Remembering Vic Chesnutt

Rick Hawkins is a member of Jackson Pollock Microphone, a rock band based out of Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  Check out their Vic Chesnutt covers on their Facebook page.

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Vic Chesnutt died on Christmas ’09. His story is well publicized and the tragic circumstances that lead to his self inflicted demise have been discussed often. I was turned onto Vic by Steve Goodhue years ago.

It was not long after Vic released About to Choke. I had never heard anyone like that. His songs had a magical quality that sucked me in. The sparseness of his arrangements and his magnificent use of language completely intrigued me. Not long after I played Vic for Jeff. I’m not sure he was into it initially but soon got on board. I personally saw Vic play six or seven times. I saw him three times when he was touring with Lambchop. I thought that was a perfect fit band wise. I videotaped three shows on that tour. My friend Paul was playing in Lambchop at the time he got me in with the camera and these tapes are still valuable things in my collection. Vic was quite prolific. He recorded albums with various bands and collaborated with many of the countries most renowned players. When you saw Vic play you knew he was going to be doing songs from his most recent release. I think during all those shows I saw I only remember him playing an “old” song twice. I asked him, during one of our conversations why he never touched on his back catalog. “I don’t remember any of those songs”, he said with his mischievous smirk. Vic lived to make music. He recorded four records in the last year and a half of his life. That sounds like someone staying busy because he knows whats going to happen when he stops moving. Unfortunately due to his condition constantly moving and traveling was an incredible amount of work.

On Christmas that year Jeff called me and gave me the news of Vic’s death. It effected me greatly. Not only was Vic a master writer and colorful character who could talk down a rude person in a crowd with a simple “that’s enough chief,” he was a southerner that wore it on his sleeve. He could be the gentle country boy with the charming drawl or the acidic pissed off country boy that was not afraid of saying what he felt. Often times he could do both in one line. We have followed Vic for years and decided to make some attempts on his catalog ourselves. We roped in Brian, who at the onset probably wasn’t that interested in Vic’s music. But that soon changed as we started working on the songs. We knew that many people would be doing Vic covers and we wanted to bring our own thing. We opted for being playful, whimsical and not married to the idea of trying to copy Vic. We changed tempos and recorded in a lo-fi off the cuff manner. Vic released several 4-track, lo-fi records so we knew that was a route that he would have approved of. That was a big part of how we judged the results. Would Vic have like it? We think yes! Our Vic tribute record should be ready in the spring. Hopefully for free download. It’s been a great project for us!

One last Vic story:

JPM contributor Sammy “shakes” toured with Lambchop on drums for several years. I had talked Vic up to Sam many times. He never really seemed that impressed. But one night he called me from London. Lambchop was headlining the Royal Albert Hall. Vic was opening up the show solo with electric guitar.

Sam called me from the wings and said, “I don’t know how we can go on after him, he just blew their minds”! If you want to try Vic out I would start with About to Choke or West of Rome. It’s not often you can get your mind blown.

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