It only took 22 albums before Steve Earle got around to making JERRY JEFF, but it’s here now. JERRY JEFF is Earle’s album covering the songs of Jerry Jeff Walker and the basis of his summer tour 2022. For those few who don’t know, Earle is one of the hardest working men in music. He tours in the summer with his band The Dukes, hosts The Steve Earle Show: Hardcore Troubadour Radio on Sirius XM, writes music and books and is working on his second play.
This is a mighty full plate, but in addition, Steve is an involved Dad which is why he doesn’t tour during the school year. I last spoke with Steve after his epic fundraising event on behalf of The Keswell School at Town Hall in New York Bruce Springsteen made his first electrified appearance since the Covid pandemic began.
Many who turned out that night for Bruce left with a new guitar hero. Steve’s an authentic player with excellent stage presence.
Now, for this summer, Steve is playing a full show which incorporates many of the songs written by Jerry Jeff Walker, in the same way that his 2009 album Townes honored Townes Van Zandt, followed by his 2019 album Guy, in tribute to Guy Clark and most heartbreakingly last year’s J.T. covered the songs of his late son Justin Townes Earle. Life as a troubadour is hard. It’s harder still when you must deal with the real-world issues of loss and heartbreak on repeat as they become an element of your performance.
We caught up while Steve had a day off in Wichita, Kansas. Like any working musician, having a day off simply means there is no performance that night. But his being in Wichita allowed us to start talking about Wichita Lineman as our conversation began and about just how transformative Glen Campbell was as a player, performer, and songwriter. Campbell was a significant influence on Steve’s music.
Steve learned about Jerry Jeff from his high school drama teacher when he was asked to sing Mr. Bojangles for a school production. Jerry Jeff influenced many of the ways Steve developed, they later became friends in Nashville. Jerry Jeff didn’t believe in paying for transportation or accommodations, so he hitchhiked whenever possible, and couch surfed wherever he landed. Steve emulated this early in his career. While romantic, this is a wildly impractical way to tour a band.
Steve has tremendous respect for the audience who bought a ticket and seeks to give them their money’s worth. This tour is front loaded with the Jerry Jeff songs, but he’s only playing about half that album. The show runs about two hours built with the songs you know and some you should. From Labor Day until Memorial Day Steve is on Dad duty and working on theater music. His current project is a musical version of Tender Mercies.
The tour is routed through some iconic theaters, including one of my favorites: Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, CA. The tour schedule is here:
Our conversation was really a deep look at Steve’s authenticity. Below are links to both the audio and video podcasts:
Steve left me with the promise of three different things: his show will be a well-oiled machine by the time it reaches me at the Belly Up, there may be a country music record coming in the next year, and he’s getting engaged again in writing so there may be a new book coming.
Creative people are creative by nature, not choice. Output is often involuntary. It’s simply the driving force of a creative’s life. Steve says he writes something every day, he tours his band all summer, the school year is dedicated to building musical theater scores, and at some point, between them all. he sleeps. There may be no rest for the weary, however for those of us lucky enough to enjoy the work product there is the endless supply of new surprises and delights.
Some people rise to great acclaim by happenstance, most do so by applied effort. Steve Earle is someone who has much more to give us, but don’t wait, go see what he has on offer now. His is a show built from grit and talent accentuated by the skill of the players onstage alongside him. Those are the shows which live on in the memory banks. You may come to your local Steve Earle performance as a newbie, but you’ll leave a converted fan. That’s the power of the road and the magic of performance.