After serving in the Navy during the Vietnam War, Flippo entered the University of Texas, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism while writing for Rolling Stone. In 1970, he got his first assignment: to attend Janis Joplin’s high school reunion in Port Arthur, TX. One year later, Flippo and his wife, Martha, were present for the recording of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken, featuring Roy Acuff, Merle Travis, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs and “Mother” Maybelle Carter. It sparked his long-time interest in the merging of country and rock music. In 1973, he wrote his first story, “Country Music: The Rock and Roll Influence,” about Texas rocker Doug Sahm. The next year, Flippo was named Rolling Stone’s bureau chief of the New York office and was elevated to senior editor in 1977, when all operations were shifted to New York City. He also wrote the liner notes for Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings’ seminal 1976 album, Wanted! The Outlaws, which would become the first album to sell one million copies.
In 1980, he left the magazine to write Your Cheatin’ Heart: A Biography of Hank Williams, which was followed by books about Paul McCartney, David Bowie and Elvis Presley, an anthology of original and previously published articles and two books about the Stones. Flippo spent the early ’90’s as a lecturer in journalism at the University of Tennessee. He then served as the Nashville bureau chief of Billboard for several years. In 2001, Flippo became the editorial director at CMT and CMT.com, where he continued to produce the “Nashville Skyline” column until his untimely death.
Flippo was highly regarded for his astute observations and fairness. He was always supportive of authentic performers such as Nelson, Jennings and Dolly Parton and was often critical of the imitational nature of more recent trends. His efforts to keep country music honest was widely acknowledged, and he never shied away from controversial topics; he was the first to defend the freedom of speech of Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks and was also first to acknowledge Taylor Swift’s talent early in her career. He received the 1998 CMA Media Achievement Award and the 2006 International Country Music Conference Excellence in Country Music Journalism Award.
On a personal note, he graciously agreed to collaborate with me on the “A History of Country Music” cover story for Elmore in August, 2006. When I asked how I might show my appreciation, he expressed a keen interest in the “Two-Buck Chuck” Charles Shaw wine sold by Trader Joe’s but not available in Tennessee which, incidentally, did not permit wine to be shipped to individuals. When my good friends Marijan and Nikki mentioned that they were going to be driving through Nashville, I quickly assembled a variety pack of Two-Buck Chuck and then added a couple of bottles of stellar wine for comparison. When they delivered the wine, Flippo spent most of his day providing them with a unique behind-the-scenes tour of his beloved city. Several weeks later, the stellar wines were mentioned in his column.
We have lost a real class act!