When talking about Steve Earle, it gets complicated pretty quickly. Most people know him as a country-rock singer and songwriter. But some know him as a playwright, some a short story writer and a few a novelist and actor. A whole bunch of women call him their ex-husband. Since he’s got a new album this week and a debut novel next month, it’s the perfect time to look at why Steve Earle is such a special talent.
Steve was born in Hampton, VA in 1955 and moved to Nashville at 20, where he quickly fell in with country music artist Guy Clark. He appeared in the 1976 movie Heartworn Highways—along with Charlie Daniels, David Allan Coe, Rodney Crowell and Townes Van Zandt—which documented the rising “outlaw” movement in country music. He started writing songs for country singers and finally, in 1986, made his own highly acclaimed debut Guitar Town.
The following year saw the well-received Exit 0. Copperhead Road came out the year after that, and went Gold. Steve soon moved to Los Angeles and added more rock to his roll. Heroin began to take over his life, and by 1992 he stopped recording and performing altogether. For two years, he took what he refers to as his “vacation in the ghetto.” Arrested and convicted for drug and firearm violations, he kicked drugs in jail. After his release in 1994, Earle recorded two albums in 18 months—his first while clean and sober.
His work has grown more musically diverse since then, pulling in elements of bluegrass, country and rock. He continues to develop that sound, performing over 200 shows a year. This week Earle releases the album I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, with a novel of the same name to follow. The title is taken from Hank Williams’ last song, released in December 1952. Produced by the legendary T-Bone Burnett, Steve Earle’s first batch of new songs in four years is well worth a listen, for old fans and those just discovering him.
I Ain’t Ever Satisfied
Way Down in the Hole
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