Steve Earle

Steve Earle
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For those who don’t know, Steve Earle has been, for the past two decades, one of the more compellingly engaged figures on the American cultural landscape. Steve is the author of best-selling works of fiction (“Doghouse Roses”), a playwright, and a well-known speaker and presence in a variety of left-leaning populist movements. But it is in his persona as an exceedingly thoughtful, yet fun, country rocker that most people know him, and rightly so. His contribution to the merging of progressive country to the wider rock audience remains huge. Indeed, there is every reason to believe that the entire genre of “alt. Country” would not exist without Earle’s ground-breaking extension of what used to be called “folk-rock.” His recorded work, from the classic 1986 Guitartown onward through such excitingly heartfelt/redemptive works as Copperhead Road, I Feel Alright, El Corazon, Transcendental Blues, to the current The Revolution Starts…Now, represents an extraordinary catalogue of deeply personal music which compares favorably with such esteemed heroes as Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, or even Bob Dylan. Few artists have been able and/or willing to put themselves so consistently on the line, or to forthrightly speak their minds as Earle has, while continuing to maintain a commercial presence. On the heels of the controversial Jerusalem, which featured the much discussed “John Walker Blues,” a song which confounded Fox Newsies and other Patriot Actors by daring to actually imagine the so-called “American Taliban” as a human being, The Revolution Starts…Now, which features such no punch-pulling tunes as “F the CC” (an ode to the Federal Communications Commission) and “Rich Man’s War” might just turn out to be Earle’s most popular work. This could be due to the kinky inclusion of numbers like “Condi, Condi”, the singer’s tribute to what he calls “the extraterrestrial hotness” of the current Star Trek-ish National Security Advisor. “I’ve been waiting all my life to sing a line like `skank for me, Condi’” says Earle, which more or less sums up his approach to the surreal quality of today’s political landscape. Then again, much of Steve Earle’s sojourn through the vicissitudes of these millennial times has had the smack of the alt.---country and otherwise ---about it. As rock narratives go, Steve’s journey from wiseass garage player to wiseass (but wise) national figure is difficult to match. The back story, with its James Deanish archetypical aspect, is well-known to fans. Steve is from Texas, of course, where he was brought up in the don’t-blink town of Schertz, outside of San Antonio. It wasn’t the easiest childhood, most of all for Steve’s parents, the charming, more than occasionally exasperated Jack and Barbara Earle. Much of this upset owed to the fact that Steve, the oldest of five, was a poster child for the sort of individual who nowadays gets diagnosed ADHD (with a heavy accent on the hyper) and given mountains of Ritalin. Back in the 1960’s however, people like Steve were just called noncompliant badasses. School, as Steve says, “didn’t take.” Bored in English class, less than clueless in math, he was out of there by 8th grade. Much of his time then was spent in the local candy store playing pinball, a daily preoccupation until an iconic moment when, on the verge of an extra silver ball, the future songwriter saw his father’s reflection looming in the machine glass. “If you’re not going to school, you better be helping around home,” said Jack Earle, a large, forceful man who spent several decades as an air traffic controller. He tried, Steve said, but with a head full of ideas driving him insane and a still-extant weakness for the romance of the road, at age 14 he found himself in Houston, living with his cousin, the knock-around musician, Nick Fain. Already a proficient guitarist (his Mom says one of her fondest early memories was of Steve winning a talent contest before he got thrown out of school), he taught himself the bass. He also began what would become an epic career as an ingester of illicit drugs. Richard Pryor said he once snorted half of Peru. Steve Earle would eventually perform similar feats in East Texas and Tennessee, albeit with poppies and needles. It was a lucky thing that, in addition to playing his guitar, he had a natural talent for crushing vast, soul-searching narratives into four or five verses with catchy bridging choruses. Always looking for grown-ups (using this term loosely) who could teach him something he actually wanted to know, Steve joined up with many of the Texas troubadour legends of the time, people like Guy Clark (for whom he played bass), Jerry Jeff Walker, and the inimitable Townes Van Zandt. Most influential would be the dissolute Van Zandt, a world-class songwriter and self-destructive force, whom Earle calls----in one of his most quoted one-liners--- “a really good teacher and really bad role model.” The two men bonded in a hell-bent symbiosis of art and madness. One time, in an attempt to cure his drinking, Van Zandt had himself tied to a tree by the younger Earle. The truly demented thing was they both imagined this as a potentially effective treatment regimen. (It wasn’t: Van Zandt would wind up drinking himself to death). Never one to stint in the pursuit of anything, Steve, in addition to his drug use, would start marrying women in record fashion. In the words of one of his greatest songs, “Fearless Heart” he “fell in love a lot”. By the time he hit 40, he’d already been married an impressive six times, to five different women (Lou Anne Gill twice), which added up to two children and a hell of a lot of alimony. In the midst of this cosmic thrashing, Steve Earle found the time to write hundreds of tunes, many in the employ of various Nashville song-writing combines. After a false start as a would-be rockabilly cat, he found his true groove after hooking up with Tony Brown and MCA to release Guitartown in 1986. Achingly honest in its multi-faceted mini-sagas of battered, betrayed rednecks, Guitartown, which contains the all-time fave title tune along with other enduring gems like “Hillbilly Highway”, “Someday” and “Goodbye’s All We Got Left”, sold like gangbusters, reaching number 1 on the country charts. To anyone’s way of reckoning, a new star was born. But Steve, oppositional in his way, did not quite view stardom in the same way as most of his ardent Nashville corporate enablers. From the beginning it was clear he would not be Garth Brooks, or even Bruce Springsteen, the blue-collar champion he is most often compared with. He would not wear a cowboy hat. He would not appear on the cover of his Guitartown follow-up, Exit 0, without his band, the Dukes. Eventually the disc, which includes such all-time Steve tunes as “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied” and “The Rain Came Down”, came out without any cover picture, which in Nashville is akin to repeal of the Magna Carta. By the time of Copperhead Road, a hard-rocking masterwork that features one of Steve’s numerous tattoos for cover art, it was obvious: this boy was not made for country music, at least the kind of country music which rolled off the rack in Nashville. He was a junkie and a pain in the ass. He talked back and burned bridges. He forgot to show up for Fan Fair. He got into fights with the police, in Dallas no less. His days were numbered. After the release of the brutally underrated The Hard Way, Steve Earle entered his own kind of personal Hades. Fired by MCA, he pawned most of guitars and moved to South Nashville, the black side of town, where he would spend the most of the next four years living the life of a street hustling drug addict, albeit one with some serious royalty checks still pouring in. Hanging with some local losers, playing Dr. Dre’s The Chronic over and over again, Steve Earle became one more of country music’s casualties. Every so often there would be Bigfoot-like sightings of him in the industry rags, usually looking gaunt and sneering. People wrung their hands about what a waste it all was, since Steve could have been such a massive star. Eventually, after a number of literally hair-raising car crashes and near death experiences with nasty drug providers, Steve got himself fitted for a bright orange jumpsuit in the County Jail where he’d stay for four months. To say Earle was “a different man” when he got out of prison is stretching it some. According to almost everyone who knows him well, he was the same person: still a guy who rarely shut up (Steve himself says, “I’ll talk the ears off a wooden Indian”), still a guy with a head full of ideas. Kelley Looney, the bass player who has been a Duke longer than anyone says, “with Steve, things are always changing, but you kind of get used to that.” There were differences though. Mostly, Earle was straight, off junk and in a program, going to meetings nearly every day. Secondly, he was ready to play again. For his second act, Steve went on a hot streak rarely equaled in American pop music. There was Train A-Comin’, a classy, quietly smoldering all-acoustic album of many of his older songs. This was followed by the searing rockers, I Feel Fine and El Corazon, two albums which, to these ears at least, represent some of his truly best stuff, song-by-song. There was still a country feel, but the canvas had widened, deepened. Rarely had his voice sounded better. It had a lived-in quality akin to the blues, or even the great Hank. The material was shifting too. Few hit records provided more canny social commentary than Guitartown, but now Steve, who points to his air traffic controller father’s firing by Ronald Reagan as a major step in his own radicalization, was more overtly political. For Steve it didn’t make sense to march against the death penalty without singing about it as well. In this he was picking up the mantle of many passed-on heroes, like Woody Guthrie. The occasional protest tune on records like Transcendental Blues have become whole scale political disks like Jerusalem and The Revolution Starts…Now. There are some who might wish Steve keep his rabble-rousing music to himself and simply turn out entire albums of tunes like “Fearless Heart.” Steve is sympathetic to this point of view. But for now he feels little choice. As an American patriot, what was someone with a songwriting gift like his to do in the age of Bush? “We’re in trouble, it isn’t anything you want to just sit by and pretend isn’t happening,” says the artist about his response to the current American place in the world. It isn’t anything you really want to argue with either. Because first of all, Steve Earle has been around. He has done his requisite hard traveling for his position as a cultural bard. He is no dilettante in what he loosely calls “The Revolution”. Indeed, he is a renaissance man of the Revolution, a process which doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with AK-47s in the street or little red books written by Mao. The Revolution is a way to think, a way to live. Being up front in that number takes a little ego, that’s for sure. But it takes learning too --- life learning and book learning. Mostly, though it takes heart. Heart is something Steve Earle, who still “falls in love a lot”, has plenty of.
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04/20/2011 - Steve Earle Cancels Show in Arizona Due to Boycott - Read More
03/30/2010 - Steve Earle to headline Clearwater Festival  - Read More
01/27/2010 - Steve Earle Lays It Down - Read More
12/14/2009 - Steve Earle triumphs over gig morons - Read More
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Average Rating : 4.2              Total Reviews: 50

Steve Earle  07/10/2011            
"I'll Never Get Out of This World...", one of your best albums. Several good tunes on it!
Steve Earle  12/19/2008            
J. crawford
Merry Christmas from a longtime fan.
Steve Earle  04/16/2008            
Thanks, Howdy. I'll look into it ASAP.
Steve Earle  04/16/2008            
This setlist is wrong. This is for the 1986 show.
Steve Earle  02/07/2008            
Steve Earle  11/19/2007            
have everything Earle has put out and to be honest Washington Square is disappointing.A couple of the songs sound great,but overall the passion and the balls it takes to make a great Earle album just are not here.Can't hit a homer every time
Steve Earle  06/14/2007            
One of my favorite CDs. Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt are priceless. They throw in anecdotes that make you feel like a fly on a wall. Townes Van Zandt is a great storyteller in both song and in speech.
Steve Earle  05/22/2007            
another point of view
Maybe all of you should limit your free speech right because you are abusing it and cluttering up Steve's site with comments that are not directed to him. It's just angry jibberish directed at one person that made points to support his review. "Real Texan" has just as much right to speak his opinion about Steve's album as Steve has his right to free speech about politics. I don't see any backlash directed toward "James" in 11/05 after he wrote his review. Steve...there's no doubt you're an incredible song writer that is probably not affected too much by random music reviews on lone star music. Your music is like good liquor...gets better with age. I'm not going to give you more than 3 stars because I believe this album isn't your best. You set the benchmark so high with some of your older stuff. Keep it still rock!
Steve Earle  05/21/2007            
Hey real texan, get a clue. Questioning anything in a democracy, btw, is the most patriotic thing you can possibly due. BTW, Earle is one of the veterans strongest supporters. Earle often writes in the form of other people, and rarely in the first person. Steve also wrote some songs about the civil war & the dust bowl but since he wasn't there I guess he shouldn't have. Also, Willy and all the boys from Reckless Kelly (from your 'unnamed' song writer) are *giant* Steve Earle fans and I can't even imagine how they'd react to you using one of their lyrics to blast one of the greatest artists in american music's history.
Steve Earle  04/20/2007            
Also, "to a real Texan" Steve Earle is one of the greatest artists ever to live. His versatility is unchallenged. He is a true American. Questioning bad decisions by your leaders is how this country was formed you jackass sheep. He IS a patriot.
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