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POP FACES

MARK CHESNUTT : He's Following Jones From Texas to Success

March 13, 1994|RICHARD CROMELIN

It's hard to find a country singer who doesn't idolize George Jones, the preeminent country vocalist of the last three decades. But for Mark Chesnutt, a son of Beaumont, Tex., the link runs deeper than with most.

"I was always fascinated with George Jones because he was also from Beaumont, and I was playing in some of the same old joints he had played in," Chesnutt says. "My daddy was a friend of George, and I was always hearing George Jones stories."

Chesnutt, 27, has emerged in his three albums, including the current "Almost Goodbye," as one of country's most reliable hit-makers. His latest success is "I Just Wanted You to Know," a recent No. 1 on the singles chart. But it's been a long road. After dropping out of high school to pursue music, he worked relentlessly in southeast Texas clubs and released a string of independent singles before landing a record deal with MCA.

Overcoming a lack of image and hunk appeal, he's established himself with a down-home style that reflects his early influences.

"Back when George and Merle (Haggard) and all these guys were starting out, country music was a lot different," he says. "It had to be real. It didn't have the mass-media attention it does now. So these guys were really singing from the heart. They weren't trying to sell a product, they weren't trying to get airplay. . . .

"A lot of guys you listen to on the radio nowadays, it just sounds like they're trying to cash in on something. It sounds like they're reading words off a piece of paper."

Chesnutt has also fulfilled his George Jones fantasies. Jones sang with him on his second album's "Talking to Hank," and Chesnutt says proudly that he was the first singer summoned when Jones began rounding up partners for a new duet album.

What kind of advice does the kid get from the old champ?

"He tells me, 'Don't (mess) up,' " says Chesnutt, laughing at the irony of the once-notorious messer-upper giving such counsel. "When he sees me he says, 'Well, I ain't heard nothing bad about you so I don't think you're (messing) up, are you?' "

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