Posted February 4, 2008 -
With gold albums, Grammy nominations, and success over the last few decades, guitarist and
vocalist Steve Earle could simply rest on his laurels and continue to write hit songs for
others. But Earle is a progressive, and when he sees injustice in the world, he is the
first to call it out in his music.
His latest three records, Jerusalem, Just an American Boy, and the ever-popular The
Revolution Starts...Now are all political protests directed at President Bush and the war
Stephen Fain Earle was born on 17 January 1955 in Ft. Monroe, Virginia, and by the time he
realized he wanted to become a musician, he was off to Nashville, Tennessee. In Nashville,
Steve played in various bands to support himself. Steve's first known professional
recording was with Guy Clark on Guy's 1975 album Old No. 1. Steve sang back-up vocals
(along with Rodney Crowell, Sammy Smith, and Emmylou Harris on the song Desperados Waiting
For A Train.
From 1982-1985, Steve recorded some rockabilly tracks for Epic, but Epic did a poor job
promoting him and the singles had little success. The songs from a 7" vinyl EP released in
1982, Pink & Black, later showed up in Guitar Town (1986) and as Early Tracks (1987).
The songs, in the rockabilly genre, reinforced Steve's reputation as an accomplished
songwriter. Guitar Town garnered glowing reviews and commercial success and brought
Steve his first two Grammy nominations: 1987's Best Country Male Vocalist (for the album)
and Best Country Song (Guitar Town). Steve was also named 1986's Country Artist Of The
Year in Rolling Stone Magazine's Critics Poll. The album went Gold in the US in 1999.
In 1987, the critically acclaimed Exit 0 was released. I Ain't Ever Satisfied gained some
rock air play, but that made the country radio stations skittish and the single released
to that market, Nowhere Road, wasn't given much of a chance. The album resulted in Steve's
third and fourth Grammy nominations: 1988's Best Country Male Vocalist (for the album) and
Best Country Song (Nowhere Road).
Copperhead Road followed in 1988 and represented a sharper turn towards rock. The album's
only commercial U.S. single was Copperhead Road, which was targeted exclusively to rock
radio. Other promotional-only singles (Nothing But A Child, Even When I'm Blue, and Back
To The Wall) were released in the U.S., but never marketed with any real conviction. A
better effort was made in the U.K., which released commercial singles of Copperhead Road,
Back To The Wall, and a rare 3" CD single of Johnny Come Lately.
An equally hard-sounding The Hard Way was released in 1990 and had one UK single released,
Justice in Ontario. The live recording Shut Up and Die Like an Aviator followed in 1991
and was the last album of Steve's contract with MCA. The label chose not to renew his
contract when it expired due to the escalating severity of his long-standing drug problem.
What followed was a four year creative drought and Steve virtually disappeared from the
music scene. Steve was arrested and sent to prison for possession of narcotics, which,
ironically, may have ultimately saved his life. He successfully completed a rehab program
and was paroled in late 1994.
Transcendental Blues, an album with a mix of rock, bluegrass, and Irish music was released
on E-Squared/Artemis in June 2000 and was nominated for a 2001 Grammy in the Contemporary
Folk album category (Steve's eighth Grammy nomination). Three singles were released to
radio (no commercial releases): Transcendental Blues, I Can Wait, and Everyone's In Love
With You in the US. A remixed version of The Galway Girl, recorded with Sharon Shannon,
was commercially released in the UK as a single.
2001 marked the release of Doghouse Roses, his first collection of short stories. In the
fall of 2002 the Broadaxe Theatre (the not-for-profit theatre company he co-founded in
Nashville), debuted his first play entitled Karla, about Karla Faye Tucker, the first
woman executed in Texas since the Civil War. Earle recently appeared in the award-winning
Off-Broadway play, The Exonerated.
He resided in Nashville for over 25 years, and recently relocated his home-base to The
Village in New York City. In 2005 he won his first Grammy Award (Best Contemporary Folk
Album) for The Revolution Starts...Now, which was his 9th Grammy nomination. 2
Earle is also known for his work with several organizations to educate about and abolish
the death penalty, such as The Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing; Citizens United
for Alternatives to the Death Penalty; the Abolitionist Action Committee; the Tennessee
Coalition to Abolish State Killing and Amnesty International. In addition to his work in
opposition of the death penalty, he is active with the Vietnam Veterans' Campaign for a
Landmine Free World and the Kensington Welfare Rights Union.
Back to the "Take Note" Main Page