Veteran Country Rocker Salutes Iconic Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker on Latest Release
By: Jeff Walker, Entertainment Writer
Over the past 45 years Steve Earle has been one of the most prolific songwriters in the music industry. Aside from his own acclaimed songs Earle’s songs have been recorded by a diverse group of artists including Levon Helm, The Highwaymen, Travis Tritt, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Shawn Colvin, Bob Seger, Percy Sledge, Joan Baez, and Emmylou Harris, as well as Nashville legends Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson.
His own works include over 20 studio albums with 1986’s ‘Guitar Town’ and 1988’s ‘Copperhead Road’ along with their title tracks among his noted contributions, as well as ‘Goodbye’s All We’ve Got Left’. All three singles were Top 10 hits on various country music radio formats.
Born in Virginia Earle was reared in Texas where his musical journey began, embracing the stylings of iconic singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt (1944-97). Relocating to Nashville at age 19, Earle would soon add Guy Clark (1941-16) to his list of mentors. Over the past several years Van Zandt and Clark would become themes for tribute albums along with Earle’s son Justin and more recently country folk icon Jerry Jeff Walker (both who past in 2020 respectively).
It was Jerry Jeff’s music that Steve was introduced to early on. “I picked up the guitar around age 11 and somehow was just drawn to singer songwriters and the whole folk country outlaw sound that was emerging back then. I was never cut for mainstream pop music.” He adds, “I was pretty good on the guitar in high school and my biology teacher suggested I play ‘Mr. Bojangles’ in one of our school’s productions.” It didn’t take long before that show lead to pursuing music full time. “It lit the fire in me.”
Earle admits honoring Jerry Jeff’s legacy is more out of respect for their friendship. “Early on I wanted to be the next Jerry Jeff. Of course, I felt the same way about Townes and Guy. I never wanted to emulate or copy their styles, I just wanted to learn from them.” Regarding his relationship with Walker. “Jerry Jeff could be rough around the edges but he was always very kind to me.”
The songs Earle covered on the tribute album pay tribute to Walker’s career beginning back to his Greenwich Village days. “Everybody is familiar with ‘Mr. Bojangles’. It became his signature song. But he had so many more great songs.” Although he never charted inside the Top 40, over an illustrious 50-year career Jerry Jeff Walker released 38 albums with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band enjoying Top 10 success with ‘Mr. Bojangles’. “He was truly one of the greatest songwriters to ever have lived.”
Earle said touring in 2020 was pretty much a wash when the pandemic hit, but he did manage to play about eight weeks during the summer of 2021. “When you’re used to going out every year it was definitely different. But I rolled with it.” He says while he was financially secure, he did take out a loan to cover expenses or his band. “We’re all in this together. You have to take care of the guys who support you. So, it’s only right to pay the band.”
One particular show he did in late 2021 was one Earle’s committed to for several years. “My 12-year-old son John Henry has autism and I’ve been hosting this annual John Henry & Friends benefit to raise money for the Keswell School in New York City where he attends. They do great work there.”
Earle was delighted when ‘The Boss’ Bruce Springsteen decided to take part. “We always have big names on the line-up but to have Bruce sit in was extra special. He’s always been invited. He’s the kind of artist who likes to give back. We both have mutual respect for one another because we’re singer songwriters.”
It wasn’t the first time the two shared the same stage together. “Back in 1997 we had just performed on Conan. Of course they tape those shows at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. So we ventured down to a club in New Jersey, one that Springsteen was known to pop in to from time to time. Later that night they came up to me and said Bruce was in the crowd. We ended up playing a Carl Perkins set. That’s just what Bruce does. He supports fellow musicians.”
Although Earle’s experienced grief during the pandemic he says he’s doing fine. Not only did he work on the couple of tribute albums Earle enjoyed being a single dad to John Henry and found time to write music for his upcoming stage play ‘Tender Mercies’ an adaptation of the 1983 film about a down-and-out country singer.
Earle’s working on the project with playwright Daisy Foote. “Hopefully it’s ready to hit the stage in 2023. The subject matter is very dear to me and I hope when it makes its debut it will resonate with audiences.”
Not only is Earle an accomplished singer songwriter and working on a play, over the years he’s written several novels and short stories. Among his contributions to the literary world include ‘I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive’ (a 2011 ode to Hank Williams) and ‘Doghouse Roses: Stories’ (2012). “Basically, songwriters are storytellers.”
67 years young Earle is a modern day guitar slinging gypsy outlaw country singer. He’s faced several challenges throughout his long career and even more recently but admits he’s a survivor. “I’m doing fine. It’s great to be back out on the road. We’ve been at it now for a few weeks. Performing live is it’s own form of healing.”
Steve Earle and his band The Dukes along with special guest the Whitmore Sisters will perform live on the beach stage at The Windjammer 6pm on Tuesday June 21st. It’s been years since the songwriting icon has played the Jammer, but he vaguely recalls his first time.
“I remember it being one of those really cool clubs on the beach to play in and it was a great gig. It was the early 80’s before I had a record deal. I’m sure a lot of people didn’t know who I was and I was playing in the dead of winter. I look forward to returning there and honestly I’m just happy to be back out on the road.”
For more info on The Windjammer show or tickets visit https://the-windjammer.com/event/steve-earle/
For more on the Keswell school and the work they do visit their site at https://www.keswellschool.org/
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