STEVE EARLE: The Last Hardcore Troubadour

“And you know, we all knew we weren’t gonna be country stars. Tony Brown thought singer/songwriters were going to be the next thing. He thought me and Lyle (Lovett) and Nanci Griffith were gonna make him rich. He didn’t know the history-and that’s okay, because it got me signed. But I knew I was in for war when I signed up. My eyes were open.”

Videos by American Songwriter

Nashville’s “great credibility scare” of the mid-to-late-80s is over. Theoretically, they won. The brightest flames-Griffith, Lovett, Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell, Dwight Yoakam, k.d. lang, even Mary Chapin Carpenter (who was the tail end)-all record for labels in other cities now. Steve Earle still has the property he’s owned since Copperhead Road, but his soul absolutely lives in New York City.

He got his first cut, “The Devil’s Right Hand” for Outlaws-era Waylon Jennings, off a song he wrote in 1977. He’s recorded with Maria McKee and The Pogues. He’s had his songs in pivotal scenes in movies, most recently Will Farrell’s NASCAR send-up Talladega Nights. (No less than three songs from 1996’s I Feel Alright was synched into the film.) But that’s what was. Steve Earle isn’t about looking back.

“I’m going to keep doing this for a while,” he confesses. “You know, Danny and I were sitting in Yankees Stadium and when the best reliever in the history of baseball walks in, they play [Metallica’s] ‘Enter Sandman.’ FIFTEEN YEARS LATER! To me, that’s making an impact. When I wrote the songs for The Mountain, I hoped one song would be played at every bluegrass festival for the next 20 years. I think that’s what you wanna go for. Look at Joan Baez. In 2008, it will be the 50th anniversary of her first headline shows at Club 47-now called Club Passim-in Cambridge, and she’s still going.”

How that relates to Steve Earle doesn’t need to be stated. As the rambling “Tennessee Blues” draws to a close, he offers an elegy tempered with passion for the future:

Fare thee well, I’m bound to roam
This ain’t ever been my home
Blue dog on my floorboard, redhead by my side
Cross the mighty Hudson River to the New York City side
Redhead by my side, sweetest thing I’ve found
Goodbye, Guitar Town…




Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

MERGE RECORDS: One Step at a Time