Willie Nelson & Faron Young, “Four in the Morning” (song by Jerry Chestnut, RIP)

Rest in peace, singer songwriter Jerry Chestnut, who passed away last Saturday.  He was 87.

You can read more about Jerry Chestnut, his life and songwriting career on the New York Times website.


ASHVILLE — Jerry Chesnut, a blue-collar songwriter who wrote hits for Elvis Presley, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson and more than 100 other popular artists, including another Elvis, Costello, died on Saturday at his home in Brentwood, Tenn. He was 87.

Mr. Chesnut had a gift for illuminating the struggles of working people, like the beleaguered factory hand in “Oney,” a song, drawn from his experience with a tyrannical employer, that became a Top 10 country hit for Johnny Cash in 1972.

“Looking at the World Through a Windshield,” a two-stepping country hit for the singer Del Reeves in 1968, portrays a solitary trucker speeding through the night, longing for home. Written with Mike Hoyer, the song was later recorded by the country-rock bands Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen and Son Volt.

Mr. Chesnut, who grew up in rural eastern Kentucky, came by his working-class sensibilities honestly.

“I was born and raised in the coal-mining camps and the railroad center where they all came together,” he said in 2009 during a program held in his honor at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.

To say the least,” he went on, “it was a very poor place to be from. When you’re from Harlan County, there’s no way to go but up.”

Mr. Chesnut wrote compellingly about heartbreak, as he did to great emotional effect in “A Good Year for the Roses,” a ballad that reached No. 2 on the country chart for George Jones in 1970.

In that song, a man pines for the woman who just left him:

I can hardly bear the sight of lipstick on the cigarettes there in the ashtray

Lyin’ cold the way you left ’em

But at least your lips caressed them

While you packed.


Turning his gaze to “the lip-print on a half-filled cup of coffee” that the woman had poured but didn’t drink, he agonizes further, “But at least you thought you wanted it / That’s so much more than I can say for me.”

>Elvis Costello recorded “A Good Year for the Roses” 11 years later, introducing the song to a generation of rock fans on “Almost Blue,” an album of cover versions of hard-core country material.

Elvis Presley had a crossover hit with Mr. Chesnut’s “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” in 1975, when it reached both country and pop music’s Top 40s. (Presley had recorded another song with the title “Trouble,” a bluesy composition by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, in 1958.)

Mr. Chesnut’s other well-known compositions include “It’s Four in the Morning,” a No. 1 country single in 1972 for Faron Young (who recorded it again in 1985 in a duet with Willie Nelson); “They Don’t Make ’Em Like Daddy,” a Top 10 country hit in 1974 for Loretta Lynn; and “Holding On to Nothin’,” a Top 10 country hit for Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton in 1968. Jerry Lee Lewis’s shuffling rendition of Mr. Chesnut’s “Another Place, Another Time,” another Top 10 country hit from 1968, was nominated for a Grammy Award.

At least 30 members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, along with Southern soul singers like Brook Benton and Arthur Alexander, have recorded Mr. Chesnut’s material. In 1972 Billboard magazine named him country songwriter of the year.

Donald Chesnut was born on May 7, 1931, in Loyall, Ky. His father, Alvin Basil, whom people knew as either Basil or A. B., owned a grocery store. His mother, Ruby (Peterson) Chesnut, was a homemaker. Jerry and his older brother Ray grew up listening to country music on the “Grand Ole Opry” radio show and daytime broadcasts on WNOX in Knoxville, Tenn.

Mr. Chesnut enlisted in the Air Force in 1949; he sang and played guitar on military bases, naval ships and radio during his four years in the service. Afterward he moved to St. Augustine, Fla., where he was a railroad conductor and played barn dances with a hoedown band.

He moved to Nashville in 1958, hoping to make it in the music business while selling vacuum cleaners to make ends meet.

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