Raspy, powerful voice, tough life, political activist, television star and country music genius – that is Steve Earle, and we are lucky enough to have him coming to play for us. Earle has been playing music since 1975. His first album, “Guitar Town,” went gold in 1986.
Many know Earle best for his song, “Copperhead Road,” on the album of the same name. Earle’s most recent album is titled: “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive,” named after a Hank Williams song. He also wrote a book with the same title. The album is strewn with songs written in response to what is going on in the world.
Over his many years in the music business, he has posted the following numbers: 13 studio, six live and seven compilation albums, 23 singles and 13 music videos. Earle is a three-time Grammy Award winner. He has had parts in HBO’s “The Wire,” “Treme” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
The night before Earle was scheduled to jet off to Australia for the first stop of his tour, IN had a chance to talk to him. He said that his family and pets had just loaded up in a van to head off to Tennessee and, as he put it, “It is a moment of quiet and that is weird.”
IN: Why did you originally get started in music?
EARLE: I grew up in a pretty musical family – my dad and uncle both played music. I listened to the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Hank Williams records, to name a few. They were my uncle’s records. I liked a lot of music. I was not an athlete. At about 11 or 12, I got a guitar. I got into music to basically get girls to talk to me.
IN: Does it work, playing music to get the girls to talk to you?
EARLE: Works with some.
IN: Who were your early influences?
EARLE: Style? Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan – acoustic all the way. My Dad said no electric guitars. I liked the style of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. When I began writing songs, I was not old enough for bars – only coffee houses. I was in a military town; Vietnam and politics were a big influence I grew up with it. When I was 17, I was noticed by Townes Van Zandt. He was a big deal, a huge influence and a mentor.
IN: Do you still have some of those songs you wrote before you turned 17?
EARLE: Oh, I can’t remember any of them now. I threw everything away from that time. I had moved on. I am sure there was a song with some girl’s name in the title.
IN: Your musical collaboration choices run the genre gamut. What sways your decision to work with someone?
EARLE: It is a matter of staying interested. Moving to New York has been a big influence on my musical diversity. It is harder as you get older to see it all and take it all in. I don’t like to alienate anyone or anything. I have been listening to my iPod a lot. I like to collaborate; it helps you come up with your own music.
IN: Who do you listen to these days?
EARLE: Recently, I was backstage for Bruce Springsteen’s show at the Apollo. I really like The Low Anthem from Providence, R.I., and Joe Pug from Chicago.
IN: Where is your favorite place to play, either venue or country?
EARLE: That is hard to say. In Europe, the venues are normally theaters and they sound really good. Clubs are fun. Country venues are not so fun.
IN: What do you think of the current political climate?
EARLE: I missed the Occupy Wall Street group being moved out of Zuccotti Park by about three days. I knew a lot of the group that was there – they are all people in their late 20s and 30s with degrees. They are the first generation who has had the door slammed in their faces. Using social media to their advantage was the edge. This country continues to recover – it will take a while. I am voting for Obama again, and I am way left of a Democrat. Voting is the most important thing we can do. Vote to be involved.
IN: On your latest album, “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive,” you have a song called “The Gulf of Mexico,” tell us about that song and the meaning.
EARLE: I was in New Orleans shooting the HBO show “Treme” when the BP oil spill disaster struck. It was so heartbreaking; we all thought we could contribute something to help. We didn’t know how it was going to turn out. All the shrimp are not back. Oysters are not back. The oil has not disappeared. I grew up on the Gulf Coast, and my wife is from Mobile, Ala. It is drilling gone wild there and in Texas. No one in Louisiana gets royalties from oil, yet it is important to their way of life. They believe the oil companies are on their side. Oil companies do not generate as many jobs as fishing does. The residents both rely on, and are afraid of, the oil companies. They don’t say anything negative.
STEVE EARLE AND THE DUKES
WHAT: Steve Earle and The Dukes with The Mastersons
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 4
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox Pl.