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In the strictest sense, Steve Earle isn't a country artist; he's a roots rocker. Earle emerged in the mid-'80s, after Bruce Springsteen had popularized populist rock & roll and Dwight Yoakam had kick-started the neo-traditionalist movement in country music. At first, Earle appeared to be more indebted to the rock side than country, as he played a stripped-down, neo-rockabilly style that occasionally verged on outlaw country. However, his unwillingness to conform to the rules of Nashville or rock & roll meant that he never broke through into either genre's mainstream. Instead, he cultivated a dedicated cult following, drawing from both the country and rock audiences. Toward the early '90s, his career was thrown off track by personal problems and substance abuse, but he re-emerged stronger and healthier several years later, producing two of his most critically acclaimed albums ever.
Born in Fort Monroe, Virginia, but raised near San Antonio, Texas, Earle received his first guitar at the age of 11 and, by the time he was 13, had become proficient enough to win a school-sponsored talent contest. Despite his talent for music, he proved to be a wild child, often getting in trouble with local authorities. Furthermore, his rebellious, long-haired appearance and anti-Vietnam War stance was scorned by local country fans. After completing the eighth grade, Earle dropped out of school and, at the age of 16, left home with his uncle Nick Fain to begin traveling across the state. Eventually, he settled in Houston at the age of 18, where he married his first wife, Sandie, and began working odd jobs. While in Houston, he met singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt, who would become Earle's foremost role model and inspiration. A year later, Earle moved to Nashville.
Earle worked blue-collar jobs during the day in Nashville; at night, he wrote songs and played bass in Guy Clark's backing band, appearing on a cut on Clark's 1975 album Old No. 1. Steve stayed in Nashville for several years, making connections within the industry and eventually landing a job as a staff writer for the publisher Sunbury Dunbar. He eventually grew tired of the city, however, and returned to Texas, where he assembled a backing band called the Dukes and began playing local clubs. A year later, he returned to Nashville, where he married his second wife, Cynthia. The marriage was short-lived and he quickly married Carol, who gave birth to Earle's first child, a son named Justin Townes Earle. Carol helped straighten Earle out, at least temporarily; for a while, he cut back on substances and concentrated on music.
Publishers Roy Dea and Pat Clark signed Earle as a songwriter in the early '80s. Dea and Clark brought "When You Fall in Love" to Johnny Lee, who took the song to number 14 on the country charts in 1982. Additionally, Carl Perkins cut a version of Steve Earle's own "Mustang Wine," and Zella Lehr recorded two of his songs as well. With his reputation as a songwriter growing, Earle expressed a desire to become a recording artist in his own right. Dea and Clark had recently formed an independent record label called LSI, and the pair signed Earle to their roster.
Earle's first release was an EP, Pink & Black, issued in 1982. The record featured a formative version of the Dukes and found a warm reception among critics, one of whom -- John Lomax -- sent the EP to Epic Records. Impressed with the songs, Epic signed Earle in 1983; meanwhile, Lomax became his manager. After releasing the Pink & Black track "Nothin' But You" as a single, however, Epic sat on the song and refused to promote the record. They concentrated on their new signing instead, and relations between Earle and his label began to sour. Earle then entered the studio and cut an album of neo-rockabilly songs that the label was reluctant to send to radio. They refused to release the record, suggesting instead that Earle reenter the studio with a new, more commercially oriented producer, Emory Gordy, Jr. The pair cut four more songs that were released as two singles, but the records failed.
With his recording career quickly going nowhere, Earle lost his publishing contract with Dea and Carter. He moved over to Silverline Goldline, where he met Tony Brown, a producer at MCA Records. When Epic dropped Earle from their roster in 1984, Brown persuaded MCA to sign Earle instead, and the songwriter further severed connections to his Epic days by firing Lomax as his manager. He issued his debut album, Guitar Town, in 1986. Although Earle was grouped into the new traditionalist movement begun by Dwight Yoakam and Randy Travis, he also gained the attention of rock critics and fans who saw similarities between Earle's populist sentiments and the heartland rock of Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp. Guitar Town became a hit, with its title track becoming a Top Ten single in the summer of 1986 and "Goodbye's All We've Got Left" reaching the Top Ten in early 1987. Following the album's success, Epic quickly assembled a compilation of previously unreleased Earle tracks; the collection was titled Early Tracks and released in early 1987. Later that year, the songwriter released his second album, Exit 0, which bore a shared credit for his backing band the Dukes. Exit 0 signaled a more rock-oriented direction and, like its predecessor, received critical acclaim, even if it didn't sell as well as Earle's debut.
Though his career was taking off, Earle's personal life was becoming a wreck. He had divorced his third wife, married a fourth named Lou, whom he quickly divorced, and then married an MCA employee named Teresa Ensenat. He was also delving deeper and deeper into drug and alcohol abuse. With his third album, 1988's Copperhead Road, Earle's rock & roll flirtations came to the forefront and country radio responded in kind, as none of the album's songs charted or received much airplay. However, rock radio embraced him, sending the album's title track into the album rock Top Ten, which helped make the album his highest charting effort to date. Not only had Copperhead Road been accepted by AOR, but it established him as a star in Europe, as it included a duet with Irish punk-folk group the Pogues that signaled his affection for the area. In the late '80s, Earle frequently toured England and Europe and even produced the alternative rock band the Bible.
Earle's acceptance by the rock community didn't please the country establishment in Nashville. Although it briefly seemed as if Earle wouldn't need Nashville's help anyway, his newfound success quickly began to collapse. Uni, a division of MCA Records, had released Copperhead Road; just before the album went gold, the tiny Uni went bankrupt, taking Copperhead Road along with it. Meanwhile, Earle's addictions and fondness for breaking rules began spinning out of control. On New Years' Eve, he was arrested in Dallas for assaulting a security guard at his own concert. He was charged with aggravated assault, fined 500 dollars, and given a year's unsupervised probation. Sandie, his first wife, sued for more alimony, and he was served with a paternity suit by a woman in Tennessee. The title of his 1990 album, The Hard Way, reflected such problems, as did the record's tough, dark sound. Though the release was critically acclaimed and spawned a minor AOR hit with "The Other Kind," it received no support from the country market and quickly fell off the charts.
The commercial failure of The Hard Way was just the beginning of a round of serious setbacks for Earle. Later in 1990, he recorded an album of material that MCA refused to release. Instead, the label decided to issue the live album Shut Up and Die Like an Aviator in 1991. They terminated Earle's record contract shortly thereafter, and Earle delved deep into cocaine and heroin addiction in the following years. He had several run-ins with the law, including a 1994 arrest in Nashville for possession of heroin. Although sentenced to a year in jail, Earle served time in rehab instead, and the treatment worked.
Earle was released from the rehab center in late 1994 and began working again. In 1995, he signed to Winter Harvest and released the acoustic Train a Comin', his first studio album in five years. Train a Comin' received terrific reviews and strong sales, despite Earle's claim that the label botched the album's song sequence. The attention led to a new record contract with Warner Bros., who released I Feel Alright in early 1996 and El Corazon in 1997; both garnered strong reviews and respectable sales. Earle had returned from the brink and reestablished himself as a vital artist. In the process, he won back the country audience he had abandoned in the late '80s. The Mountain, a bluegrass record cut with the Del McCoury Band, followed in 1999, and a year later Earle returned with Transcendental Blues, produced by T-Bone Burnett.
While Earle had long displayed a strong political streak (particularly in his opposition to the death penalty), his leftist views took center stage on his 2002 album, Jerusalem. Written and recorded in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Jerusalem dealt openly with Earle's divided feelings about America's "war on terror" and the West's ignorance of the Islamic faith, and included a song about John Walker Lindh, a young American who was discovered to be fighting with Taliban forces, called "John Walker's Blues." Earle's refusal to condemn Lindh in his lyrics quickly made the song (and the album) a political hot potato, but Earle embraced the controversy and became a frequent guest on news and editorial broadcasts, defending his work and clarifying his views on terrorism, patriotism, and the role of popular artists in a time of crisis. Earle's tour in support of Jerusalem was documented in the 2003 concert film and live album Just an American Boy, and in the summer of 2004, as the American occupation of Iraq dragged on and an upcoming presidential election loomed in the minds of many, Earle released The Revolution Starts...Now, an album of songs informed by the war in Iraq and the abuses of the George W. Bush administration.
Live at Montreux, recorded at a 2005 show, was released in 2006, followed by Washington Square Serenade (his first release for New West Records) in 2007. He also wrote two songs -- "God Is God" and "I Am a Wanderer" -- for Joan Baez's 2008 album, The Day After Tomorrow, and produced it. Earle remained with New West for his follow-up release, an album of Townes Van Zandt covers entitled Townes, which was issued in 2009 and won a Grammy for Best Folk Recording. Earle spent most of the year's remainder and all of 2010 writing and recording new songs while playing the role of the musician Harley in HBO's acclaimed television series Treme. A song he wrote for the series, "This City," was nominated for both Grammy and Emmy awards. In early 2011, Earle emerged with his first new recording of original material since 2007 with I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive, which found the songwriter re-teaming with producer T-Bone Burnett and New West. In the spring of 2013, Earle re-teamed with longtime collaborator and co-producer Ray Kennedy and his road band called the Dukes (And Duchesses) to release The Low Highway. He also inked a two-book publishing deal with the Twelve, Rovi
Steve Earle (pron.: /ˈɜr/; born Stephen Fain Earle on January 17, 1955) is an American singer-songwriter, record producer, author and actor. Earle grew up near San Antonio, Texas, and began learning the guitar at age 11. Earle began his career as a songwriter in Nashville and released his first EP in 1982. His breakthrough album was the 1986 Guitar Town. Since then Earle has released 13 other studio albums and received three Grammy awards. His songs have been recorded by Travis Tritt, Vince Gill, Shawn Colvin and Emmylou Harris. He has appeared in film and television, and has written a novel, a play, and a book of short stories.
Early life 
Earle was born in Fort Monroe, Virginia USA and grew up near San Antonio, Texas. His father, Jack Earle, was an air traffic controller. Although he was born in Virginia where his father was stationed, the family returned to Texas before Earle's second birthday. They moved several times but Earle grew up primarily in the San Antonio area.
Earle began learning the guitar at the age of 11 and placed in a talent contest at his school at age 13. He is reported to have run away from home at age 14 to follow his idol, singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt around Texas. Earle was "rebellious" as a youngster and dropped out of school at the age of 16. He moved to Houston with his 19-year-old uncle, who was also a musician, where he married and worked odd jobs. While in Houston Earle finally met Van Zandt, who became his hero and role model.
1974 to 1999 
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. Earle 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.
In the 1980s Earle returned to Nashville once again and worked as a songwriter for the publishers Roy Dea and Pat Clark. 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. Carl Perkins recorded Earle's song "Mustang Wine", and two of his songs were recorded by Zella Lehr. Later Dea and Clark created an independent record label called LSI and invited Earle to began recording his own material on their label.
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. In 1983 Earle signed a record deal with CBS and recorded a "neo-rockabilly album".
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. 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. Earle released Copperhead Road on Uni Records in 1989 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". The album's title track portrays a Vietnam veteran who turns into a drug dealer. Then Earle began "three years in a mysterious vaporization" according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
His 1990 album The Hard Way had a strong rock sound and was followed by "a shoddy live album" called Shut Up and Die Like An Aviator. In August 1991 Earle appeared on the TV show The Texas Connection "looking pale and blown out". 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. By July 1993 Earle was reported to have regained his normal weight and had started to write new material. At that time a writer for the Chicago Sun-Times called Earle "a visionary symbol of the New Traditionalist movement in country music."
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. 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. 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. Earle released the album El Corazon (The Heart) in 1997 which one reviewer called "the capstone of this [Earle's] remarkable comeback".
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. Earle 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.
2000 to present 
Earle presented excerpts of his poetry and fiction writing at the 2000 New Yorker Festival. His collection of short stories called Doghouse Roses was published in June 2011 and his novel, I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive was published in the spring of 2011. 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.
In the early 2000s Earle's album, Jerusalem expressed his anti-war, anti-death penalty and his other "leftist views". The album's song John Walker's Blues, about the captured American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh created controversy. Earle responded by appearing on a variety of news and editorial programs and defended the song and his views on patriotism and terrorism. Earle's subsequent tour, featured the Jerusalem album and was released as the live album Just an American Boy in 2003. 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. The title song was used by General Motors in a TV advertisement. The album was released during the U.S. presidential campaign to encourage Earle's fans to vote for John Kerry. The song "The Revolution Starts Now" 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. That year, Earle was the subject of a documentary DVD called Just An American Boy.
In 2006, Earle contributed a cover of Randy Newman's song "Rednecks" to the tribute album Sail Away: The Songs of Randy Newman. Earle hosted a radio show on Air America from August 2004 until June 2007. Later he began hosting a show called Hardcore Troubadour on the Outlaw Country channel. 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.
In September 2007, Earle released his twelfth studio album, Washington Square Serenade, on New West Records. Earle recorded the album after relocating to New York City, and was his first use of digital audio recording. 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. (Prior to their collaboration on Day After Tomorrow, Baez had covered two Earle songs, "Christmas in Washington" and "Jerusalem," on previous albums.) In the winter, he toured Europe and North America in support of Washington Square Serenade, performing both solo and with a disc jockey. 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. The album earned Earle a 3rd Grammy award, again for best contemporary folk album.
In 2010 Earle was awarded the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty's Shining Star of Abolition award. Earle has recorded two other anti-death penalty songs: "Billy Austin," and "Ellis Unit One" for the 1995 film Dead Man Walking.
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. 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. 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.
Earle's songs have been recorded by Joan Baez, The Pretenders, The Proclaimers, Eddi Reader, The Highwaymen, Waylon Jennings, Levon Helm, Emmylou Harris, Percy Sledge and Johnny Cash. Travis Tritt had a No. 7 country hit in 1995 with Earle's "Sometimes She Forgets."
Earle has had a mix of appearances in television and movies ranging from cameos to full roles. His music is often used in the sound tracks for these works. Earle portrayed Walon, a recovering drug addict and counselor in several episodes of the HBO television series The Wire. Earle's song "I Feel Alright" was played at the closing of season two. Earle's version of the Tom Waits song, "Way Down in the Hole" was also used as season 5's opening theme. Earle played a drug dealer in Tim Blake Nelson's 2009 movie Leaves of Grass and a musician in the HBO series Treme. Earle's song "This City" can be heard over the closing credits of the first season finale. He was also one of several musicians who sang a mock charity appeal in the final episode of Season 3 of 30 Rock. Earle appeared in the 2008 political documentary Slacker Uprising.
Personal life 
Earle has been married seven times, including twice to the same woman. He married Sandra "Sandy" Henderson in Houston at the age of 18, but left her to move to Nashville a year later 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. Next, he married Lou-Anne Gill (with whom he had a second son) and then his fifth wife, Teresa Ensenat, who was an artist for Geffen Records at the time. Earle then married Lou-Anne Gill a second time, and finally, in 2005, married singer-songwriter Allison Moorer with whom he had a child in April 2010.
In 1993 Earle was arrested for possession of heroin and in 1994, for cocaine and "weapons possession". A judge sentenced him to a year in jail after he admitted possession and failed to appear in court. Earle was released from jail after serving 60 days of his sentence. Earle then completed an outpatient drug treatment program at the Cedarwood Center in Hendersonville, Tennessee. As a recovering heroin addict, Earle has used his experience in his songwriting.
Earle's sister, Stacey Earle, is also a musician and songwriter.
Earle has spoken out about politics and is an opponent of capital punishment which he considers his primary area of political activism. He has been a regular participant in the "Concerts for a Landmine Free World," benefiting the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation.
Songs in film and TV 
Steve Earle's songs have appeared in many major motion pictures and television as writer and performer.