Steve Earle Sees The Light
photos by Joshua Black Wilkins
It’s been said of Steve Earle – more than once – that his mind and mouth are constantly going a mile a minute. When it comes to doing interviews, he can blaze through three hours’ worth of material in half that time. And that’s exactly what he does on the phone, zeroing in on points he wants to make and spouting a steady stream of colorfully insightful one-liners – regardless of the facts that he’s only just gotten back to his New Orleans hotel room after shooting the HBO drama Treme all morning and there are text messages about his infant son, John Henry, vying for his attention.
“It’s baby movies,” he explains, without skipping a beat. “His birthday’s coming up and he’s discovered this big huge box in the middle of the room and figured out that is has something to do with him.”
Earle’s done a lot in his 56 years, but he’s never channeled his creative, intellectual and emotional energies quite as intentionally or in quite as many directions as he is right now. On a given day, he might do interviews to promote his new album, I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, or his new novel of the same title, or the first season of Treme on DVD, or Hardcore Troubadour Radio, his Sirius XM Satellite show. Plus, he mentions that he’s writing his second play. And he’ll soon start rehearsing with his newly reassembled and expanded band, the Dukes and Duchesses.
If, in the midst of all this action, he seems anxious to get back to Greenwich Village – where he hangs his hat these days – it’s not just because the Yankees have started their season. There are some pretty important people waiting on him at home: John Henry and John Henry’s mom, Allison Moorer, who’s one of the Duchesses and quite an accomplished, sophisticated singer and songwriter in her own right. She and Earle married in 2005.
In her, he’s met his creative match, and he emphasizes just what a difference that makes. “It’s healthier than it’s ever been,” he says, contrasting present-day home life with that of his past marriages, “because I share the house with another artist for the first time. Trust me, if I get to throwing my weight around too much about everything having to revolve around my art, I’ll draw back a nub.”
Their soon-to-be one-year-old isn’t his first kid, of course. That distinction falls to Justin Townes Earle, one of the most talented – and sharpest dressing – young folk-bluesmen to emerge in the past several years. He’s self-taught – not unlike dad – but his old man can claim a hand in turning him on to pre-electrified music.
“It began with the Nirvana version of a Leadbelly song,” recounts the elder Earle. “Then when I showed him, ‘Well, that song came from this record,’ and it was right next to my Lightnin’ Hopkins records and my Mance Lipscomb records, he was off like a prom dress.”