Monday, August 24, 2020

RIP, Justin Townes Earle

Justin Townes Earle. (Bloodshot Records publicity photo)

RIP, Justin Townes Earle. Here's a story Andy wrote about him in 2009. He was a cool guy when Cat and I met him in person after a small show at Tower Records in Seattle. He was 38 when he passed.


Earle’s on a roll, ready for local gig

The times they have a-changed for Justin Townes Earle.

Monday, May 11, 2009 -- Bothell/Kenmore Reporter

The times they have a-changed for Justin Townes Earle.

As a teenager, he dabbled in punk rock and drugs. As a 27-year-old adult, he’s an acoustic-guitar-slinging sober guy who’s digging life.

“I’m definitely a different man than when I was young — I was a strung out (stupid) little kid for 10 years. I’d done quite a lot of growing up when I got clean,” he said over the phone from a tour stop last Wednesday in Dallas, Texas.

Yes, Earle, who’s still a punk rocker at heart with a gruff attitude to offset his soothing singing voice, is on the road again and will hit the Northshore Performing Arts Center stage at 7 p.m. May 17. Although he won’t have a backing band this time out, the son of country rocker Steve Earle says he can impress crowds alone with one guitar, one mic and his arsenal of insightful folk tunes. No problem.

“I’m always ready to roll — we’re booked solid through December right now, last year I did 250-plus shows,” he said. “I’ve been doing this since I was 15. I love traveling, I love the wheels spinnin’ beneath me.”

Like punk bands, Earle jams a ton of songs into his set — although his are longer and softer, the hard edge still lies within. He’s a modern-day Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly, an artist he discovered through Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain on the band’s final — and tamest — record. But it wasn’t after he soaked up the Seattle outfit’s earlier raucous catalogue.

“I can guarantee you I was the first kid in Nashville to have a copy of ‘Bleach,’ because it was an advance copy. On their ‘Unplugged’ album, when Kurt said, ‘This is ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night?’ by Lead Belly,’ it changed my life. It was the first time I’d heard his name and I put away the punk-rock records and went head first into (legendary folk artists). I went back and discovered artists from the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s,” said Earle, who considers himself fortunate to hail from Nashville, Tenn.

“I was born at ground zero, I know where the bodies are buried. I’ve done so much research.”

Earle penned his first tune, “Halfway to Jackson,” at age 15 and it finally surfaced on his sophomore record, “Midnight at the Movies,” which was released on Bloodshot Records in March and features a spot-on version of the Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait.” And while he appreciated his mom’s love for folksters Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez and gigs from the Grand Ole Opry, the upstart wanted to perform acoustic music with some swagger, and so the Earle persona was born.

He last played Seattle about a month ago at the Tractor Tavern in Ballard to what he described as a “wide-eyed, enjoyable crowd.” But folks all over have taken hold of his brand of music, which he tags as Southern American — “I can’t think of anything else to describe it … I’ve never understood labels.”

Give him a guitar and a crowd, and nothing else matters.

“I love playing live and seeing and meeting new people everywhere,” he said. “I think this was the way I was supposed to live.”

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