"Mark Chesnutt gave honky-tonk music back its soul," noted music critic Robert K. Oermann. "When Chesnutt appeared on an arid musical landscape back in 1990, I dubbed him the hillbilly messiah," Oermann confirmed. "I still feel that way today and I’ll feel that way decades from now."
Mark did this without ever having to permanently leave his hometown of Beaumont, TX. Sure, he came to Nashville to make records and play the game, but he stayed rooted in Texas. "I quit my day job when I was seventeen and started playing the clubs. I was working seven nights a week, making a real good living. My daddy [Bob Chesnutt] was a musician in his younger days. He ran with George Jones and he saw George was hardly ever at home to raise his kids. Daddy gave it up to raise a family. He said, ‘Son, if you move to Nashville, you won’t be able to make a living in the clubs. There are too many people trying to make it. You’ll have to get a day job and your music will take a back seat.’" So Mark stayed in southeast Texas, where he planted his honky-tonk roots.
Songs from the "Outlaw" era are part of his heritage. Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, along with song crafters like Billy Joe Shaver and Guy Clark, all hailed from Texas. When Willie and Waylon declared their independence and staked their claim in the country music scene, both returned home to the Lone Star state.
Mark celebrated his first LP release in 1988. Twelve others followed, accompanied by a collection of greatest hits compilations. Chesnutt’s rule of recording remains: "I only record when I feel like I have something to say." Outlaw is no exception. Contemporary fads and trends aside, Mark continues to pay tribute to the songs that "brought him to the dance"—the songs he played when he first became a musician. His consistency to remain true to his rule speaks volumes resounding his confidence and surefootedness that he’s not over-awed to lend his vocal talents to the original recordings. Mark is the star of country music’s last golden era paying tribute to the era before and?he continues to shine.
Twenty years later, Mark Chesnutt carries the torch in the footsteps of George Jones and Waylon Jennings to bring music from the Texas honky-tonks right to the country music fan’s door with his latest CD release, Outlaw (Saguaro Road Records). Outlaw features re-recordings of some of Mark’s personal heroes and life-long friends, including Shaver, Kristofferson, Willie and Waylon. The product of producer Pete Anderson (Dwight Yoakam/Michelle Shocked/Tanya Tucker), Outlaw is a true-denim-blue Mark Chesnutt-branded musical composition.
A first-time endeavor with producer Pete Anderson, Mark admits he’s been a personal fan of Anderson. "All the guitar players I knew wanted to be Pete Anderson! It’s still hard to believe I got to record an album with him. We made our record the old-fashioned way. I showed up late at night and we’d work all night until the songs were recorded or the beer was gone."
Mark got his start in the honky-tonks of Beaumont, Texas, learning from his father, Bob Chesnutt, a singer, record collector, and major fan of classic country music. Playing alongside his dad, Mark embraced his father’s influence one set at a time and to begin making a name for himself. Mark sang covers by Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard, George Jones and Waylon Jennings to develop his unmatched crowd-pleasing rapport and his authentic country style. Bob Chesnutt often traveled to Nashville to record and to broaden his exposure. He began taking Mark along to record when he was just 17. After nearly a decade of recording on regional labels, word got out about this young country vocalist. Music Row executives came to hear Mark on his own Texas turf and recognized the depth of Mark’s raw talent. In 1989, he was signed to MCA Nashville and his list of accolades tells the rest of his story.
With the release of his first single "Too Cold At Home," Mark established himself as one of country’s most authentic and talented vocalists. He won the CMA Horizon Award attracting the attention of country legend [and Mark’s greatest mentor] George Jones, who introduced him as "A boy from Beaumont, Texas who is the real deal." That recognition and initial success opened the door to offer Mark his chance of a lifetime, to do what he loved most—sing country music for country fans; this time, on a national level. "The first couple years it was non-stop," Mark says. "I can remember one time during a tour, I didn’t step foot on the front porch for ten months, with exception of a day or a day-and-a half, then, it was right back out again."
Mark’s dedication paid off. He developed a true blue fan base. Fans, he confides, "are the reason for my success." His fans helped his records to climb the charts one right after the other making him one of Billboard’s Ten Most-Played Radio Artists of the ‘90’s. Mark’s singles were some the decade’s most memorable; from the fun tempo "Bubba Shot The Jukebox" to emotional ballad "I’ll Think Of Something." Mark is easily identified for his string of hits including "Brother Jukebox," "Blame It On Texas," "Old Flames Have New Names," "Old Country," "It Sure Is Monday," "Almost Goodbye," "I Just Wanted You To Know," "Going Through The Big D," "It’s A Little Too Late," "Gonna Get A Life," and one of his biggest, "I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing;" a song that held its position at the top of the charts for four consecutive weeks.
Of all the recorded highlights Mark has enjoyed, they take a back seat to his first love; Mark Chesnutt lives to perform on stage. "I just make records because I want people to come see my show," he says with a grin. "Recording music for folks to just listen to music is great," he says, "but I’ve got to be out there on stage making it."
Fans who have seen him perform agree. Known as one of the industry’s hardest-working concert performers, maintaining a hefty tour schedule and steady presence in front of his fans, Mark’s dedication to deliver live music is unsurpassed. Mark has been on the road since 1990. Whether you hear Mark with a new release on the radio, or see his face on the cover of a new CD, folks can always find Mark doing what he was born to do: playing. "The clubs and honky tonks are home for me; it’s comfortable and I’m always with friends," says Chesnutt.