WATCH: Steve Earle Performs Emotional Tribute to Late-Son Justin Townes Earle

by Emily Morgan

Singer-songwriter Steve Earle performed a trio of songs from his new album, J.T., in honor of his late son Justin Townes Earle. The performance marked Earles’ second appearance on Rolling Stone’s In My Room series.

Released early in January, the album serves as a heartfelt homage to his late son who reportedly died from a tragic drug overdose in August. He was 38-years-old. 

Now, five months later, Earle is turning to music to help him cope with the loss. Earle spoke earnestly about the tragedy before singing but said crafting the record became the best remedy to the pain. 

Steve Earle on Crafting Album Amid Tragedy

“Cathartic,’ I don’t know whether that’s the word for it,” Earle says. “I think it’s just a way for me to say goodbye, and a way for me to make sure that I was giving him his due because we do the same thing.”

He opened the profound set with a rendition of “They Killed John Henry,” which was his son’s version of the folk song. 

Earle then transitioned into one of his son’s best-known track, the 2010 song, “Harlem River Blues.”

Steve Earle ended his set with a new song he wrote, “Last Words,” which he started working on several days after his son died. 

“I did nothing but hurt for a couple of days,” Steve Earle says, describing how the song came to be. “I was kind of in shock for a day, and excruciating pain for a day, and then the third day, everything still hurt, but I got up and I picked up a guitar and I wrote two verses of this. Normally, it doesn’t take me more than a day to write a song, but this one I had to take another run at it to write the third verse.”

On what would have been Townes-Earle’s 39th birthday, his father released the tribute album on January 4th. The record features Earle’s renditions of 10 songs recorded by his son and one original.

Through his grief, the family’s patriarch remained optimistic despite the tragedy. He attributes the power of music to hold the antidote to his pain. 

“The only thing I knew to do was make a record, and people have asked me, ‘That must have been incredibly hard to do,’ but the truth is I think the best I’ve been since this happened is when we were actually making the record.”