Steve Earle Turns 66: Reliving Legend’s Journey Through Country Music

by Jon D. B.
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Celebrate the life of country & folk legend Steve Earle with us as we touch on 66 years worth of remarkable, wild-card living.

Happy Birthday, Steve Earle! This pioneer of the American musical arts was born 66 years ago today (Jan. 17, 1955). While many country, folk, and Americana fans are deeply familiar with Earle’s incredible body of work – did you know he’s produced & scored an Off-Broadway play and has been married seven times? Delve into this one-of-a-kind life with us as we celebrate a true legend.

Born Stephen Fain Earle on January 17, 1955, Earle is a true jack-of-all-trades. Within his 66 years of life, the artist has made a name for himself in genres & mediums across the board. From writing, performing, and producing American rock, country, and folk albums – to writing short stories, novels, and even acting – there’s never been another soul quite like Steve Earle.

The Voice of a Generation

One of the most acclaimed singer-songwriters of his generation, Steve Earle credits much of his own voice to his “supreme musical mentors”: Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. Forming a unique style all his own, Earle has twenty studio albums under his belt, and much like Dolly Parton, considers himself a “master storyteller” above all else.

This holds true in everything he does. It is his storytelling through songs & lyrics, however, that has garnered him the most praise. Numerous fellow legends have recorded songs by Steve Earle: including no less than Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Emmylou Harris.

Out of all his twenty albums, his first – 1986’s Guitar Town – is now regarded as a classic of Americana. With a debut as strong as Town, Earle paved the way for a multi-Grammy Award-winning career. Subsequent efforts The Revolution Starts…Now (2004), Washington Square Serenade (2007), and TOWNES (2009) all garnered him the prestigious award.

His most beloved work, however, comes in the form of Copperhead Road – a timeless ballad set to outlive us all.

“Steve Earle’s timeless ballad Copperhead Road transports you to another time and place,” writes Outsider’s Keeli Parkey. “Singing as the character John Lee Pettimore III, he takes you to an era of moonshiners and marijuana growers in the backwoods of East Tennessee.”

“You hardly ever saw Grandaddy down here. He only comes to town about twice a year,” Earle sings. “He’d buy a hundred pounds of yeast and some copper line. Everybody knew that he made moonshine.”

It’s lyrics like this that cement Earle as the very “master storyteller” he wishes to be – and absolutely is. And as is typically the case, such poignant lyrical abilities come courtesy of an exciting – and turbulent – life.

Personal Life of a Living Legend

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Steve Earl with his late son, fellow singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images)

Born in Fort Monroe, Virginia, Earle is the son of an air traffic controller. His family relocated to Texas when he was but 1-year-old, which led to his raising in San Antonio.

At the ripe young age of 18, Earle would marry for the first of a whopping seven times. He married his first wife, Sandra “Sandy” Henderson, in Houston, Texas. By 19, however, Earle knew he was born for the music industry. As such, he left Texas – and Sandy – behind, and headed for the heart of it all: Nashville, Tennessee, in 1974.

There, he began working blue-collar jobs in the day. By night, though, he was as deep into the music scene as he could be. It was here that he met his second of seven wives: Cynthia Dunn. It didn’t take long for a newly-re-married Steve Earle to get his big break, either. His constant presence in Nashville’s music scene soon landed him a gig writing songs and playing bass for Guy Clark’s band. Subsequently, his first professional studio appearance would come courtesy of Clark’s 1975 hit album, Old No. 1.

A decade later, Earle would record his own debut album: the aforementioned Guitar Town. Before this, he would meet and marry his third wife, Carol-Ann Hunter. With Hunter, Earle would have his son, the late Justin Townes Earle, in 1982. Tragically, Justin – a fellow singer-songwriter with whom his father would often collaborate – would pass at the age of 38 in 2020.

His next wife, Lou-Anne Gill, would come after his own album debut: the aforementioned Guitar Town in 1984. The two had his second son, Ian Dublin Earle, together. While they would eventually divorce, Earle would pull a 180 and remarry her after divorcing another wife, Teresa Ensenat. His final partner to date, singer-songwriter Allison Moorer, gave him his third son: John Henry Earle. What a whirlwind.

Steve Earle: Jack of All Trades

Through all of this, Earle would never stop telling stories. Much of this included short stories, poetry, and fiction. His well-known novel, I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, hit in spring 2011. A collection of short stories would follow in June of that same year, titled Doghouse Roses.

That wasn’t enough to satiate Earle’s voracious appetite for storytelling, however. Soon after, he would produce an off-broadway play about the death of Karla Faye Tucker: the first woman executed since the death penalty was reinstated in his state of birth, Texas. Earle would also appear in the off-Broadway play Samara, for which he also wrote the score. Of it, The New York Times would laud Earle’s work as “exquisitely subliminal.”

Fast forward to present day, and you can find 66-year-old living legend Steve Earle hosting his own radio show for Sirius XM, and organizing benefit concerts for his youngest son, John Henry, who was diagnosed with autism.

What an incredible life. And from all of us here at Outsider.com: Happy Birthday, Steve Earle!

For all the latest from Earle and your favorite country music legends, stick with your fellow fans here at Outsider.com.

[Sourced: SteveEarle.com, The New York Times]

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