Justin Townes Earle plays Asheville gig at Grey Eagle

from Asheville Citizen-Times on

For Justin Townes Earle, music is in his blood as well as in his name.

The 28-year-old son of alt-country hard-core troubadour Steve Earle was named after the late Texas singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt, but like other sons of famous musicians he chose to forge his own path in life as well as in song.

“A problem a lot of people have when their parents are famous is that they look at them like they are legends. I never looked at my dad like that,” Earle said in a recent telephone interview from his home in New York's Greenwich Village before the start of his current “Harlem River Blues” tour. “When I was growing up, he was a stark, raving drug addict. It's hard to look at some ultrafamous person as infallible when they are throwing up on themselves. I just tried to go about my way, and that's worked out for me.”

The younger Earle has previously walked in his father's shadow of substance abuse but has sought treatment for those addictions and embarked on his own musical journey, which earned him a 2009 Americana Music Award for Best New and Emerging Artist. Many listeners have compared Justin Townes Earle's songwriting to that of his hero Woody Guthrie, and it is a compliment he embraces wholeheartedly.

“I think Woody Guthrie was the beginning of it all and probably the most important musician ever,” he said. “I've often been called an unclassifiable musician, and I'm kind of proud of that. I tend to not lay any genre on my music, but it does have a real heavy blues, gospel and country influence added with a little bit of rock'n'roll.”

Where Steve Earle was often photographed for his albums wearing leather jackets and denim, Justin Townes Earle cuts a much more dapper figure, wearing a tie and Western-tinged suit. However, both father and son have their share of tattoos and stories by which to remember them.

“The hammers are for a songwriter named Guy Clark who told me when I was about 15 years old that I had thumb like a sledgehammer,” Earle said of the design that adorns the top of one wrist. “I got the bird when I was engaged to a fairly terrible woman. The day after I left her, I got the bird tattoo,” he said of the one inked on the other.

While Earle is more prone to add an eclectic cover of the Replacements' punk anthem “Can't Hardly Wait” to his set than any songs by his dad, it does not mean the influence is completely lost.

(read full story on

LSM Gets Social