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Steve Earle

Steve Earle is one of the most acclaimed singer-songwriters of his generation. A protege of legendary songwriters Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, he quickly became a master storyteller in his own right, with his songs being recorded by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, The Pretenders, and countless others. 1986 saw the release of his record, Guitar Town, which shot to number one on the country charts and is now regarded as a classic of the Americana genre. Most recently, Earle’s 1988 hit Copperhead Road was made an official state song of Tennessee in 2023.

Subsequent releases like The Revolution Starts…Now (2004), Washington Square Serenade (2007), and TOWNES (2009) received consecutive GRAMMY® Awards. His most recent album, Jerry Jeff (2022) consisted of Earle’s versions of songs written by Jerry Jeff Walker, one of his mentors.

Earle has published both a novel I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2011) and Dog House Roses, a collection of short stories (Houghton Mifflin 2003). Earle produced albums for other artists such as Joan Baez (Day After Tomorrow) and Lucinda Williams (Car Wheels On A Gravel Road)

As an actor, Earle has appeared in several films and had recurring roles in the HBO series The Wire and Tremé. In 2009, Earle appeared in the off-Broadway play Samara, for which he also wrote a score that The New York Times described as “exquisitely subliminal.” Earle wrote music for and appeared in Coal Country, for which he was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. Earle is the host of the weekly show Hard Core Troubadour on Sirius Radio’s Outlaw Country channel.

In 2020,Earle was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. And in 2023, Steve was honored by the Bruce Springsteen Archives& Center for American Music.

Last June, Steve Earle traveled to Luckenbach, Texas, about an hour away from where he grew up, to play an outdoor concert celebrating the life of Jerry Jeff Walker. Walker – the colorful cowboy troubadour whose ballad “Mr. Bojangles” marked a new era of imaginative folk songwriting – had died at 78 from throat cancer. His wife Susan threw a party for his fans, with Emmylou Harris, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Jimmy Buffett all singing Walker’s songs and telling stories. “At one time, many of us thought we would live forever,” said Susan, who married Walker in 1974. “At least we acted like it. But not one of us thought Jerry Jeff would.”

Earle went onstage toward the end of the night. He chose to perform “Hill Country Rain,” a joyous 1972 singalong.

‘Cause I got a feeling
Something that I can't explain
It's like dancing naked
In that high hill country rain

“It’s in a bizarre tuning that he made up,” says Earle. “But that was his opus, really. That was full-blown hippie music. That’s all I wanted at that moment. The Texas I grew up in was headed for being more like Southern California”.

The event transported Earle back to his teens, when “I wanted to be Jerry Jeff Walker more than anything else in this world,” he said. Earle, 67, first heard Walker when he was 14 years old. His high school drama teacher, Vernon Carroll, gave him a copy of 1968’s Mr. Bojangles. He was staging The World of Carl Sandburg, a play of Sandburg’s poetry and prose, and wanted Earle to sing “Mr. Bojangles,” Walker’s classic ballad about an unforgettable character he met in a New Orleans jail (Sandburg was an avid song archivist). The album was a revelation.

Earle started learning about Walker, who was born in Oneonta, New York and played psychedelic rock in Greenwich Village before busking around the country, changing his name and becoming one of Texas’s most beloved songwriters. “He literally hitchhiked to gigs. I was trying really hard to be Jerry Jeff for a period. I would show up a little too lit to play gigs sometimes. My hair was kind of long; and I started wearing cowboy hats.” Earle got to know Walker in Nashville in the mid-70s, when Walker enlisted Earle as his designated driver. “He was a perpetual motion machine,” says Earle, remembering the night he drove Walker to meet a friend named Neil, who turned out to be Neil Young. “That was a big deal,” says Earle. Earle laughs remembering the moment Walker handed him a guitar and asked him to sing Young a song by folk singer David Olney. “That was a little insulting. It hurt my feelings a little bit.”

After Walker’s memorial, Earle booked time at Electric Lady Studios to make a tribute album of Walker’s songs, much like he did on 2009’s TOWNES and 2019’s GUY, made after the deaths of Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. (Last year, Earle also recorded the heartbreaking J.T., featuring the brilliant songs of his son Justin Townes Earle, who died at 38 years old in 2020). Earle has said these projects were a necessary form of therapy, and they stand as some of his best records.

“My band played their asses off, per usual,” says Earle of the JERRY JEFF sessions. He isn’t kidding. Earle delivers a gorgeous, soulful “Mr. Bojangles,” and howls joyful takes of “Charlie Dunn,” Walker’s endearing tribute to the bootmaker, and “Gypsy Songman,” his stomping busking anthem. Earle was also excited to include some of Walker's lesser-known classics – meditative ballads like 1969’s “Old Road” and 1973’s “Wheel.” “There’s a tendency to think of Jerry Jeff around a relationship to one song,” he says, referring to “Mr Bojangles,” which was covered by everyone from Bob Dylan to Sammy Davis Jr. “And he was also such a great interpreter of other people's songs and such a champion of other people's songs. But my main purpose of this was to remind people that he wrote a lot of fucking great songs.”

“This record completes the set, the work of my first-hand teachers,” Earle writes in the liner notes. “The records were recorded and released in the order in which they left this world. But make no mistake – it was Jerry Jeff Walker who came first.”

JERRY JEFF is Earle’s 22nd album. He’s released nearly an album a year since getting sober in the mid 1990s, LPs ranging from bluegrass to blues to folk to country. One of America’s most gifted living songwriters, he is singing better than he ever has, working harder. At the moment, he’s writing two books, his second play, and hosts his long running The Steve Earle Show: Hardcore Troubadour Radio on Sirius XM. Throughout the pandemic, he also hosted Steve Earle’s Guitar Town, a YouTube series about his massive instrument collection. “I'm just trying to stay out of trouble,” says Earle with a laugh. "If I stay busy, then I'm OK.”

##

Earle remembers exactly when he knew he wanted to be a songwriter. He was barely a teenager, growing up in Schertz, Texas, looking over a copy of a Beatles record. “The little line in parentheses next to ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand,’” said ‘Lennon-McCartney,’ Earle says. “I said, ‘I know who those guys are.’ And then I figured out that they wrote the song. And so that was when I started, you know, trying to write songs. They all had girls' names for titles for a long time.”

Music was a big deal in Earle's family and his dad, an air traffic controller, played piano. “My dad wouldn’t let me have an electric guitar,” he says. As a teen, he discovered Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Paul Simon and the Johnny Cash Show. “I always say my job was invented by Bob Dylan,” says Earle. “I’m a firm believer that rock & roll

only becomes an art-form because of the lyrics. If it hadn’t been for Bob Dylan wanting to be John Lennon and John Lennon wanting to be Bob Dylan, it wouldn’t have been cranked up to the level of literature that makes it OK for rock & roll to be taken seriously.”

Though he read constantly, Earle was a poor student. He dropped out by 14, and often stayed with his uncle, Nick Fain, who was five years older and living in Houston. Earle moved to the city, where Townes Van Zandt was known to spend time, and began playing Sand Mountain Coffee House, which had a mural featuring Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff Walker. “I could see the mural very clearly because nobody was there when I played, for the most part,” Earle jokes.

In Houston, Earle came face to face with Van Zandt. Van Zandt dropped in on one of his gigs at the Old Quarter and began heckling Earle, telling him to play the “The Wabash Cannonball.” Instead, Earle played Van Zandt’s “Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold.” “I played that and he shut up,” said Earle.

To Earle, Van Zandt was “a really good teacher and really bad role model.” Their relationship could be both violent, cruel and hilarious; Van Zandt told Earle to read War and Peace, so he did: “ I found out later Townes hadn’t actually read War and Peace. He just thought I should read it.’”

“I committed to making art whether I ever got rich or not by Townes’s example,” says Earle.

Steve hitchhiked to Nashville in 1974, and tracked down his other favorite songwriter, Guy Clark. Earle joined Clark’s band as a bass player and played on Clark’s 1975 album Old No. 1, and sang on the classic “Desperados Waiting for a Train.” A 20-year-old Earle can be seen in the classic 1977 documentary Heartworn Highways, playing “Stay a Little Longer" at Guy and Susanna Clark’s kitchen table on Christmas Eve. “I was so lucky to get there, because what you are seeing there, in that picture, is the big holiday celebration of a salon—a group of people that were all associated to each other by art,” Earle said. “That’s what our relationship was, and it was strong. And it was a huge thing to be part of.”

Earle was happy scraping by as an underground songwriter – until his son Justin Townes was born in 1982. “I was in a panic. I had to feed this kid, so I tried my best to write what I thought were commercial songs.” His first album, 1986’s Guitar Town, was a searing new take on rockabilly and country-rock, with sharp lyrics about small town characters and life on the road (“I gotta two pack habit and a motel tan,” he sang on the title track.) It hit Number One on the country charts and was nominated for two Grammys. “I convinced myself that I could make country records that were art and get on the charts.”

Earle doubled down on that promise on 1988’s Copperhead Road. The title track, with its mandolin-thrashing title track about a Vietnam War veteran who enters the marijuana business, sounded like nothing else at the time (it still doesn’t.) Earle

convincingly stepped into the shoes of any character he wished: a homeless alcoholic on “The Wall” or a conman Reagan fan (“Snake Oil”). The album also featured “The Devil’s Right Hand," an effortless tale of gun violence, that was recorded by Waylon Jennings, Bob Seger and Johnny Cash. Rolling Stone gave Copperhead Road four stars, saying it was “…like a twangy version of the Stones' Exile on Main Street.”

Earle was playing arenas and getting played on MTV. But he was also struggling. “I shot myself in the foot for several years,” he says. He became addicted to heroin, leading to fights and arrests. He lost his record contract after 1990’s dark The Hard Way, and sold his motorcycles, cars, guitars, and jewelry to feed his habit. “I lost everything but my house,” he said in 2017. “I guess it’s because I couldn’t figure out how to put it in the car and take it to the pawn shop.” Earle was arrested twice in the 1990s for drug possession, and sentenced to a year in jail. He served 60 days before entering rehab. “If I didn’t change, I’d be dead.”

Earle has been sober – and wildly prolific – ever since. After getting clean, he recorded 1995’s Train a Comin’, a bluegrass-influenced LP that drew on some of his earliest songs. It was nominated for a Grammy, and he followed it up with 1996’s plugged in I Feel Alright, then 1997’s El Corazon, which the AP voted as one of the best pop albums of the 1990s. These albums contained some of Earle’s most famous classics (“The Galway Girl,” “Hardcore Troubadour”).

In 2000, Earle released Transcendental Blues, which finished with “Over Yonder (Jonathan’s Song).” Earle wrote it about Jonathan Nobles, a Texan who had been sentenced to death in 1986 for a double murder he had committed on drugs. Nobles had been convicted largely on the strength of his own confession, and exchanged letters with Earle for a decade, inviting the singer to witness his execution. “You can't believe it's really happening,” Earle said later. “I remember afterwards I thought, 'did I black out and miss it? I let Jonathan down.' Then the blank filled in… it was the shock… I realized exactly what I'd seen.”

Earle has campaigned relentlessly against the death penalty, performing annually outside the Supreme Court for participants in an annual vigil protesting the Court's 1976 decision restoring execution as a legal form of punishment. In 2010, Earle was awarded the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty's Shining Star of Abolition award. He’s continued to use music as a vehicle for activism. 2004’s The Revolution Starts Now protested the Iraq War. The album won a Grammy — the first of three he’s won in the last several years. The youngest part of my audience I acquired during the '04 and ’08 election cycles,” he says. “It comes from the political stuff. You can always tell you're getting older when the lines are longer at the men's room than the ladies room at your shows.”

Earle has also published both a collection of short stories (2001's Doghouse Roses) and an acclaimed novel (2011's I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive). He has produced albums for other artists such as Joan Baez, and Ron Sexsmith, and has acted in films, and television (including David Simon's highly celebrated The Wire and Treme).

Earle moved to New York in 2005. One reason was he wanted to start writing songs for theater. He’d been a fan of the theater since spending time with his grandmother, a seamstress in a local college drama department, and wrote Karla, about Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman sentenced to death in the United States since the Civil War. The play debuted off-Broadway, and he’s since acted in The Exonerated, Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen's play about the wrongfully imprisoned. In 2017, he wrote the music for Richard Maxwell’s play Samara that debuted at the Soho Rep. In 2020, Earle appeared in Blank and Jensen’s Coal Country, a documentary play that explores the aftermath of the West Virginia mine explosion of 2010. That acclaimed play recently reopened nearly two years after being shut down due to the pandemic, with Earle providing the music on stage every night (as featured on his 2020 studio LP Ghosts of West Virginia). Earle is already deep into writing his next stage project, an adaptation of Horton Foote's Tender Mercies, with Foote’s daughter Daisy. “I'm a really good songwriter living in New York. It's stupid for me not to try to write a musical. It’s just dumb.”

These projects have allowed Earle to stay close to home to focus on his other job, as a dad. During the school year, Earle likes to stay in New York with his son, John Henry, who has autism. Most days are the same; Earle wakes up at 6 a.m., practices yoga; then rides the subway with him to school in Chelsea.

“I have friends that come to see John Henry because it makes them feel better, because he’s just kind of all love,” Earle says. “He’s my favorite person to hang out with at this point in my life.” For the last seven years, Earle has staged the John Henry’s Friends benefit at New York’s Town Hall to benefit the Keswell School, which John Henry attends. A few weeks after the most recent benefit, which featured Bruce Springsteen, Earle is still buzzing from that night. “I've seen a lot of Springsteen shows, and this is as good as I've ever seen him for the four songs that he did. And I had the best seats I've ever had, that's for sure.”

Earle has the rest of 2022 mapped out. After the release of JERRY JEFF, he’ll hit the road on June 1st with the Dukes. After that, he’ll teach Camp Copperhead, his songwriting camp, in Big Indian, New York, and then put John Henry back in school and start up work again on Tender Mercies. “It’s always been on my own terms,” Earle says. “My career maybe isn’t as big as it could be. But it would be unseemly for me to complain too much. … I still feel lucky to be able to make a living doing something that I love. And I still make an embarrassing amount of money for a borderline Marxist.”

Steve Earle

JERRY JEFF

Last June, Steve Earle traveled to Luckenbach, Texas, about an hour away from where he grew up, to play an outdoor concert celebrating the life of Jerry Jeff Walker. Walker – the colorful cowboy troubadour whose ballad “Mr. Bojangles” marked a new era of imaginative folk songwriting – had died at 78 from throat cancer. His wife Susan threw a party for his fans, with Emmylou Harris, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Jimmy Buffett all singing Walker’s songs and telling stories. “At one time, many of us thought we would live forever,” said Susan, who married Walker in 1974. “At least we acted like it. But not one of us thought Jerry Jeff would.”

Earle went onstage toward the end of the night. He chose to perform “Hill Country Rain,” a joyous 1972 singalong.

“‘Cause I got a feeling

Something that I can’t explain

It’s like dancing naked

In that high hill country rain”

“It’s in a bizarre tuning that he made up,” says Earle. “But that was his opus, really. That was full-blown hippie music. That’s all I wanted at that moment. The Texas I grew up in was headed for being more like Southern California”.

The event transported Earle back to his teens, when “I wanted to be Jerry Jeff Walker more than anything else in this world,” he said. Earle, 67, first heard Walker when he was 14 years old. His high school drama teacher, Vernon Carroll, gave him a copy of 1968’s Mr. Bojangles. He was staging The World of Carl Sandburg, a play of Sandburg’s poetry and prose, and wanted Earle to sing “Mr. Bojangles,” Walker’s classic ballad about an unforgettable character he met in a New Orleans jail (Sandburg was an avid song archivist). The album was a revelation.

Earle started learning about Walker, who was born in Oneonta, New York and played psychedelic rock in Greenwich Village before busking around the country, changing his name and becoming one of Texas’s most beloved songwriters. “He literally hitchhiked to gigs. I was trying really hard to be Jerry Jeff for a period. I would show up a little too lit to play gigs sometimes. My hair was kind of long; and I started wearing cowboy hats.” Earle got to know Walker in Nashville in the mid-70s, when Walker enlisted Earle as his designated driver. “He was a perpetual motion machine,” says Earle, remembering the night he drove Walker to meet a friend named Neil, who turned out to be Neil Young. “That was a big deal,” says Earle. Earle laughs remembering the moment Walker handed him a guitar and asked him to sing Young a song by folk singer David Olney. “That was a little insulting. It hurt my feelings a little bit.”

After Walker’s memorial, Earle booked time at Electric Lady Studios to make a tribute album of Walker’s songs, much like he did on 2009’s TOWNES and 2019’s GUY, made after the deaths of Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. (Last year, Earle also recorded the heartbreaking J.T., featuring the brilliant songs of his son Justin Townes Earle, who died at 38 years old in 2020). Earle has said these projects were a necessary form of therapy, and they stand as some of his best records.

“My band played their asses off, per usual,” says Earle of the JERRY JEFF sessions. He isn’t kidding. Earle delivers a gorgeous, soulful “Mr. Bojangles,” and howls joyful takes of “Charlie Dunn,” Walker’s endearing tribute to the bootmaker, and “Gypsy Songman,” his stomping busking anthem. Earle was also excited to include some of Walker’s lesser-known classics – meditative ballads like 1969’s “Old Road” and 1973’s “Wheel.” “There’s a tendency to think of Jerry Jeff around a relationship to one song,” he says, referring to “Mr Bojangles,” which was covered by everyone from Bob Dylan to Sammy Davis Jr. “And he was also such a great interpreter of other people’s songs and such a champion of other people’s songs. But my main purpose of this was to remind people that he wrote a lot of fucking great songs.”

“This record completes the set, the work of my first-hand teachers,” Earle writes in the liner notes. “The records were recorded and released in the order in which they left this world. But make no mistake – it was Jerry Jeff Walker who came first.”

JERRY JEFF is Earle’s 22nd album. He’s released nearly an album a year since getting sober in the mid 1990s, LPs ranging from bluegrass to blues to folk to country. One of America’s most gifted living songwriters, he is singing better than he ever has, working harder. At the moment, he’s writing two books, his second play, and hosts his long running The Steve Earle Show: Hardcore Troubadour Radio on Sirius XM. Throughout the pandemic, he also hosted Steve Earle’s Guitar Town, a YouTube series about his massive instrument collection. “I’m just trying to stay out of trouble,” says Earle with a laugh. “If I stay busy, then I’m OK.”

##

Earle remembers exactly when he knew he wanted to be a songwriter. He was barely a teenager, growing up in Schertz, Texas, looking over a copy of a Beatles record. “The little line in parentheses next to ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand,’” said ‘Lennon-McCartney,’ Earle says. “I said, ‘I know who those guys are.’ And then I figured out that they wrote the song. And so that was when I started, you know, trying to write songs. They all had girls’ names for titles for a long time.”

Music was a big deal in Earle’s family and his dad, an air traffic controller, played piano. “My dad wouldn’t let me have an electric guitar,” he says. As a teen, he discovered Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Paul Simon and the Johnny Cash Show. “I always say my job was invented by Bob Dylan,” says Earle. “I’m a firm believer that rock & roll only becomes an art-form because of the lyrics. If it hadn’t been for Bob Dylan wanting to be John Lennon and John Lennon wanting to be Bob Dylan, it wouldn’t have been cranked up to the level of literature that makes it OK for rock & roll to be taken seriously.”

Though he read constantly, Earle was a poor student. He dropped out by 14, and often stayed with his uncle, Nick Fain, who was five years older and living in Houston. Earle moved to the city, where Townes Van Zandt was known to spend time, and began playing Sand Mountain Coffee House, which had a mural featuring Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff Walker. “I could see the mural very clearly because nobody was there when I played, for the most part,” Earle jokes.

In Houston, Earle came face to face with Van Zandt. Van Zandt dropped in on one of his gigs at the Old Quarter and began heckling Earle, telling him to play the “The Wabash Cannonball.” Instead, Earle played Van Zandt’s “Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold.” “I played that and he shut up,” said Earle.

To Earle, Van Zandt was “a really good teacher and really bad role model.” Their relationship could be both violent, cruel and hilarious; Van Zandt told Earle to read War and Peace, so he did: “I found out later Townes hadn’t actually read War and Peace. He just thought I should read it.’”

“I committed to making art whether I ever got rich or not by Townes’s example,” says Earle.

Steve hitchhiked to Nashville in 1974, and tracked down his other favorite songwriter, Guy Clark. Earle joined Clark’s band as a bass player and played on Clark’s 1975 album Old No. 1, and sang on the classic “Desperados Waiting for a Train.” A 20-year-old Earle can be seen in the classic 1977 documentary Heartworn Highways, playing “Stay a Little Longer” at Guy and Susanna Clark’s kitchen table on Christmas Eve. “I was so lucky to get there, because what you are seeing there, in that picture, is the big holiday celebration of a salon—a group of people that were all associated to each other by art,” Earle said. “That’s what our relationship was, and it was strong. And it was a huge thing to be part of.”

Earle was happy scraping by as an underground songwriter – until his son Justin Townes was born in 1982. “I was in a panic. I had to feed this kid, so I tried my best to write what I thought were commercial songs.” His first album, 1986’s Guitar Town, was a searing new take on rockabilly and country-rock, with sharp lyrics about small town characters and life on the road (“I gotta two pack habit and a motel tan,” he sang on the title track.) It hit Number One on the country charts and was nominated for two Grammys. “I convinced myself that I could make country records that were art and get on the charts.”

Earle doubled down on that promise on 1988’s Copperhead Road. The title track, with its mandolin-thrashing title track about a Vietnam War veteran who enters the marijuana business, sounded like nothing else at the time (it still doesn’t.) Earle convincingly stepped into the shoes of any character he wished: a homeless alcoholic on “The Wall” or a conman Reagan fan (“Snake Oil”). The album also featured “The Devil’s Right Hand,” an effortless tale of gun violence, that was recorded by Waylon Jennings, Bob Seger and Johnny Cash. Rolling Stone gave Copperhead Road four stars, saying it was “…like a twangy version of the Stones’ Exile on Main Street.”

Earle was playing arenas and getting played on MTV. But he was also struggling. “I shot myself in the foot for several years,” he says. He became addicted to heroin, leading to fights and arrests. He lost his record contract after 1990’s dark The Hard Way, and sold his motorcycles, cars, guitars, and jewelry to feed his habit. “I lost everything but my house,” he said in 2017. “I guess it’s because I couldn’t figure out how to put it in the car and take it to the pawn shop.” Earle was arrested twice in the 1990s for drug possession, and sentenced to a year in jail. He served 60 days before entering rehab. “If I didn’t change, I’d be dead.”

Earle has been sober – and wildly prolific – ever since. After getting clean, he recorded 1995’s Train a Comin’, a bluegrass-influenced LP that drew on some of his earliest songs. It was nominated for a Grammy, and he followed it up with 1996’s plugged in I Feel Alright, then 1997’s El Corazon, which the AP voted as one of the best pop albums of the 1990s. These albums contained some of Earle’s most famous classics (“The Galway Girl,” “Hardcore Troubadour”).

In 2000, Earle released Transcendental Blues, which finished with “Over Yonder (Jonathan’s Song).” Earle wrote it about Jonathan Nobles, a Texan who had been sentenced to death in 1986 for a double murder he had committed on drugs. Nobles had been convicted largely on the strength of his own confession, and exchanged letters with Earle for a decade, inviting the singer to witness his execution. “You can’t believe it’s really happening,” Earle said later. “I remember afterwards I thought, ‘did I black out and miss it? I let Jonathan down.’ Then the blank filled in… it was the shock… I realized exactly what I’d seen.”

Earle has campaigned relentlessly against the death penalty, performing annually outside the Supreme Court for participants in an annual vigil protesting the Court’s 1976 decision restoring execution as a legal form of punishment. In 2010, Earle was awarded the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s Shining Star of Abolition award. He’s continued to use music as a vehicle for activism. 2004’s The Revolution Starts Now protested the Iraq War. The album won a Grammy — the first of three he’s won in the last several years. The youngest part of my audience I acquired during the ’04 and ’08 election cycles,” he says. “It comes from the political stuff. You can always tell you’re getting older when the lines are longer at the men’s room than the ladies room at your shows.”

Earle has also published both a collection of short stories (2001’s Doghouse Roses) and an acclaimed novel (2011’s I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive). He has produced albums for other artists such as Joan Baez, and Ron Sexsmith, and has acted in films, and television (including David Simon’s highly celebrated The Wire and Treme).

Earle moved to New York in 2005. One reason was he wanted to start writing songs for theater. He’d been a fan of the theater since spending time with his grandmother, a seamstress in a local college drama department, and wrote Karla, about Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman sentenced to death in the United States since the Civil War. The play debuted off-Broadway, and he’s since acted in The Exonerated, Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen’s play about the wrongfully imprisoned. In 2017, he wrote the music for Richard Maxwell’s play Samara that debuted at the Soho Rep. In 2020, Earle appeared in Blank and Jensen’s Coal Country, a documentary play that explores the aftermath of the West Virginia mine explosion of 2010. That acclaimed play recently reopened nearly two years after being shut down due to the pandemic, with Earle providing the music on stage every night (as featured on his 2020 studio LP Ghosts of West Virginia). Earle is already deep into writing his next stage project, an adaptation of Horton Foote’s Tender Mercies, with Foote’s daughter Daisy. “I’m a really good songwriter living in New York. It’s stupid for me not to try to write a musical. It’s just dumb.”

These projects have allowed Earle to stay close to home to focus on his other job, as a dad. During the school year, Earle likes to stay in New York with his son, John Henry, who has autism. Most days are the same; Earle wakes up at 6 a.m., practices yoga; then rides the subway with him to school in Chelsea.

“I have friends that come to see John Henry because it makes them feel better, because he’s just kind of all love,” Earle says. “He’s my favorite person to hang out with at this point in my life.” For the last seven years, Earle has staged the John Henry’s Friends benefit at New York’s Town Hall to benefit the Keswell School, which John Henry attends. A few weeks after the most recent benefit, which featured Bruce Springsteen, Earle is still buzzing from that night. “I’ve seen a lot of Springsteen shows, and this is as good as I’ve ever seen him for the four songs that he did. And I had the best seats I’ve ever had, that’s for sure.”

Earle has the rest of 2022 mapped out. After the release of JERRY JEFF, he’ll hit the road on June 1st with the Dukes. After that, he’ll teach Camp Copperhead, his songwriting camp, in Big Indian, New York, and then put John Henry back in school and start up work again on Tender Mercies. “It’s always been on my own terms,” Earle says. “My career maybe isn’t as big as it could be. But it would be unseemly for me to complain too much. … I still feel lucky to be able to make a living doing something that I love. And I still make an embarrassing amount of money for a borderline Marxist.”

When asked about what drove him to craft his deeply evocative new album, Ghosts of West Virginia, Steve Earle says that he was interested in exploring a new approach to his songwriting. “I’ve already made the preaching-to-the-choir album,” he says, specifically alluding to his 2004 album, The Revolution Starts Now. As anyone as politically attuned as Earle understands, there are times when the faithful need music that will raise their spirits and toughen their resolve. But he came to believe that our times might also benefit from something that addresses a different audience, songs written from a point of view that he is particularly capable of rendering. “I thought that, given the way things are now, it was maybe my responsibility to make a record that spoke to and for people who didn’t vote the way that I did,” he says. “One of the dangers that we’re in is if people like me keep thinking that everybody who voted for Trump is a racist or an asshole, then we’re fucked, because it’s simply not true. So this is one move toward something that might take a generation to change. I wanted to do something where that dialogue could begin.” Ghosts of West Virginia centers on the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion that killed twenty-nine men in that state in 2010, making it one of the worst mining disasters in American history. Investigations revealed hundreds of safety violations, as well as attempts to cover them up. The mine’s owners agreed to pay more than $200 million in criminal liabilities, and shut the mine down. In ten deftly drawn, roughly eloquent, powerfully conveyed sonic portraits, Earle and his long-time band the Dukes explore the historical role of coal in rural communities. More than merely a question of jobs and income, mining has provided a sense of unity and meaning, patriotic pride and purpose. As sons followed their fathers and older brothers into the mines, generational bonds were forged. “You can’t just tell these people that you’re going to shut the coal mines without also telling them what you’re going to do to take care of them, to protect their lives,” Earle explains. To be sure, Earle’s politics have not changed. He believes in sustainable energy sources and ending fossil fuels. “But that doesn’t mean a thing in West Virginia,” he says. You can’t begin communicating with people unless you understand the texture of their lives, the realities that provide significance to their days. That is the entire point of Ghosts of West Virginia. Earle started working on the album after being approached by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, a playwright team that would eventually create Coal Country, a theater piece about the Upper Big Branch disaster. Earle had previously worked with them on The Exonerated, an Off-Broadway play about wrongfully imprisoned people who ultimately proved their innocence and got released. Earle describes Blank and Jensen as creating “documentary theater,” and they received a commission from the Public Theater in New York. They interviewed the surviving West Virginia miners, along with the families of the miners who died, and created monologues for their characters using those words. Working closely with Oskar Eustis, the Public’s Artistic Director, they workshopped the songs and text for nearly four years. Earle functions as “a Greek chorus with a guitar,” in his words. He is on stage the entire play and, along with his song “The Mountain,” performs seven songs from Ghosts of West Virginia. “The actors don’t relate directly with the audience,” he explains. “I do. The actors don’t realize the audience is there. I do.” The songs provide personal, historical and social context for the testimony of the play’s characters, and, heard on their own, along with the album’s three additional songs, they provide a wrenchingly emotional portrait of a world that Earle knows well. “I felt that I could do it because so many of those people own Copperhead Road — and I talk like this,” Earle says in the unreconstructed Texas drawl that has survived moves to Nashville and New York City, where he now lives. Ghosts of West Virginia opens with “Heaven Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” a stark, a cappella spiritual that, in its sound and in its sense, captures the blend of faith and stoicism characteristic of mining communities. Without being explicit, “Union God and Country” nods to the deep union history of the West Virginia mines, a history that is being wiped out. “This was the most unionized place in America until the Nineties,” Earle points out. “Upper Big Branch was the first non-union mine in that area and it blew up and killed twenty-nine guys. That’s the deal.” “Devil Put the Coal in the Ground” is an expression of what Earle calls “a kind of hillbilly mindfulness” – a tough-minded recognition of the dangers of the mining life and the pride of doing such a demanding job in the face of those dangers. “The guy in that song is a miner and he’s being real about what he’s doing,” Earle says. On “John Henry Was a Steel Driving Man,” Earle, as so many have done before, takes the folkloric tale of the hammer-wielding hero and updates it for a contemporary world in which automation and union-busting have drained miners’ lives of so much of their potential and significance. “Time Is Never On Our Side” was inspired by the four-day wait that four Upper Big Branch families endured because rescue teams found footprints in the mine that they believed might belong to miners they had not yet found. It turns out the footprints belonged to company managers who had entered the mine before the inspectors arrived, and failed to reveal that they had done so. The familial devastation wreaked by the mining disaster finds expression in “It’s About Blood,” in which, under a driving rhythm, Earle blazons the names of all the men who died in it. “If I Could See Your Face,” which closes Coal Country, is the only song that Earle does not sing. In the play, it’s sung by the actress Mary Bacon, while, on the album, that distinction goes to Eleanor Whitmore, who plays fiddle and mandolin in the Dukes. She delivers the ballad, a chronicle of memory, longing and loss, in a manner that is both feeling and plain-spoken, perfectly suited to its subject. Despite its grim subject, “Black Lung” is rollicking and unsentimental, and it includes the verse that Earle describes as “the most important thing for me to say on this record”: “If I’d never been down in a coal mine,/I’da lived a lot longer/Hell, that ain’t a close call/But then again I’da never had anything/And half a life is better than nothin’ at all.” Those words were the last lyrics Earle wrote for the album, and they convey the reality of the lives that mining made possible for rural folk, regardless of the dangers. “Fastest Man Alive” is a paean to Chuck Yeager, a West Virginia native who became a war hero and the first pilot to travel faster than the speed of sound. Earle treats him like a folk hero along the lines of John Henry and Davy Crockett (who, like Yeager, was a real person). Yeager’s life of risk in the sky offers a moving contrast to the miners facing danger underground, often unseen and unacknowledged. The album’s closing song, “The Mine,” was the first that Earle wrote, even though it was not included in Coal Country. It quietly gives voice to the hopes and fraternal bonds that a job in the mines once represented. Earle and the Dukes recorded Ghosts of West Virginia at Electric Lady Studios, which Jimi Hendrix built in Greenwich Village, where Earle lives. That the album was mixed in mono lends it a sonic cohesion and punch, while losing none of the finely drawn delineation that the Dukes’ characteristically eloquent playing provides. More personally, however, the album is in mono because Earle has lost hearing in one ear and can no longer discern the separation that stereo is designed to produce. His partial deafness is not the result of exposure to loud volume that afflicts many musicians. He woke up one morning unable to hear in his right ear, and doctors have been unable to identify a cause. He’s been told a virus is likely the reason, but one doctor told him, “That’s what we say when we don’t know what the cause is.” As a result, Earle says, jokingly, “If I can’t hear the album in stereo, nobody else will either!” The Dukes, too, suffered a major loss when, not long before the band went into the studio, bassist Kelley Looney, who had played with Earle for thirty years, passed away. Beyond the death of a longstanding partner in crime, Earle was faced with the prospect of finding someone who could share the telepathic musical communication so characteristic of the Dukes. Happily, Jeff Hill, who had previously worked with Earle and had most recently been part of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, perfectly fit the bill. “Jeff stepped into the breach, but it was hard. It was really hard,” Earle says. Hill joined Whitmore, guitarist Chris Masterson, Ricky Jay Jackson on pedal steel, drummer Brad Pemberton and, of course, Earle on guitar and banjo. Their raw blend of country, rock and folk lifts the articulation of each song without the slightest hint of contrivance or pretension. With Ghosts of West Virginia, Steve Earle has evoked a world as three-dimensional and dramatic as Coal Country, the play in which it found its origins, does on stage. That’s appropriate, because, as Earle says, “I came to New York to make music for theater, and it’s taken a long time. Theater is a powerful thing. It’s my favorite art form. It always has been. My ambition is to write an old-fashioned American musical. I’m a pretty good songwriter, and I just feel like I want to do that before I die.” For now, however, there is Coal Country – and Ghosts of West Virginia. “I said I wanted to speak to people that didn’t necessarily vote the way that I did,” he says, “but that doesn’t mean we don’t have anything in common. We need to learn how to communicate with each other. My involvement in this project is my little contribution to that effort. And the way to do that – and to do it impeccably – is simply to honor those guys who died at Upper Big Branch.” *** Steve Earle is one of the most acclaimed singer-songwriters of his generation, a worthy heir to Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, his two supreme musical mentors. Over the course of twenty studio albums, Earle has distinguished himself as a master storyteller, and his songs have been recorded by a vast array of artists, including Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, the Pretenders, and more. Earle’s 1986 debut album, Guitar Town, is now regarded as a classic of the Americana genre, and subsequent releases like The Revolution Starts…Now (2004), Washington Square Serenade (2007), and TOWNES (2009) all received Grammy Awards. Restlessly creative across artistic disciplines, Earle has published both a novel and a collection of short stories; produced albums for other artists; and acted in films, TV shows and on stage. He currently hosts a radio show for Sirius XM. In 2019, Earle appeared in the off-Broadway play Samara, for which he also wrote a score that The New York Times described as “exquisitely subliminal.” Each year, Earle organizes a benefit concert for the Keswell School, which his son John Henry attends and which provides educational programs for children and young adults with autism.

Steve Earle, a man who doesn’t mind telling a story, was talking about the first thing Guy Clark ever said to him.

“It was 1974, I was 19 and I had just hitch-hiked from San Antonio to Nashville,” Earle said in mid-Texas-cum-Greenwich Village drawl. “Back then if you wanted to be where the best songwriters were, you had to go to Nashville. There were a couple of places where you could get on stage, play your songs. They let you have two drafts, or pass the hat, but you couldn’t do both.
“If you were from Texas, and serious, Guy Clark was a king. Everyone knew his songs, ‘Desperados Waiting For A Train,’ ‘LA Freeway,’ he’d been singing them before they came out on Old No. 1 in 1975.”

“So I was pretty excited when I went into the club and the bartender, a friend of mine says, ‘Guy’s here.’ I wanted him to hear me play. I was doing some of my earliest songs, ‘Ben McCullough’ and ‘The Mercenary Song.’ But he was in the pool room and when I go in there the first thing he says to me is `I like your hat.’”

While it was a pretty cool hat, Earle remembers, “worn in just right with some beads I fixed up around it,” Clark did eventually hear his songs. A few months later he was playing bass in Guy’s band.

“Now, I am a terrible bass player…but I was the kid, and that was what the kid did. I took over for Rodney Crowell. At that time Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ was a top ten hit, which was amazing, a six and half minute story song on the radio. So Guy said, ‘we’re story song writers, why not us?’ So we went out to cash in on the big wave.”

The success of ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ was not replicated, but Earle reports that being the 19-year-old bass player in Guy Clark’s band was “a gas.” At least until Earle went into a bar and left the bass in the back seat of his VW bug, from which it was promptly stolen. “It was a nice Fender Precision bass that belonged to Guy, the kind of thing that would be worth ten
grand now. He wasn’t so happy about that.”

More than forty years later, Steve Earle, just turned 64, no longer wears a cowboy hat. “It was more than all the hat acts,” Steve contended. “My grandmother told me it was impolite to wear a hat indoors.” As for Guy Clark, he’s dead, passed away in 2016 after a decade long stare-down with lymphoma. But Earle wasn’t ready to stop thinking about his friend and mentor.

“No way I could get out of doing this record,” Steve said when we talked over the phone from Charlotte, North Carolina, that night’s stop on Earle’s ever peripatetic road dog itinerary. “When I get to the other side, I didn’t want to run into Guy having made the TOWNES record and not one about him.”

Townes van Zandt (subject of Earle’s 2009 Townes) and Guy Clark were “like Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg to me,” Steve said. The mercurial Van Zandt (1944-1997) who once ordered his teenage disciple to chain him to a tree in hopes that it would keep him from drinking, was the On The Road quicksilver of youth. Clark, 33 at the time Earle met him, was a longer lasting, more mellow burn.

“When it comes to mentors, I’m glad I had both,” Earle said. “If you asked Townes what’s it all about, he’d hand you a copy of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee . If you asked Guy the same question, he’d take out a piece of paper and teach you how to diagram a song, what goes where. Townes was one of the all-time great writers, but he only finished three songs during the last fifteen years of his life. Guy had cancer and wrote songs until the day he died…He painted, he built instruments, he owned a guitar shop in the Bay Area where the young Bobby Weir hung out. He was older and wiser. You hung around with him and knew why they call what artists do disciplines. Because he was disciplined.”

“GUY wasn’t really a hard record to make,” Earle said. “We did it fast, five or six days with almost no overdubbing. I wanted it to sound live…When you’ve got a catalog like Guy’s and you’re only doing sixteen tracks, you know each one is going to be strong.”

When he was making TOWNES , Earle recorded “Pancho and Lefty” first; it was a big record, covered over by no less than Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Bob Dylan. “You had to go into the bar and right away knock out the biggest guy in the room,” Earle recalled.

With GUY it was a different process. Clark didn’t have that one career-defining hit, but he wasn’t exactly unknown. “Desperados,” “LA Freeway” were pre-“Americana” style hits. “New Cut Road” charted for Bobby Bare and was recorded by Johnny Cash. “Heartbroke” was a # 1 country record for Ricky Skaggs in 1982. But when you added it up, Clark’s songs wove together into variegated life tapestry, far more than the sum of the parts.

Earle and his current, perhaps best ever, bunch of Dukes take on these songs with a spirit of reverent glee and invention. The tunes are all over the place and so is the band, offering max energy on such disparate entries as the bluegrass rave-up “Sis Draper” and talking blues memoir of “Texas 1947.” Earle’s raw vocal on the sweet, sad “That Old Time Feeling” is heartbreaking, sounding close enough to the grave as to be doing a duet with his dead friend.

You can hear little hints of where Earle came from. The stark “Randall Knife” has the line “a better blade that was ever made was probably forged in Hell,” which wouldn’t be out of place in a Steve Earle song. Also hard to beat is “The Last Gunfighter,” a sardonic western saga to which Earle offers a bravura reading of the chorus: “the smell of the black powder smoke and the stand in the street at the turn of joke.”

But in the end GUY leads the listener back to its beginning, namely Guy Clark, which is what any good “tribute” should do.
Indeed, it was a revelation to dial up a video of Guy Clark singing “Desperados Waiting For A Train” on Austin City Limits sometime in the 1980’s. Looking as handsome as any man ever was in his bluegrass suit and still brown, flowing hair, Clark sings of a relationship between a young man and an older friend. Saying how the elder man “taught me how to drive his car when he was too drunk to,” the young narrator describes a halcyon fantasy in which he and friend were always “desperados waiting for a train.” As time passes, however, the young man despairs. To him, his friend is “one on the heroes of this country.” So why is he “dressed up like some old man?”

Steve Earle delivers these lines well, as he always does. But the author of “Guitar Town,” “Copperhead Road,” “Transcendental Blues” and a hundred more masterpiece songs, would be the first to tell you it is one thing to perform “Desperados Waiting For Train” and another to be its creator. There are plenty of covers better than the original. But “Desperados…” will forever reside with Guy Clark, the songwriter singing his song, just him and his guitar. That is the main thing GUY has to tell you: to remember the cornerstone, never forget where you came from.

There was another reason, Earle said, he couldn’t “get out of” making GUY. “You know,” he said, “as you live your life, you pile up these regrets. I’ve done a lot of things that might be regrettable, but most of them I don’t regret because I realize I couldn’t have done anything else at the time.”

“With GUY, however, there was this thing. When he was sick—he was dying really for the last ten years of his life—he asked me if we could write a song together. We should do it ‘for the grandkids,’ he said. Well, I don’t know…at the time, I still didn’t co-write much, then I got busy. Then Guy died and it was too late. That, I regret.”

Earle didn’t think making GUY paid off some debt, as if it really could. Like the Townes record, Guy is a saga of friendship, its ups and downs, what endures. It is lucky for us that Earle remembers and honors these things, because like old friends, GUY is a diamond.

If you ever had any doubt about where Steve Earle’s musical roots are planted, his new collection, So You Wannabe an Outlaw, makes it perfectly plain.  “There’s nothing ‘retro’ about this record,” he states, “I’m just acknowledging where I’m coming from.”  So You Wannabe an Outlaw is the first recording he has made in Austin, Texas.  Earle has lived in New York City for the past decade but he acknowledges, “Look, I’m always gonna be a Texan, no matter what I do. And I’m always going to be somebody who learned their craft in Nashville. It’s who I am.”

In the 1970s, artists such as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck, Billy Joe Shaver and Tompall Glaser gave country music a rock edge, some raw grit and a rebel attitude. People called what these artists created “outlaw music.” The results were country’s first Platinum-certified records, exciting and fresh stylistic breakthroughs and the attraction of a vast new youth audience to a genre that had previously been by and for adults. In the eighties, The Highwaymen was formed by Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Their final album “The Road Goes On Forever” released in 1996 began with the Steve Earle song “The Devil’s Right Hand.”

Steve Earle’s 2017 collection, So You Wannabe an Outlaw, is an homage to outlaw music. “I was out to unapologetically ‘channel’ Waylon as best as I could.” says Earle. “This record was all about me on the back pick-up of a Fender Telecaster on an entire record for the first time in my life.  The singing part of it is a little different. I certainly don’t sound like Waylon Jennings.”

“I moved to Nashville in November of 1974, and right after that Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger came out. I was around when Waylon was recording [the 1975 masterpiece] Dreaming My Dreams.  Guitar Town (Earle’s 1986 breakthrough album) wound up being kind of my version of those types of songs,” Earle recalls.

“This new record started because T Bone Burnett called me and wanted a specific song to be written for the first season of (the TV series) Nashville. It was for the character whose brother was in prison. So I wrote ‘If Mama Coulda Seen Me,’ and they used it. Then Buddy Miller asked me to write another one for the show and I wrote ‘Lookin’ for a Woman,’ which they didn’t wind up using. I’d been listening to Waylon’s Honky Tonk Heroes again, and I decided to start writing in that direction.”

The new songs include the gentle, acoustic folk ballads “News From Colorado” and “The Girl on the Mountain.” “Fixin’ to Die,” on the other hand, is a dark shout from the hell of Death Row. “The Firebreak Line” returns Earle to his pile-driving, country-rock roots. “You Broke My Heart” is a sweet, simple salute to the 1950s sounds of Webb Pierce or Carl Smith.  “Walkin’ in L.A.” is a twanging country shuffle. The guitar-heavy “Sunset Highway” is an instant-classic escape song. And the deeply touching “Goodbye Michelangelo” is Steve Earle’s farewell to his mentor, Guy Clark, who passed away last year. It was written right after me and Rodney Crowell and Shawn Camp and a few other folks had taken Guy’s ashes to Terry Allen’s house in New Mexico,” Earle says. “I was only 19 when I came to Nashville. Guy and Susanna Clark finished raising me. Guy was a great cheerleader for me.”

Earle is backed on the new album by his long time band The Dukes (guitarist Chris Masterson, fiddle player Eleanor Whitmore, bassist Kelly Looney, and new members drummer Brad Pemberton and pedal steel player Ricky Ray Jackson). “We did the Guitar Town 30th-anniversary tour last year,” he said. “And that was perfect to write the last of the songs for this record. Because I had the band out there with me, and we could try out some stuff.”

“Waylon’s Honky Tonk Heroes was the template for the new album. And I’ve always considered that record to be really important. I consider his Honky Tonk Heroes the Exile on Main Street of country music.”

“I knew when I wrote ‘Walkin’ in L.A.’ that I wanted Johnny Bush to sing on it.  I’ve known Johnny since 1973 when I was playing a restaurant in San Antonio. Joe Voorhees, who played piano for Bush, and I were stoned and hungry, so we went to Bush’s and raided the icebox in his kitchen. We’re sitting there, and Joe goes white and says, ‘John!’ I turned around and there was a .357 Magnum pointed at the back of my head. So that’s how I really met Johnny Bush. Years later, he signed an autograph to me that said, ‘Steve, I’m glad I didn’t pull the trigger.’”

Steve Earle’s third duet partner on So You Wannabe an Outlaw is Miranda Lambert. The two co-wrote their vocal collaboration “This Is How it Ends.” “I learned from Guy Clark that co-writing might lead me to write some stuff that I wouldn’t write otherwise,” comments Earle. “The song is Miranda’s title, and some of the very best lines in it are hers.”

So You Want To Be An Outlaw is dedicated to Jennings, who died in 2002. The deluxe CD and the vinyl version of the album include Earle’s remakes of the timeless Waylon Jennings anthem “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” as well as Billy Joe Shaver’s “Ain’t No God in Mexico,” which Jennings popularized as well as Earle’s versions of “Sister’s Coming Home” and “The Local Memory,” songs that first appeared on Willie Nelson discs. Nelson is his duet partner on the new album’s title track.

Steve Earle has turned many musical corners during his illustrious career. He has been equally acclaimed as a folk troubadour, a rockabilly raver, a contemplative bluesman, a honky-tonk rounder, a snarling rocker and even a bluegrass practitioner. This definitive Americana artist has won three Grammy Awards, for 2005’s The Revolution Starts Now, 2008’s Washington Square Serenade and 2010’s Townes. 

He is also the author of the 2011 short-story collection Doghouse Roses and novel I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive. Earle has been featured as an actor in two HBO series, The Wire and Treme, and on stage in The Exonerated. His film work includes roles in such respected features as The World Made Straight (2015), Leaves of Grass (2009) and Dixieland (2015). For the past decade he has hosted the weekly show Hardcore Troubadour for the Outlaw Country Channel on SiriusXM Radio and he is a longtime social and political activist whose causes have included the abolition of the death penalty and the removal of the Confederate symbol from the Mississippi State flag.

Earle has collaborated on recordings with such superb talents as Sheryl Crow, The Indigo Girls, The Pogues, Lucinda Williams Shawn Colvin, Patti Smith, Chris Hillman, The Fairfield Four and The Del McCoury Band. His songs have been used in more than fifty films and have been recorded by such legends as Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, and Joan Baez, Carl Perkins, Vince Gill and Waylon Jennings (who recorded Earle’s “The Devil’s Right Hand” twice).