Stephen Fain Earle (/ɜːrl/) (born January 17, 1955) is an American rock, country and folk singer-songwriter, record producer, author and actor. Earle began his career as a songwriter in Nashville and released his first EP in 1982.

His breakthrough album was the 1986 album Guitar Town. Since then Earle has released 15 studio albums and received three Grammy awards. His songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Levon Helm, The Highwaymen, Travis Tritt, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Shawn Colvin, Bob Seger, Percy Sledge and Emmylou Harris.[3] He has appeared in film and television, and has written a novel, a play, and a book of short stories.

Earle is the father of late singer-songwriter and frequent collaborator Justin Townes Earle.

Early life

Earle was born in Fort Monroe, Virginia, where his father was stationed as an air traffic controller.[4] The family returned to Texas before Earle's second birthday, and he grew up primarily in the San Antonio area.[5][6][7][1]

Earle began learning the guitar at the age of 11 and entered a school talent contest at age 13.[5] He ran away from home at age 14 to search for his idol, singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt.[8] Earle was "rebellious" as a young man and dropped out of school at the age of 16. He moved to Houston with his 19-year-old uncle, also a musician. While in Houston, Earle finally met Van Zandt.[5][1]


1974 to 1999

Earle performing in 2007 at the Midlands Music Festival in Westmeath, Ireland

In 1974, at the age of 19,[4] Earle moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and began working blue-collar jobs during the day and playing music at night.[5] During this period Earle wrote songs and played bass guitar in Guy Clark's band and sang on Clark's 1975 album Old No. 1.[1] Earle appeared in the 1975 film Heartworn Highways, a documentary on the Nashville music scene which included David Allan Coe, Guy Clark, Townes van Zandt and Rodney Crowell. Earle lived in Nashville for several years and assumed the position of staff songwriter at the publishing company Sunbury Dunbar.[5][1] Later Earle grew tired of Nashville and returned to Texas where he started a band called The Dukes.[1]

In the 1980s, Earle returned to Nashville once again and worked as a songwriter for the publishers Roy Dea and Pat Carter. A song he co-wrote, "When You Fall in Love", was recorded by Johnny Lee and made number 14 on the country charts in 1982.[5] Carl Perkins recorded Earle's song "Mustang Wine", and two of his songs were recorded by Zella Lehr. Later Dea and Carter created an independent record label called LSI and invited Earle to begin recording his own material on their label.[1] Connie Smith recorded Earle's composition "A Far Cry from You" in 1985 which reached a minor position on the country charts as well.[9]

Earle released an EP called, Pink & Black, in 1982 featuring the Dukes. Acting as Earle's manager, John Lomax "sent the EP to Epic Records," and they "signed Earle" to a recording contract in 1983.[1] In 1983, Earle signed a record deal with CBS and recorded a "neo-rockabilly album".[8]

After losing his publishing contract with Dea and Carter, Earle met producer Tony Brown and after severing his ties with Lomax and Epic Records obtained a seven-record deal with MCA Records.[1][8] Earle released his first full-length album, Guitar Town, on MCA Records in 1986. The title track became a Top Ten single in 1986 and his song "Goodbye's All We've Got Left" reached the Top Ten in 1987. That same year he released a compilation of earlier recordings entitled, Early Tracks, and an album with the Dukes, called Exit 0, which "received critical acclaim" for its blend of country and rock.[1]

Earle released Copperhead Road on Uni Records in 1988 which was characterized as "a quixotic project that mixed a lyrical folk tradition with hard rock and eclectic Irish influences such as The Pogues, who guested on the record".[8] The album's title track portrays a Vietnam veteran who uses his family background in running moonshine to become a marijuana grower/seller.[10] It was Earle's highest-peaking song to date in the United States and has sold 1.1 million digital copies there as of September 2017. Then Earle began "three years in a mysterious vaporization" according to the Chicago Sun-Times.[8]

His 1990 album The Hard Way[8] had a strong rock sound and was followed by "a shoddy live album" called Shut Up and Die Like an Aviator.[5][8] In August 1991, Earle appeared on the TV show The Texas Connection "looking pale and blown out".[8] In light of Earle's "increasing drug use", MCA Records did not renew his contract and Earle didn't record any music for the next four years.[5] By July 1993 Earle was reported to have regained his normal weight and had started to write new material.[8] At that time a writer for the Chicago Sun-Times called Earle "a visionary symbol of the New Traditionalist movement in country music."[8]

In 1994, two staff members at Warner/Chappell publishing company, and Earle's former manager, John Dotson, created an in-house CD of Earle's songs entitled Uncut Gems and showcased it to some recording artists in Nashville. This resulted in several of Earle's songs being recorded by Travis Tritt, Stacy Dean Campbell and Robert Earl Keen.[5] After his recording hiatus, Earle released Train a Comin' on Winter Harvest Records and it was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album in 1996. The album was characterized as a return to the "folksy acoustic" sound of his early career.[5]

In 1996, Earle formed his own record label, E-Squared Records, and released the album, I Feel Alright, which combined the musical sounds of country, rock and rockabilly.[5] Earle released the album El Corazon (The Heart) in 1997 which one reviewer called "the capstone of this [Earle's] remarkable comeback".[11]

According to Earle, he wrote the song "Over Yonder" about a death row inmate with whom he exchanged letters before attending his execution in 1998.[12] He made a foray into bluegrass influenced music in 1999 when he released the album The Mountain with the Del McCoury Band. In 2000, Earle recorded his album Transcendental Blues,[5] which features the song Galway Girl.

2000 to present

Earle presented excerpts of his poetry and fiction writing at the 2000 New Yorker Festival.[5] His novel, I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive, was published in the spring of 2011 and a collection of short stories called Doghouse Roses followed that June.[13] Earle wrote and produced an off-Broadway play about the death of Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman executed since the death penalty was reinstated in Texas.[14]

Earle performing in front of the United States Supreme Court on July 1, 2003

In the early 2000s, Earle's album Jerusalem expressed his anti-war, anti-death penalty and his other "leftist views".[1][15] The album's song "", about the captured American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh created controversy.[5][16] Earle responded by appearing on a variety of news and editorial programs and defended the song and his views on patriotism and terrorism.[5] His subsequent tour featured the Jerusalem album and was released as the live album Just an American Boy in 2003.[1]

In 2004, Earle released the album The Revolution Starts Now, a collection of songs influenced by the Iraq War and the policies of the George W. Bush administration and won a Grammy for best contemporary folk album.[1][15] The title song was used by General Motors in a TV advertisement.[17] The album was released during the U.S. presidential campaign.[citation needed]

The song "" was used in the promotional materials for Michael Moore's anti-war documentary film Fahrenheit 9/11 and appears on the album Songs and Artists That Inspired Fahrenheit 9/11.[citation needed] That year, Earle was the subject of a documentary DVD called Just an American Boy.[18]

In 2006, Earle contributed a cover of Randy Newman's song "Rednecks" to the tribute album Sail Away: The Songs of Randy Newman.[19] Earle hosted a radio show on Air America from August 2004 until June 2007.[20] Later he began hosting a show called Hardcore Troubadour on the Outlaw Country channel.[21] Earle is also the subject of two biographies, Steve Earle: Fearless Heart, Outlaw Poet, by David McGee and Hardcore Troubadour: The Life and Near Death of Steve Earle by Lauren St John.[citation needed]

Steve Earle onstage with Allison Moorer at the Bumbershoot event in 2007

In September 2007, Earle released his twelfth studio album, Washington Square Serenade,[22] on New West Records. Earle recorded the album after relocating to New York City, and was his first use of digital audio recording.[23] The disc features Earle's wife, Allison Moorer, on "Days Aren't Long Enough" and "Down Here Below." The album includes Earle's version of Tom Waits' song "Way Down in the Hole" which was the theme song for the fifth season of The Wire in which Earle appeared as the character Walon. In 2008, Earle produced Joan Baez's album Day After Tomorrow.[24] (Prior to their collaboration on Day After Tomorrow, Baez had covered two Earle songs, "Christmas in Washington" and "Jerusalem," on previous albums; "Jerusalem" had also become a staple of Baez' concerts.) In the winter, he toured Europe and North America in support of Washington Square Serenade, performing both solo and with a disc jockey.[23]

On May 12, 2009, Earle released a tribute album, Townes, on New West Records. The album contained 15 songs written by Townes Van Zandt. Guest artists appearing on the album included Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Moorer, and his son Justin.[citation needed] The album earned Earle a third Grammy award, again for best contemporary folk album.[15]

In 2010, Earle was awarded the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty's Shining Star of Abolition award.[25] Earle has recorded two other anti-death penalty songs: "Billy Austin", and "Ellis Unit One" for the 1995 film Dead Man Walking.[citation needed]

In 2010–2011, Earle appeared in seasons 1 and 2 of the HBO show Treme as Harley Wyatt, a talented street musician who mentors another character.

Earle released his first novel and fourteenth studio album, both entitled I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive after a Hank Williams song, in the spring of 2011.[15] The album was released on April 26, 2011 and was produced by T Bone Burnett and deals with questions of mortality with a "more country" sound than his earlier work.[26] During the second half of his 2011 tour with The Dukes and Duchesses and Moorer, the drum kit was adorned with the slogan "we are the 99%" a reference to the Occupy movement of September 2011.[citation needed]

On February 17, 2015, Earle released his sixteenth studio album, Terraplane.[27][28]

On September 10, 2015, Earle & the Dukes released a new internet single titled "'Mississippi, It's Time". The song's lyrics are directed towards the state of Mississippi and their refusal to abandon the Confederate Flag and remove it from their state flag. The song was released for sale the following day with all proceeds going towards the Civil Rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center.[29]

On June 10, 2016, Earle released an album of duets with Shawn Colvin, titled simply Colvin And Earle, which was accompanied by a tour in London and the U.S.[30][31]

On June 16, 2017, Earle & the Dukes released his seventeenth studio album, So You Wannabe An Outlaw. GUY, Earle's tribute album to his songwriting hero Guy Clark was released on March 29, 2019.[32]

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Steve Earle among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.[33] Earle was one of five artists who filed a class action lawsuit against Universal on June 21, in response to an earlier Times report on the fire.[34]

Personal life

Earle has been married seven times, including twice to the same woman.[35] He married Sandra "Sandy" Henderson in Houston at the age of 18, but left her to move to Nashville a year later[1] where he met and married his second wife, Cynthia Dunn. Earle married his third wife, Carol-Ann Hunter, who gave birth to his son, singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle (1982–2020).[1][36]

Next, he married Lou-Anne Gill (with whom he had a second son, Ian Dublin Earle, in January of 1987) and then his fifth wife, Teresa Ensenat, who was an A&R executive for Geffen Records at the time.[8] Earle then married Lou-Anne Gill a second time, and finally, in 2005, married singer-songwriter Allison Moorer with whom he had a son, John Henry Earle, in April 2010.[37] John Henry was diagnosed with autism before age two. In March 2014, Earle announced that he and Moorer had separated.[38]

In 1993, Earle was arrested for possession of heroin and in 1994, for cocaine and weapons possession.[5][39][40]

A judge sentenced him to a year in jail after he admitted possession and failed to appear in court.[41] Earle was released from jail after serving 60 days of his sentence.[40][42] Earle then completed an outpatient drug treatment program at the Cedarwood Center in Hendersonville, Tennessee.[42] As a recovering heroin addict, Earle has used his experience in his songwriting.[43]

Earle's sister, Stacey Earle is also a musician and songwriter.

Earle is outspoken with his political views, and often addresses them in his lyrics and in interviews. Politically he identifies as a socialist, but tends to vote for Democratic candidates, despite not agreeing entirely with their politics.[44][45]

During the 2016 election, he expressed support for Bernie Sanders, whom he considered to have pushed Hillary Clinton to the left on important issues.[46]

Earle is a vocal opponent of capital punishment,[5] which he considers his primary area of political activism. Several of his songs have provided descriptions of the experiences of death row inmates, including Billy Austin and Over Yonder (Jonathan's Song).[10] Conversely, he has also written a song from the perspective of a prison guard working on death row in Ellis Unit One, a song written for the film Dead Man Walking, the title based on the name of the State of Texas men's death row.[47] He is pro-choice, and has argued that rich Americans have always had access to abortions, and that the political issue in the US is really whether poor women should have access. His novel I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive describes the life of a morphine-addicted doctor in San Antonio before Roe v. Wade who treats gunshot wounds and provides illegal abortions to poor women.[48] Since his youngest son was diagnosed with autism, Earle has also become an advocate for people on the spectrum.



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. Steve Earle Bio, AllMusic; retrieved July 27, 2012.
  2. ^ St John, Lauren. Hardcore Troubadour: The Life and Near Death of Steve Earle, Fourth Estate, 2002
  3. ^ Corn, David, "Death-House Troubadour: Steve Earle Rocks 'N' Rants against Capital Punishment", The Nation, Vol. 265, No. 6
  4. ^ a b Adams, Noah (June 29, 1999) Review: Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band collaborate on "The Mountain", NPR's All Things Considered
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Steve Earle Bio MTV, retrieved July 28, 2012
  6. ^ Interview with Steve Earle, July 8, 92.1 KNBT's Friday Afternoon Club, Live from Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, Texas
  7. ^ Steve Earle Interview Part II (transcript) MEG. January 31, 2012. Retrieved August 24, 2012.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Hoekstra, Dave (July 11, 1993) "Steve Earle On the Road To Comeback", Chicago Sun-Times
  9. ^ Horowitz, Steve. "Connie Smith: Long Line of Heartaches". Pop Matters. Retrieved September 27, 2015.
  10. ^ a b Inskeep, Steve (December 7, 2003) Interview: Steve Earle discusses the political nature of his songwriting, NPR Weekend Edition
  11. ^ Warren, Doug (November 20, 2007) "Steve Earle: El Corozon E-Squared/Warner Bros". The Boston Globe.
  12. ^ Earle, Steve (Sept 2000), "A Death in Texas", Tikkun, republished in Utne Reader, Jan–Feb 2001; retrieved September 5, 2012
  13. ^ Myth, reality and Steve Earle, Los Angeles Times; retrieved August 24, 2012.
  14. ^ Evans, Everett (October 30, 2005). "Steve Earle brings Karla Faye Tucker's life to the stage". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved March 30, 2013.
  15. ^ a b c d Steve Earle profile. 2012. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  16. ^ McGee, David. Steve Earle, Fearless Heart, Outlaw Poet. Backbeat: San Francisco, 2005, pg. 207.
  17. ^ "GM Commercial". Archived from the original on May 30, 2008. Retrieved May 26, 2008.
  18. ^ Begrand, Adrien (March 8, 2004) "Steve Earle: Just An American Boy", PopMatters, retrieved August 31, 2012
  19. ^ Song of the Day: Steve Earle, “Rednecks” (Randy Newman cover) » Cover Me. Retrieved on May 10, 2012.
  20. ^, retrieved October 3, 2008
  21. ^ "Country Music Renegade Steve Earle to Launch a Weekly Show Exclusively on Sirius Satellite Radio" (Press release). Air America Radio. June 4, 2008. Archived from the original on February 8, 2009. Retrieved October 3, 2008.
  22. ^ Cole, Katherine (December 15, 2007). "Steve Earle Gives Nod to New Hometown in 'Washington Square Serenade'". VOA News. Voice of America. Archived from the original on January 16, 2009. Retrieved January 2, 2009.
  23. ^ a b Schneider, Jason (2007). "Steve Earle – Washington Square Serenade". Exclaim!. Retrieved November 12, 2007.
  24. ^ Kintner, Thomas (September 9, 2008). "New on Disc: Jessica Simpson, Joan Baez". Hartford Courant. Retrieved September 15, 2008.[permanent dead link]
  25. ^ Steve Earle Lays It Down, retrieved January 27, 2010
  26. ^ Graff, Gary (January 24, 2011) Steve Earle Explores Immortality On New Album Billboard, retrieved August 24, 2012
  27. ^ "Steve Earle to Release New Album in 2015". The Boot.
  28. ^ Waddell, Ray Steve Earle Explains Rock History, New Album 'Terraplane' and Heading Towards Broadway,, September 17, 2015.
  29. ^ "Hear Steve Earle Denounce Confederate Flag in 'Mississippi, It's Time'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
  30. ^ Green, Michelle (June 23, 2016). "Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle: Two Old Pals on the Road Together". New York Times. Retrieved November 8, 2016.
  31. ^ Guarino, Mark (June 16, 2016). "Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin: nine divorces, two addictions, one perfect mix". The Guardian. London, UK. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
  32. ^ "Steve Earle's New Album Pays Tribute To Guy Clark: 'The Greatest Story Songwriter That Ever Lived'". Retrieved October 13, 2019.
  33. ^ Rosen, Jody (June 25, 2019). "Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  34. ^ Sisario, Ben (June 21, 2019). "Artists Sue Universal Music Group Over Losses in 2008 Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  35. ^ St John, Lauren. Hardcore Troubadour: The Life and Near Death of Steve Earle, Fourth Estate, 2002.
  36. ^ "Singer Justin Townes Earle, Son of Musician Steve Earle, Dead at 38". August 23, 2020.
  37. ^ The Boot, April 7, 2010.
  38. ^ "Steve Earle On Staying Clean Through Personal Hardship ♫ Latest news at". Retrieved April 17, 2014.
  39. ^ DeCurtis, Anthony (May 7, 2012) Freeing A Mentor From His Mythology New York Times, retrieved August 3, 2012
  40. ^ a b Bledsoe, Wayne (January 14, 1996) STEVE EARLE KEEPS ON MAKING MUSIC ON HIS OWN TERMS, Albany Times Union (Albany, NY); accessed August 11, 2017.
  41. ^ EARLE TREATMENT, The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY). September 9, 1994.
  42. ^ a b EARLE MOVED TO DRUG CENTER, The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY). November 3, 1994.
  43. ^ Thomas, Stephen (September 11, 2001). "Yahoo Biography". Yahoo! Music. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  44. ^ "Goodbye Guitar Town: An Interview with Steve Earle". PopMatters. Retrieved December 27, 2015.
  45. ^ Ian Bruce (August 7, 2002). "US country singer Steve Earle subjected to witch-hunt". Retrieved December 27, 2015.
  46. ^ Eric Alterman (March 19, 2015). "Interview With Steve Earle". The Nation. Retrieved December 27, 2015.
  47. ^ "Dead Man Walking" Ambles Away With Year's Top Singles Los Angeles Times. December 28, 1996.
  48. ^ "Politics as usual with Steve Earle". Creative Loafing Charlotte. Retrieved December 27, 2015.

Further reading

  • 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