Steve Earle: A Look Back and Ahead


One of the many talented songwriters rushing to Nashville, Tennessee, wanting to jump start their career was Steve Earle. He was only 19 years old when he left Texas and went to Nashville to help him find his place in the music industry. He started off keeping a day job while playing gigs around the town at night. At one of these gigs, he performed for Guy Clarke who was one of his idols. Earle ended up being Clarke’s bass player a few months after they met and sang on Clarke’s album, “Old No.1.” After his time working with Guy Clarke, Steve Earle became a staff songwriter at Sunbury Dunbar publishing company. He returned to Texas after several years of living in Nashville. In Texas he started a band known as “The Dukes.”


After a while, Earle returned to Nashville to work as a songwriter for Roy Dea and Pat Carter, who were both publishers at the time. While working for them, Earle co-wrote, “When You Fall in Love” which was recorded by Johnny Lee and ended up topping the country charts. Dea and Carter started their own record label called, LSI and invited Earle to record his own music. He continued writing for other artists, be released his first EP featuring The Dukes, “Pink & Black” in 1982. His manager showed Epic Records “Pink & Black” and they signed Earle in 1983. Earle lost his publishing contract with Dea and Carter, then decided to end his relationship with his manager and Epic Records after releasing one record with them.


Ending this part of his career opened up a new opportunity which was signing on to MCA Records with a seven-record contract. He released his first full-length album, “Guitar Town” in 1986 and it produced two top ten singles. They included the title track, “Guitar Town” and “Goodbye’s All We’ve Got Left.” He also released a compilation album at the end of that year called, “Early Tracks” and an album with The Dukes called “Exit 0.”

In 1989 he releases “Copperhead Road” which is thought of as his first rock album, but Earle calls it a blend of heavy metal and bluegrass. The next year he released his album, “The Hard Way” which had a strong rock sound. Steve Earle struggled with drug use during his career, this led to MCA Records deciding not to renew Earle’s contract and he took a break from recording music.


He started writing new material and seemed to be getting better, so staff members at Warner publishing company put together a CD of his music. This CD led to artists like Travis Tritt and Stacy Dean recording some of his songs. After a much-needed break from recording, he released “Trains a Comin” on Winter Harvest Records and was nominated for Best Contemporary Folk Album at the Grammys.


Steve Earle decided to start his own record label called, E-Square Records and released album, “I Feel Alright” (1996) and the following year released, “El Corazon” (1997). He continued recording and releasing albums including 1999 “The Mountain” with the Del McCoury band and 2000 “Transcendental Blues.”


In 2002, Earle released his highly controversial album, “Jerusalem” which expresses his opinions on sensitive topics in politics. He continued his political expression with his 2004 album, “The Revolution Starts Now.” This album won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. The title track was used in promotion for Michael Moore’s documentary movie, “Fahrenheit 9/11.” He also won Best Contemporary Folk Album at the Grammys for his 2007 album, “Washington Square Serenade” and 2009 album, “Townes.”


To this day Steve Earle has released many studio albums, collection albums and live albums winning 3 Grammy Awards throughout his career. He has also written a novel called, “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” and published a collection of short stories. Today, Steve Earle is set to release his 20th studio album, “Ghosts of West Virginia” on May 22nd of this year.


Written by Allison Jones



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