Steve Earle Will Honor Justin Townes Earle On New Project

Country and Americana rocker plans to record an album of son’s songs.

Written by Vernell Hackett
Steve Earle Will Honor Justin Townes Earle On New Project
NEW YORK, NEW YORK--December 17: Musician Steve Earle and The Dukes perform during the "Steve Earle & City Winery Present the 5th Annual John Henry's Friends Benefit" at Town Hall on December 17, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images).

Steve Earle plans to record an album featuring songs written by his late son, Justin Townes Earle. Nashville police officers who had been asked to do a wellness check by a friend after he could not reach Justin in several days found the singer/songwriter dead in his apartment on August 23.

Although Justin was quick to follow in his father’s footsteps in music, he was quoted as saying that it could never be said that he found his success in music by hanging on his father’s coattails. Indeed, the two didn’t play together very often, even though Justin had a short stint in his father’s band early in his career. Justin quickly pointed out that his dad also urged him to be his own person and find his own niche in music.

Justin found that niche in Americana music, where his albums were played on that radio format and his audiences thrived on his combination of blues with country and rock. In 2009 Justin was named New and Emerging Artist of the Year at the Americana Music Awards, and in 2011 his “Harlem River Blues” was named Song of the Year. Steve is also played in that format, but also had great success in country music early in his career.

Make no mistake — Justin appreciated and accepted the fact that his father’s music had a great impact on his own musical career. In an interview with The Boot, he said, “I really do appreciate (the connection). There are a lot of sons and daughters out there who want nothing to do with their parents. Get over that. You think you’d be doing what you’re doing with no influence from your mother or father?”

Unfortunately, the two also shared bouts with drug and alcohol addiction, which surfaced often in Justin’s music. Ironically, the singer/songwriter who Justin shares a name with, Townes Van Zandt, also had the same troubles throughout his life.

In a 2014 interview, when Steve was recording an album of Van Zandt songs, he said there is no way you can ask yourself to make a commitment to write at the level that Van Zandt did and make a living. “I made a lot of money (early on), I spent almost every dime of it … I still make a lot of money doing what I love, and I would still be doing it even if I had not made it the first time. I don’t have any advice to offer Justin when it comes to money – he writes his songs and records and he goes out there and makes money too.”

Since Steve has not said any more about the album, it is hard to pinpoint exactly what songs he will record. He has Justin’s debut EP and eight full-length albums to choose from. No doubt there are some new songs that Justin wrote since his last album, The Saint of Lost Causes, that he might consider among his selection as well. As with Townes, Steve will have a hard time picking songs for this album but will almost certainly seek a variety of tunes that might include “Harlem River Blues” and “Yuma,” or the folk sounds of “The Ghost of Virginia” and the rockin’ “Champagne Corolla.”

It’s likely that Steve will choose to showcase the full spectrum of his son’s writing, as he did with his album Townes which honored his friend. “Guy (Clark) and I always agreed … people don’t talk about how funny Townes was; he was hilarious. Recording the album was really personal to me, it goes back to so early with me becoming who I became,” Earle said of his album Townes. “Within months after I met Townes, I realized I knew someone who had committed (to doing) something on a highly artistic level and that always stuck with me. After listening to the album, I hope that people understand more than before of how good Townes was and that they get it was the songs and not the idea of Townes as some sort of tragic figure. Do I think he was a misunderstood genius? No, I think he shot himself in the foot almost constantly. And I think there were people with whom he got involved who didn’t do right by him.”

Steve’s wishes in recording Townes was for people to have a better understanding of his friend will certainly carry over into introducing people to the side of his son that he knew. After all, he must realize, like Justin said, that his influence ran throughout Justin’s music, even though neither of them made a big deal about it throughout his career.

Steve’s album of his son’s songs will come out around the time of Justin’s 39th birthday, January 4, 2021. He plans to record it throughout October. He has committed that 100 percent of all artist advances and royalties will go into a trust fund for Justin’s daughter, Etta St. James Earle.