He's just singing the same old song
That he always sang before
He's the last of the hardcore troubadours
Steve Earle is an Alternative Country
singer/songwriter, actor, and author. After about 10 years of hanging around his favourite musicians in Texas and Tennessee (he turns up in the 1975 documentary Heartworn Highways
), he finally got his breakthrough in 1986 with the album Guitar Town
and became something of a country rock star.It didn't end well
After weaning himself off crack and heroin in the mid-90s he returned with a beard
and a slightly more mature sound and has been writing and recording a lot ever since. He lives in New York City and is married to fellow singer/songwriter Allison Moorer.
Earle's music tends to draw on a lot of different influences, including country, rock'n'roll, folk music, punk, and even hip-hop. He is very politically active on the left-ish side, which often shows up in his lyrics
In addition to recording and touring, he's also an acclaimed author with one story collection (Doghouse Roses
) and one novel (I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive
) under his belt, and has done some acting, most notably in the TV series The Wire
Tropes associated with Steve Earle and his works:
- Alternative Country: One of the Trope Codifiers.
- Ascended Fanboy: As a teenager, he spent a lot of time trying to become Townes Van Zandt. He had to settle for becoming a friend of Townes (and naming his son after him).
"Townes van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I'll stand on Bob Dylan
's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that."
- To which Townes himself replied "I've met Dylan's body guards, and I wouldn't recommend it."
- Bowdlerize: "Guitar Town" had "37 dollars and a Jap guitar" changed to "cheap guitar" on the radio edit.
- Cast the Expert: How he got to play an ex-junkie on The Wire.
- Cluster F-Bomb: "F The CC"
- Cover Album: Townes consists entirely of Townes Van Zandt songs.
- Drugs Are Bad: "CCKMP"note seems to be this until the final verse.
Heroin's the only thing
The only gift that darkness brings
Guess you best leave me alone...
- Everything's Louder With Bagpipes: "Copperhead Road"
- For the Evulz: Deconstructed in "Billy Austin".
The kid done like I told him, he lay face down on the floor
Guess I'll never know what made me turn and walk back through that door
The shot rang out like thunder, my ears rang like a bell
I knew I should be feeling something but I never she'd tear one
- The Gunfighter Wannabe: "Devil's Right Hand"
- He's Back: The title track from I Feel Alright, his first full-band album after quitting drugs, is entirely this.
Now some of you would live through me, lock me up and throw away the key
Or just find a place to hide away, hope that I'll just go away - HAH!
I feel alright, I feel alright tonight
- Hank Williams: Hank (or rather, his ghost) is one of the main characters in I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive.
- Hillbilly Moonshiner: The grandfather in "Copperhead Road".
- It Runs in the Family: "Copperhead Road" is the story of three generations of modern outlaws - the grandfather was a Hillbilly Moonshiner, the father smuggled whiskey, and the son is a Vietnam vet growing marijuana.
- In Real Life, both Steve's sister Stacey and his son Justin Townes are acclaimed singer/songwriters in their own right.
- Kangaroo Court: "Justice in Ontario":
It was down in London, they were tried
And the guilty man stood free outside
When he took the stand to pay his debt
The judge was blind and the jury deaf
- Last Note Hilarity: "Snake Oil" ends with "I knew there was a first-taker on this album somewhere".
- Like a Badass out of Hell: "The Unrepentant"
- Narrator All Along: "Johnny-Come-Lately" seems like it's an American GI in London recounting how he met his wife during the Blitz; the final verse reveals it's his grandson remembering the story as he returns from Vietnam to no fanfare whatsoever.
- One Riot, One Ranger: "Justice in Ontario"
It was the local police who made the call.
They said "Send us Corporal Terry Hall."
- Prayer Is a Last Resort: Subverted in "Tom Ames' Prayer", about a bankrobber who finds himself "trapped in an alley in Abilene with all but four shells spent" and turns to God for the first time in his life... only to wind up bragging at length about that time he saved himself from hanging and concluding:
"Yeah, but who the hell am I talkin' to, there ain't no one here but me."
- Protest Song: Many, ranging from the Anvilicious to Tear Jerker, occasionally even in the same song. Topics include:
- The death penalty: "Billy Austin", Ellis Unit One", "Over Yonder"
- The war on terrorism: "John Walker's Blues", "Rich Man's War"
- Corporate America: "Amerika v6.0", "Christmastime In Washington", "The Revolution Starts Now"
- Immigration: "City Of Immigrants"
- Real Song Theme Tune: His Cover Version of Tom Waits' "Down In The Hole" is used for the fifth season of The Wire.
- Record Producer: He and Ray Kennedy (who had a hit in 1991 with "What a Way to Go") produce for himself and others as "Twang Trust".
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: "Copperhead Road".
- Small Town Boredom: Shows up in a few of his songs, most notably "Someday".
They ask me how far into Memphis, son, and where's the nearest beer
And they don't even know that there's a town around here.
- The Vietnam War: The narrator of "Copperhead Road" did three tours of duty in Vietnam.