7 Songs You Didn’t Know Steve Earle Wrote for Other Artists

Born January 17, 1955, in Virginia and raised in San Antonio, Texas, Steve Earle was searching for music by his teens. Eventually dropping out of school, at one point, the young Earle ran away in search of his hero, the late Townes Van Zandt (1944-1997), who he eventually did find and meet. (Earle later released a tribute album covering Van Zandt’s songs, Townes, in 2009.)

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Barely 20, Earle migrated to Nashville to play music and landed in Guy Clark’s band along with a job as a songwriter for a local publisher. By the mid-1970s, Earle was already writing songs for other artists in Nashville.

[RELATED: Top 10 Steve Earle Songs]

After a brief return to Texas and playing with his band The Dukes, Earle returned to Nashville in the early 1980s, and back to songwriting.

Working for publishers Roy Dea and Pat Carter, Earle penned a number of songs, including “Mustang Wine,” recorded by Carl Perkins, and “When You Fall in Love,” which Johnny Lee took to No. 14 on the charts.

In 1986, Earle released his debut Guitar Town, and his first Top 10 hit with the title track. The album also earned Earle his first two Grammys for Best Country Male Vocalist and Best Country Song for “Guitar Town.” Earle continued building on his own catalog with the follow-up Exit O, which picked up two more Grammy nominations, and released his more rock album, Copperhead Road in 1988.

Crossing folk, bluegrass, and other genres along the way, Earle released more than 20 studio and live albums through the 2020s. His songs have been covered by everyone from Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Percy Sledge, Emmylou Harris, and Bob Seger, among other artists.

Pulling some lesser-known songs from his earlier writing days in Nashville through his own solo recordings, here are seven songs Steve Earle wrote for other artists—including Joan Baez and Miranda Lambert—over the span of more than 35 years.

1. “Mustang Wine,” Carl Perkins (1978)
Written by Steve Earle

In 1975, Elvis Presley nearly recorded Earle’s song “Mustang Wine.” Unfortunately, Elvis never showed up to the session, so Carl Perkins recorded the track instead. It was eventually released in 1978 as a double A-side tribute to Elvis, who had died a year earlier.

Perkins, who originally penned and recorded Elvis’ 1956 hit “Blue Suede Shoes,” also wrote the track “The Whole World Misses You (Elvis We Love You),” which was released alongside “Mustang Wine.”

Now, Mustang grapes, they ain’t too sweet
But Mustang wine just can’t be beat
He drinks Mustang wine, he drinks Mustang wine
He drinks Mustang wine and he stays drunk all the time

Well, I was changing the screen when the telephone rings
It was Bill on the line and I said, “Come on by”
And bring your Mustang wine, he brought his Mustang wine
He drinks Mustang wine and he stays drunk all the time

Listen to Carl Perkins’ and Steve Earle’s versions of “Mustang Wine” HERE:

2. “When You Fall in Love,” Johnny Lee (1982)
Written by Steve Earle and John Scott Sherrill

Off Johnny Lee’s 1981 album, Bet Your Heart On Me, “When You Fall in Love” is a slower country croon about pinpointing all the signs of falling in love. The third and final single on Lee’s album, “When You Fall in Love” peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.

There’ll be a rainbow around the moon
You’ll fall apart when you hear that tune
Every day will end too soon
When you fall in love

You’ll get weak in the knees when you see her smile
You try your best to hide it ’cause it’s not your style
You let it get you cryin’ like a little child
When you fall in love

3. “A Far Cry From You,” Connie Smith (1985)
Written by Steve Earle and Jimbeau Hinson

Connie Smith was ready to retire from music after releasing her 30th album, New Horizon, in 1978. After Ricky Skaggs convinced her to keep recording, Smith released a number of singles, including Earle’s “A Far Cry From You” in 1985. She released a compilation of her music in the late ’80s and a few more albums in the 1990s and 2000s. Produced by her husband Marty Stuart, Smith released her 36th album, The Cry of the Heart, in 2021.

Blinded by the tears the day you left
Memories like a stone around my neck
Never thought that I would ever get
As far away from you as I now have

A far cry from you
I must’ve cried a river of regrets
It’s water underneath the bridge and that’s
A far cry from you

4.Sometimes She Forgets,” Martin Delray (1992)
Written by Steve Earle

After working as a songwriter throughout the 1980s, Martin Delray finally released his own batch of music in the early 1990s with his 1991 debut, Get Rhythm, and its follow-up, What Kind of Mind, a year later. On his latter release, Earle penned the doleful ballad “Sometimes She Forgets.”

Earle originally wrote “Sometimes She Forgets” in 1979 while he was a staff writer in Nashville and before he landed his own recording contract but never officially released the song. In 1995, he finally released his own version of the song, along with some previously unreleased tracks, on his fifth album Train a Comin’. That same year, Travis Tritt took his version of “Sometimes She Forgets” to its highest peak on the charts at No. 7.

So now she keeps it locked away
Oh and it grows colder every day
And it won’t warm to any man’s caress
That’s what she says but sometimes she forgets

And sometimes she forgets that not too long ago she swore
She wasn’t gonna let her heart be broken anymore

5. “Tom Ames’ Prayer,” Robert Earl Keen (1994)
Written by Steve Earle

When Steve Earle was shopping around an unrecorded collection of demos called Uncut Gems to Nashville artists in 1994, Robert Earl Keen pulled his bluegrass hymn “Tom Ames’ Prayer.” A year after Keen’s release, Earle released his own version of the song on his 1995 album, Train a Comin’.

Everyone in Nacodoches
Knew Tom Ames would come to a bad end
‘Cause the sheriff caught him
Stealin’ chickens and such by the time he was ten

One day his Daddy took a ten dollar bill
And tucked it in his hand
He said I know you’re headed for trouble son
Your Momma wouldn’t understand

6. “Kerosene,” Miranda Lambert (2005)
Written by Steve Earle and Miranda Lambert

Steve Earle inadvertently wrote Miranda Lambert’s first hit song. Though Lambert wrote the lyrics of “Kerosene” in its entirety, she gave half credit to one of her idols Steve Earle. Lambert admitted that her uptempo track, about giving up on love after a bad breakup up, was directly pulled from his 1996 song “Feel Alright.”

“I didn’t purposefully plagiarize his song, but unconsciously, I copied it almost exactly,” admitted Lambert. “I guess I’d listened to it so much that I just kind of had it in there.”

[RELATED: The 33 Best Steve Earle Quotes]

Also the title track of her debut album, “Kerosene” reached No. 15 on the Hot Country Songs chart, marking her first entry into the Top 20.

Trade the truth in for a lie
Cheating really ain’t a crime
I’m giving up on love ’cause love’s given up on me

Forget you high society
I’m soakin’ it in kerosene
Light ’em up and watch them burn
Teach them what they need to learn, ha!

Dirty hands ain’t made for shakin’
Ain’t a rule that ain’t worth breakin’
Well I’m givin’ up on love ’cause loves given up on me

7. “God Is God,” Joan Baez (2008)
Written by Steve Earle

On Joan Baez‘s 25th album, Day After Tomorrow, Steve Earle contributed two songs, including the folkier story of life “I Am a Wanderer” and the opening acoustic hymnal “God Is God.” Earle later covered both songs for his 14th album I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, released in 2011.

I believe in prophecy
Some folks see things not everybody can see
And once in a while they pass the secret along
To you and me

And I believe in miracles
Something sacred burning in every bush and tree
We can all learn to sing the songs the angels sing

Yeah, I believe in God and God ain’t me

Photo: Danny Clinch / Mixed Media Works

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