Steve Earle (born Stephen Fain Earle, January 17, 1955) is an American singer-songwriter born in Fort Monroe, Virginia and raised near San Antonio, Texas, known for his rock and country music as well as his political views. He is also a published writer, a political activist, an actor, playwright and director.
In 1974 at the age of 19 Earle moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and began working blue-collar jobs during the day and playing music at night. During this period Earle wrote songs and played bass guitar in Guy Clark's band and on Clark's 1975 album “Old No. 1.” Earle appeared in the 1975 film “Heartworn Highways,” a documentary on the Nashville music scene which included Guy Clark, Townes van Zandt and Rodney Crowell. He lived in Nashville for several years and obtained a job as a staff songwriter for a publishing company called Sunbury Dunbar. Later Earle grew tired of Nashville and returned to Texas where he started a band called The Dukes. Earle released an EP, “Pink & Black,” in 1982 featuring the Dukes.
Earle's early work as a recorded performer was in the rockabilly style, and can be heard on the “Early Tracks” album. “Early Tracks” was recorded for Epic Records, but the company dropped Earle, only releasing the album in 1987 after he found success with MCA Nashville. Earle had to wait until 1986 before his first album, “Guitar Town,” was released by MCA. It was a critical success and was eventually certified gold by the RIAA.
The follow-up albums “Exit 0” in 1987 and the certified-gold “Copperhead Road” in 1988, built on this success. With “Copperhead Road,” Earle moved to MCA Los Angeles and drew increasingly on rock influences.
Earle had been a recreational drug user since an early age and was addicted to heroin for many years. By the time of his 1990 album, “The Hard Way,” it started to become clear that the drugs were seriously affecting him. By 1992, his drug problems resulted in him effectively stopping performing and recording for two years, a period he refers to as his "vacation in the ghetto."
He eventually ended up in jail on drug and firearms charges. Kicking the drug habit while in jail, Earle came out a new man and released two albums within 18 months of his release in late 1994. His comeback album, the “Train A Comin,’” was nominated for the Best Contemporary Folk Album Grammy Award in 1996. “Train A Comin'” was a return to the country blues-influenced folk of Earle's early career and drew on his older catalog of unrecorded material.
Earle was the subject of the documentary film “Just an American Boy,” directed by Amos Poe, which explored his political views as well as his music. The film was shot while Earle was touring in support of his 2002 release “Jerusalem.”
In September 2007, Earle released his studio album, “Washington Square Serenade,” on New West Records. The album featured his wife Allison Moorer on “Days Aren't Long Enough.” The album included Earle's version of Tom Waits' song “Way Down in the Hole” which is featured as the theme song for the fifth season of “The Wire” in which Earle himself appeared as the character Walon.
In May 2009, Earle released a tribute album, “Townes,” on New West Records. The album contained 15 songs written by his late friend and musical mentor Townes Van Zandt. Guest artists appearing on the album included Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Earle's wife Allison Moorer, and his son Justin Townes Earle.
Earle released his first novel and a studio album, both entitled “I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive” after a Hank Williams song, in the spring of 2011. It was produced by T-Bone Burnett. In 2013 Earle issued the album, “The Low Highway,” again on New West Records.