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Though Michael Stipe had been a fan of Vic Chesnutt since the late '80s, producing his first two full-lengths, it took the Sweet Relief Two tribute album to make a star of him in mid-1996. The album featured artists such as Madonna, Hootie & the Blowfish, Smashing Pumpkins, and R.E.M. covering the songs of Chesnutt, a paraplegic who was injured in a car accident when he was 18. The singer/songwriter began playing contemporary acoustic folk around Athens, GA, soon after his injury. A show at the 40 Watt Club brought him to the attention of Stipe, who helped with production on 1990's Little and 1991's West of Rome, both on Texas Hotel Records. A documentary video of Chesnutt's life called Speed Racer was produced and directed by Peter Sillen in 1991, and has aired on PBS. Chesnutt's third album, Drunk, followed in late 1993, but the release of his fourth album was delayed by Chesnutt's membership in Brute, a project with members of Widespread Panic including David A. Schools, Michael Houser, Todd Nance, John Hermann, Johnny Hickman, David Lowery, and John Keane.
After Sweet Relief Two was released in July 1996, Capitol signed Chesnutt and released About to Choke, his major-label debut, in the fall of that year. The Salesman and Bernadette followed in 1998 on Capricorn and featured Lambchop as his backing band. The record's poor sales led him to be dropped by that label, but Chesnutt continued to record, cutting an album with Kelly and Nikki Keneipp called Merriment, which was issued in 2000. That same year, he teamed up with longtime friend and admirer Kristin Hersh for a series of U.S. tour dates. The following year, Chesnutt issued Left to His Own Devices, a collection of rarities, outtakes, and demos. In 2003, Chesnutt struck a deal with the roots rock-oriented New West label, which released his album Silver Lake in 2003. Ghetto Bells, which features contributions from jazz guitarist Bill Frisell and multi-instrumentalist Van Dyke Parks, followed in 2005. The following year, Chesnutt recorded North Star Deserter in Montreal. It was released on Constellation Records in 2007. Dark Developments, a collaboration with fellow Athens hometowners Elf Power, arrived in 2008, followed by At the Cut in 2009. Vic Chesnutt passed away on December 25th, 2009.
James Victor "Vic" Chesnutt (November 12, 1964 – December 25, 2009) was an American singer-songwriter from Athens, Georgia. His first album, Little, was released in 1990, but his breakthrough to commercial success didn't come until 1996 with the release of Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation, a tribute album of mainstream artists covering his songs.
Chesnutt released 17 albums during his career, including two produced by Michael Stipe, and a 1996 release on Capitol Records, About to Choke. His musical style has been described by Bryan Carroll of allmusic.com as a "skewed, refracted version of Americana that is haunting, funny, poignant, and occasionally mystical, usually all at once".
Injuries from a 1983 car accident left him partially paralyzed; he used a wheelchair and had limited use of his hands.
Personal life 
An adoptee, Chesnutt was raised in Zebulon, Georgia, where he first started writing songs at the age of five. When he was 13, Chesnutt declared that he was an atheist, a position that he maintained for the rest of his life.
At 18, a car accident left him partially paralyzed; in a December 1, 2009 interview with Terry Gross on her NPR show Fresh Air, he said he was "a quadriplegic from [his] neck down", and although he had feeling and some movement in his body, he could not walk "functionally" and that, although he realized shortly afterward that he could still play guitar, he could only play simple chords. After his recovery he left Zebulon and moved to Nashville, Tennessee; the poetry he read there (by Stevie Smith, Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, W. H. Auden, Stephen Crane, and Emily Dickinson) served to inspire and influence him.
On December 25, 2009, Chesnutt died from an overdose of muscle relaxants that had left him in a coma in an Athens hospital. In the 2009 interview with Terry Gross, while discussing the song "Flirted with You All My Life", he said, "You know, I've attempted suicide three or four times. It didn't take."
Early career and films 
Around 1985, Chesnutt moved to Athens and joined the band, La-Di-Das, with future member of the Dashboard Saviors Todd McBride. After leaving that group, he began performing solo on a regular basis at the 40 Watt Club; it was there that he was spotted by Michael Stipe of R.E.M.. Stipe went on to produce Chesnutt's first two albums, Little (1990) and West of Rome (1991).
In 1993, Chesnutt was the subject of filmmaker Peter Sillen's independently produced documentary, Speed Racer: Welcome to the World of Vic Chesnutt, which was shown on PBS. Chesnutt also had a small role as "Terence" in the 1996 Billy Bob Thornton movie Sling Blade, which he later described self-mockingly as a poor performance.
In 1996, Chesnutt was exposed to a wider audience with the release of the tribute album Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation, the proceeds from which went to the Sweet Relief Fund. The album consisted of Chesnutt covers by famous musicians including Cracker, Garbage, The Smashing Pumpkins (with Red Red Meat), Madonna, R.E.M., Soul Asylum, and Live.
He recorded with many other groups and artists. He made two albums with fellow Athens group Widespread Panic, under the name of brute. Chesnutt wrote "Aunt Avis" and co-wrote "Blight", "Protein-Drink/Sewing-Machine", which are often performed live by Widespead Panic. "Aunt Avis" appeared on WSP's album Bombs & Butterflies, and Chesnutt made a guest appearance as well. The 1997 video for "Aunt Avis" was directed by Billy Bob Thornton and featured Chesnutt.
After getting to know engineer Scott Stuckey during the recording of West of Rome, Stuckey and Chesnutt became close friends and would go on to collaborate on various projects including producing two more albums together, co-writing "Weed to the Rescue" for the Hempilation album, as well as working on numerous videos including "Ladle" for Capitol Records. At the time of his death, Chesnutt and Stuckey were working on a documentary about Chesnutt's music. The film is tentatively titled, "Degenerate" and should be out some time in 2012.
Chesnutt's 1998 album The Salesman and Bernadette was recorded with alt-country group Lambchop as the backing band. The album Merriment was a collaborative effort between Chesnutt and Kelly and Nikki Keneipp, with Chesnutt writing and singing the songs, and the Keneipps playing the music.
The 2005 album Ghetto Bells featured famed guitarist Bill Frisell, whom Chesnutt met in 2004 at the Century of Song concert series at the German festival RuhrTriennale. Ghetto Bells also featured lyricist and composer Van Dyke Parks on accordion and keyboards. Chesnutt's wife, Tina, would frequently play bass on his albums, including Ghetto Bells. His niece, and fellow songwriter, Liz Durrett also appeared on the album.
In the winter of 2006, he recorded North Star Deserter at the Hotel2Tango in Montreal. It was released on September 11, 2007 by Constellation Records. The record included contributions from Constellation artists Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band, members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, as well as Fugazi's Guy Picciotto. The album was produced by documentary filmmaker Jem Cohen.
In 2008, Athens, Georgia based Elephant 6 collective recording artists Elf Power collaborated with Chesnutt on the album Dark Developments, released as Vic Chesnutt, Elf Power, and the Amorphous Strums. The "amorphous strums" refers to Curtiss Pernice and Sam Mixon, who also played on the album.
In 2009, Chesnutt worked with many of the same contributors to the album North Star Deserter to release the album At the Cut in September. As with North Star Deserter, the album was recorded in Montreal and released on Constellation Records. Later in 2009, Vic recorded the album titled Skitter on Take-off with Jonathan Richman which was inspired by the two albums recorded in Montreal and was released on Vapour.
In 2009, he sang on the track "Grim Augury" on from the album Dark Night of the Soul by Danger Mouse of Gnarls Barkley, Sparklehorse, and director David Lynch.
Label history 
Chesnutt's first four albums were released on the independent Texas Hotel label. He then recorded About to Choke (1996) for Capitol Records. The Salesman and Bernadette (1998) was on PolyGram; Merriment (2000) was on the Backburner Records label; spinART was the label for the self-performed and recorded Left to His Own Devices (2001). Chesnutt then found a home at the New West Records label, which released two of his albums. In 2004, New West also re-released the early Texas Hotel recordings, including expanded liner notes and extra tracks. in 2010: About to Choke was re-released on 180 gram vinyl on the Four Men with Beards label and is being distributed by City Hall Records.
Chesnutt was also a supporter of medical marijuana, which he said helped with his medical problems. He contributed the track "Weed to the Rescue" to the 1998 Hempilation II charity album, with proceeds going to NORML, an American organization dedicated to marijuana legalization.
He also appeared as a guest musician on Cowboy Junkies' 2007 album Trinity Revisited, a 20th anniversary edition of their classic album The Trinity Session. In 2011 Cowboy Junkies released Demons, an album of eleven Chesnutt covers.