Steve Earle: Wikis


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Steve Earle

Earle, at the Midlands Music Festival in 2007, Westmeath, Ireland Photo: Sean Rowe
Background information
Birth name Stephen Fain Earle
Born January 17, 1955 (1955-01-17) (age 54)
Hampton, Virginia
United States
Origin Schertz, Texas
Genres Country, rock and roll, folk
Occupations Musician, Songwriter, Author, Playwright
Instruments Vocals, guitar, mandolin, bass
Labels MCA Nashville
New West
E² Records
Warner Bros. Records
Associated acts Alison Moorer, Justin Townes Earle, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt

Stephen 'Steve' Fain Earle (pronounced /ˈɜrl/) (born January 17, 1955) is an American singer-songwriter known for his rock and country music as well as his political views. He is also a published writer, a political activist and has written and directed a play. In the later part of his career, after troubles with the law, drug addiction and his uncompromising viewpoints, he has become known as "the hardcore troubadour".



Personal life

Stephen Fain Earle was born on January 17, 1955, at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia.

He is the eldest son of Jack Earle, an air traffic controller, and Barbara Earle. Although he was born in Virginia where his father was stationed in the military, the family returned to Texas before Earle's second birthday. They moved often during his childhood, primarily within Texas, but he spent several of his formative years in Schertz, Texas. He dropped out of school in the 9th grade to move to Houston and learn more about the music business. Earle released his first album, Guitar Town, in 1986. His sister, Stacey Earle, is a musician herself, having toured with Steve in the 1990s and sung on the song "When I Fall" on Steve's 2000 album Transcendental Blues.

Earle has been married seven times, including twice to the same woman. His wives were Sandra "Sandy" Henderson, Cynthia Dunn, Carol-Ann Hunter (with whom he had his first child, Justin), Lou-Anne Gill (with whom he had a second son, Ian), Maria Teresa Ensenat, Lou-Anne Gill a second time, and finally, in 2005, singer-songwriter Allison Moorer. His first son, Justin Townes Earle, is also a musician, and is named for Townes Van Zandt. Earle and Moorer are expecting their first child together in early 2010.


Musical career

In 1975, Earle moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he met and worked with Guy Clark and his wife Susanna. Clark was active in Earle being employed as a songwriter by the Sunbury Dunbar publishing division of RCA. Earle did backing vocals on "Desperados Waiting for a Train" (together with Emmylou Harris) on Clark's first album Old No. 1.

Despite his early success as a songwriter, it was not until 1981 that Earle achieved a top-ten cut with "When You Fall in Love", which was recorded by Johnny Lee.

Earle's early work as a recorded performer was in the rockabilly style, and can be heard on the Early Years album. He had to wait until 1986, though, before his first proper album, Guitar Town, was released. It was a critical success and was eventually certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America. The follow-up albums Exit 0 and the certified-gold Copperhead Road built on this success.

Earle had been a recreational drug user since an early age and was addicted to heroin for many years. By the time of his 1990 album The Hard Way, it started to become clear that the drugs were seriously affecting him. In 1993, his drug problems resulted in him effectively stopping performing and recording for two years, a period he refers to as his "vacation in the ghetto". He eventually ended up in jail on drug and firearms charges. Kicking the drug habit while in jail, Earle came out a new man and released two albums within 18 months of his release in late 1994. His comeback album, the bluegrass Train A Comin', was nominated for the Best Contemporary Folk Album Grammy Award in 1996.

Earle's post-jail musical career has been more diverse than his early work. Since setting up his own record label, he has been able to follow his own artistic direction, rather than being constrained by the Nashville country pop-rock sound. This has led to experimentation with a range of styles from country and bluegrass music to folk and hard rock music. He has maintained a strict work ethic. Several albums have been released since, as well as a book of haiku and a collection of short stories called Doghouse Roses. He also wrote and directed a play about the death penalty. Earle also tours often, playing over 200 shows per year. His concerts tend to be either solo acoustic shows or ensemble affairs with one of his two backing bands, the Dukes or the Bluegrass Dukes.

Steve Earle and Allison Moorer at Bumbershoot, 2007

Earle is the subject of a documentary film entitled Just an American Boy, directed by Amos Poe, which explores his political views as well as his music. In 2005, he caused consternation among his fans by allowing the song "The Revolution Starts Now" to be used by General Motors in a TV advertisement for pick-up trucks.[1]

Earle is also the subject of the biography, Steve Earle: Fearless Heart, Outlaw Poet, by the noted New York-based music writer David McGee.

In September 2007, Earle released his twelfth studio album, Washington Square Serenade[2], on New West Records. Earle recorded the album after relocating to New York City, and it was his first attempt at using digital audio workstation ProTools, as opposed to traditional analog recording techniques.[3] The disc features wife Allison Moorer on "Days Aren't Long Enough".

In 2008, Earle produced Joan Baez's album Day After Tomorrow.[4] In the winter, he toured Europe and North America in support of Washington Square Serenade, performing half the set solo and the other half with a DJ.[3]

On May 12, 2009, Earle released a tribute album, Townes, on New West Records. The album contains 15 songs written by his late friend and musical mentor Townes Van Zandt. Guest artists appearing on the album include Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Earle's wife Allison Moorer, and his son Justin Townes Earle.[5]

Acting career

Earle portrayed a recovered drug addict named Walon in several episodes of the HBO television series The Wire.[6] He appears first in season one where he addresses a 12-step-type meeting with an account of how he lost everything to addiction: "I pawned my bike, my pickup truck, a National Steel guitar, a stamp collection that my grandpa left me; lost a good wife, a bad girlfriend, and the respect of anyone who ever lent me money". His story affects Bubbles and appears to spur him towards recovery. After season one, Walon does not return until Bubbles hits rock-bottom hard in the season four finale. Picking up the thread, he then appears throughout season five as sponsor, as Bubbles attempts to overcome his heroin addiction and its consequences.

Earle's song "I Feel Alright" is used in a montage to close out season two. He also performs the opening theme of the fifth season, performing "Way Down in the Hole", a song written by Tom Waits.

Radio shows

Earle's radio show on Air America began in August 2004 and last aired on June 10, 2007, and that was a rebroadcast of a past episode.[7] Shortly thereafter, he started DJing on a show on Sirius Satellite Radio called Hardcore Troubadour on their Outlaw Country channel.[8]

Political views

Since early in his career, Earle has been involved in a number of political causes. In his first public performances, Earle was unable to play in bars due to his age and took to playing in coffeehouses alongside anti-Vietnam War campaigners. These experiences had a strong effect on him, prompting his opposition to the Iraq War.

Earle's mother took part in anti-death penalty vigils, a cause that has been taken up by Earle. He has worked to abolish the death penalty and has recorded several songs about this cause, including "Billy Austin", "Over Yonder (Jonathan's Song)" and "Ellis Unit One" for the 1995 film Dead Man Walking. Ellis Unit, located in Huntsville, Texas, previously housed the Texas male death row convicts, until it was moved to Polunsky Unit near Livingston, Texas. He is also a regular participant in the "Concerts for a Landmine Free World", benefiting the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. In 2010 Earle was awarded the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty's Shining Star of Abolition award.

In recent years his music has been increasingly political. His 2002 album, Jerusalem, was largely inspired by the US-led "War on Terrorism". This album featured "John Walker's Blues", which was about the captured American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh. The song provoked widespread outrage; many accused Earle of sympathizing with terrorists as the song was written from Lindh's perspective. Earle responded that he was simply empathizing with Lindh and in no way set out to glorify terrorism. The controversy raised Earle's profile in the media, but did not seem to damage his record sales.

His 2004 album, The Revolution Starts Now, which features several songs relating to the Iraq War, was deliberately released to coincide with the run-up to the 2004 US presidential election, with the aim of encouraging votes for John Kerry[9]. The song "The Revolution Starts Now" was used in the promotion of Michael Moore's anti-war documentary film Fahrenheit 9/11 and appears on the album Songs and Artists That Inspired Fahrenheit 9/11, the songs for which were selected by Moore. The song also opened Earle's weekly Sunday-night show on Air America Radio. He appears in the 2008 political documentary Slacker Uprising.

Use in media

Steve Earle's songs have appeared in many major motion pictures and television as writer and performer.

As performer and writer

As writer

As performer

  • Big Bad Love (2001) (performer: "Goodbye")


  • Steve Earle has received a total of fourteen nominations for Grammy Awards.
  • He was named Country Artist of the Year for 1986 by Rolling Stone magazine.
  • In 2004, he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award for songwriting by the UK's BBC Radio 2.
  • In February 2005, he received a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album for The Revolution Starts Now.
  • In February 2008, he received a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album (Vocal or Instrumental) for Washington Square Serenade.



St John, Lauren. Hardcore Troubadour: The Life and Near Death of Steve Earle, Fourth Estate, 2002 ISBN 1-84115-611-6

Songwriting for other artists

Before Earle was signed as an artist in his own right, he was employed as a songwriter, writing songs for the likes of Carl Perkins, Johnny Lee, Vince Gill and Steve Wariner. His song "Mustang Wine" was due to be recorded by Elvis Presley in 1975, but Presley did not turn up for the recording session. The song was released as a single by Carl Perkins.

He wrote the Patty Loveless hit "A Little Bit in Love".

Since his emergence as a performer, his songs have been covered by various well-known artists including Joan Baez, The Pretenders, The Proclaimers, Eddi Reader, The Highwaymen, Levon Helm, Emmylou Harris, Percy Sledge and Johnny Cash.[10] Travis Tritt had a #7 country hit in 1995 with Earle's "Sometimes She Forgets".



  • Schone, Mark. (1998). "Steve Earle." In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Ed. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 160–1.
  • St John, Lauren. Hardcore Troubadour: The Life and Near Death of Steve Earle, Fourth Estate, 2002 ISBN 1-84115-611-6

External links

Preceded by
Kris Kristofferson
First Amendment Center/AMA "Spirit of Americana" Free Speech Award
Succeeded by
Judy Collins

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