Story Behind the Song: 'T-R-O-U-B-L-E' (2024)

"T-R-O-U-B-L-E" spelled success for Jerry Chesnut in 1975. The Nashville songwriting great originally wrote the clever tune for singer Little David Wilkins, who really did play from "9 til half past 1" in a Nashville bar, and he had a stroke of genius when he realized he could rhyme certain words if he spelled them out.

The song became a hit with rock legend Elvis Presley, and again two decades later with country star Travis Tritt. Chesnut recalled writing "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" with Bart Herbison of Nashville Songwriters Association International.

Where did the idea for the song come from?

Little David Wilkins kept bugging me: "Write me a hit, write me a hit." He was playing Ireland's Restaurant. It was steak and biscuits, and they had a bar set up. David would go over there and play the piano from 9 til 1. He's like Jerry Lee (Lewis), man, he's wild and great. We'd go over there and eat, have a few drinks and listen to David. I had watched him do this for a long time, and one morning, I decided to write a song for him, and I thought, "What would I write for David that he could really do? It needs to be uptempo," because man, he could get out there and rock. "He'll probably play it at that place, and he plays from 9 til 1. Well, I'll just write it about him." I started out with "I play an old piano from 9 til half past 1/ I'm trying to make a living watching everybody have fun." I'd played so many skull orchards myself, and seen a good-looking woman walk in by herself, and it's trouble. I thought of that and thought, "I'll put that in there."

...It just kind of fell in place, and then I realized something. If you go to write down "Bart," you can't write it without in your brain saying "B-A-R-T." It's the only way you can write it. ... I got to realizing, not (just) the words, every letter is rhyming! (T-R-O-U-B-L-E, A-L-O-N-E, L-O-O-K-I-N-G).

It was meant to be.

Everybody was asking me, "How in the world did you do that?" And I said, "I don't know. It just happened. That's the way it was."

Tell me about meeting Elvis.

The first time I met Elvis, Lamar (Fike, a member of Presley's inner circle) said, "We're going to a movie. Elvis wants you to go with us." I met them down at the Memphis Theatre, I believe it was, and the movie was (1973 crime film) "Charley Varrick." We watched that movie together, and he introduced me to Elvis. I don't know, being a songwriter and meeting Elvis, it's like meeting Superman or something. A lot of women would almost lose their mind. They'd jump out of balconies, they'd go crazy, you know? I thought, "Boy, this is really gonna be something." (Lamar) said, "Elvis, this is Jerry Chesnut." He stuck out his hand and said, "How you doing?" To this day, I don't remember what I said (laughs).

What about the first time you heard Elvis' version of it?

I was in the studio, and they were mixing it over at Little Victor. ... I probably shouldn't tell this, but I'm gonna tell you the truth. I was a publisher also, and I had published all of these songs. We shipped to all of the little stations, and the record label would ship to all of the big stations. I'm thinking, "Man, we're gonna have to ship every one of these things, and I've got to get it to these little stations. If they start playing it on the big stations first, then these DJs are going to be mad at me." I'm thinking about all the stuff that I've got to do as far as work on this thing, and dreading it. Then all of a sudden I thought: "Here I've got a single by (Elvis) coming out. This is the greatest thing you could have happen, and I'm sitting here dreading it. It's time for me to get out of this business." (laughs)

— Compiled by Dave Paulson

About the series

In partnership with Nashville Songwriters Association International, each week we will release a video interview with a songwriter about his or her work. See the full interview with Jerry Chesnut at along with past installments.

Story Behind the Song: 'T-R-O-U-B-L-E' (2024)
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