Singer-songwriter, actor, political activist, author, producer . . . Steve Earle has done it all.
But the 57-year-old Virginia native is best known for being a master story-teller/ musician — and that’s the role he will inhabit when he performs on Friday, June 15, at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre. The sold-out concert is benefitting the Central Music Festival.
Earle has been known as a musician’s musician since bursting on scene in 1986 with his debut album, Guitar Town.
Waylon Jennings once said of the singer, “He didn’t write no bad songs — and if he did, he hid them.”
Not only did Earle establish the term New Country with his first album, his poetic, sometimes politically charged songs, have since been covered by Joan Baez, The Pretenders, The Proclaimers, The Highwaymen, Waylon Jennings, Levon Helm, Emmylou Harris, Percy Sledge, and Johnny Cash. Travis Tritt also had a country hit with Earle’s song, Sometimes She Forgets.
Most music fans associate Earle with his biting, hard-rock album, Copperhead Road, which brought him considerable radio attention in the late ‘80s and was certified gold in sales.
Earle called it the world’s first blend of heavy metal and bluegrass, while Rolling Stone magazine dubbed it “power twang.”
Just when the musician, who had dropped out of school at 14 to become a performer, could have been basking in his success, his life and career began to unravel.
His long-standing substance abuse got out of hand in the early 1990s. Undoubtedly it factored in his seven marriages, including two to the same woman. His current wife, since 2005, is singer/songwriter Allison Moorer.
By 1992, Earle had discontinued performing and recording. Eventually he was charged with drug possession, and tossed in jail after failing to appear for a court date.
But within the year, he kicked his heroin addiction during a rehab stint in prison. After getting sprung from the slammer, he recorded two CDs within 18 months.
Earle’s comeback album, the minimalist country/blues Train’s A Comin,’ was nominated for a Grammy Award and set the stage for a more diverse musical career to come.
He followed up with the politically charged Jerusalem (2002), and Grammy Award winning albums, The Revolution Starts . . . Now (2004), Washington Square Serenade (2007), and Townes (2009). The latter contained songs written by his late friend and musical mentor, Townes Van Zandt.
Earle’s 14th and latest album is called I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, which is described as offering “beauty, remorse and redemption in spades.” He wrote a novel with the same title, which was gleaned from a Hank Williams song.
Over the years, Earle has never been shy about expressing contentious views — sometimes to the detriment of his career.
He’s taken part in anti-death penalty vigils and contributed to the soundtrack of the 1995 movie Dead Man Walking. As an opponent of the U.S. war with Iraq, he stirred up controversy with his song John Walker’s Blues, about captured American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh.
His tune Revolution Starts . . . Now was also used in the promotion of Michael Moore’s anti-war documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.
While Earle’s work in recent years has been less overtly political, he continues to support activist causes, including the Occupy movement.
He also dabbles in acting, appearing in the HBO series The Wire, and the 2009 movie Leaves of Grass.