doorbell rang, and it was Kristen. Martha arrived shortly after. I left soon after that to give them privacy. Kristen and I have stayed connected through Facebook, and she’s become a support to me. Last year, I had the honor of meeting her family for burgers and shakes at an old school pharmacy diner in Orlinda, Tennessee. They are completely original people, and I’ll love them forever and ever, amen.
- Good references: For at least five years, Chet was among the top references listed on my resume. When my current employer called for info, Chet jokingly called me, “a nympho lesbo with a taste for human blood.” I was hired within the week.
- Take a compliment: Chet always believed in me. When the family and the Country Music Hall of Fame went through his house to collect possible music artifacts, the family recovered a copy of my college portfolio. Ernie’s wife told me she read through it and complimented me heavily on my writing. I blushed beet red with embarrassment because the material was so outdated. She said, “Why are you embarrassed? It’s great! Chet certainly thought highly of you.”
- Never stop learning: Before he passed, I promised to teach Chet classical piano. He had always wanted to learn, and he had the long fingers for it.
- Dance: Chet could swing, y’all. We some cut serious rug to Harold Bradley’s big band one year at Nashville’s BMI Awards. He said to me mid-dance, “This is and always will be the best party of the year.”
- United Record Pressing: Chet’s first trip to Nashville’s historic United Record Pressing was with me. We toured the plant over lunch and pretended to throw a swanky cocktail party in the famed upstairs apartment where Berry Gordy and other Motown clients would stay in the ’60s. Chet recapped the visit in a Nashville Skyline, and my friends at United still rave about the write-up.
- “Fifty Miles of Elbow Room:” It was Chet’s favorite growing up. Dierks Bentley learned to play it for Chet’s private memorial service at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Rosanne Cash and Peter Cooper each read selections of Chet’s work. Bobby Bare spoke from handwritten notes.
After hanging up with Beverly, I performed 108 sun salutations in a yoga workshop to welcome the Spring Equinox. I dedicated the first round of 27 to Chet and thanked God for his role in my life. Lying on my back with my eyes closed and my focus on the back of my eyelids in reflection, I felt a familiar hand touch my shoulder. My eyes opened hoping to find Chet on a yoga mat next to me, laughing at one of my jokes. He wasn’t, but I believe his presence was.
May his memory be eternal.