Stephen 'Steve' Fain Earle (pronounced /ˈɜrl/) (born January 17, 1955) is an American singer-songwriter known for his rock and country music as well as his political views. He is also a published writer, a political activist and has written and directed a play. In the later part of his career, after troubles with the law, drug addiction and his uncompromising viewpoints, he has become known as "the hardcore troubadour".
In 1975, Earle moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he met and worked with Guy Clark and his wife Susanna. Clark was active in Earle being employed as a songwriter by the Sunbury Dunbar publishing division of RCA. Earle did backing vocals on "Desperados Waiting for a Train" (together with Emmylou Harris) on Clark's first album Old No. 1.
Despite his early success as a songwriter, it was not until 1981 that Earle achieved a top-ten cut with "When You Fall in Love", which was recorded by Johnny Lee.
Earle's early work as a recorded performer was in the rockabilly style, and can be heard on the Early Years album. He had to wait until 1986, though, before his first proper album, Guitar Town, was released. It was a critical success and was eventually certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America. The follow-up albums Exit 0 and the certified-gold Copperhead Road built on this success.
Earle had been a recreational drug user since an early age and was addicted to heroin for many years. By the time of his 1990 album The Hard Way, it started to become clear that the drugs were seriously affecting him. In 1993, his drug problems resulted in him effectively stopping performing and recording for two years, a period he refers to as his "vacation in the ghetto". He eventually ended up in jail on drug and firearms charges. Kicking the drug habit while in jail, Earle came out a new man and released two albums within 18 months of his release in late 1994. His comeback album, the bluegrass Train A Comin', was nominated for the Best Contemporary Folk Album Grammy Award in 1996.
Earle's post-jail musical career has been more diverse than his early work. Since setting up his own record label, he has been able to follow his own artistic direction, rather than being constrained by the Nashville country pop-rock sound. This has led to experimentation with a range of styles from country and bluegrass music to folk and hard rock music. He has maintained a strict work ethic. Several albums have been released since, as well as a book of haiku and a collection of short stories called Doghouse Roses. He also wrote and directed a play about the death penalty. Earle also tours often, playing over 200 shows per year. His concerts tend to be either solo acoustic shows or ensemble affairs with one of his two backing bands, the Dukes or the Bluegrass Dukes.
Steve Earle and Allison Moorer at Bumbershoot, 2007
Earle is the subject of a documentary film entitled Just an American Boy, directed by Amos Poe, which explores his political views as well as his music. In 2005, he caused consternation among his fans by allowing the song "The Revolution Starts Now" to be used by General Motors in a TV advertisement for pick-up trucks.
Earle is also the subject of the biography, Steve Earle: Fearless Heart, Outlaw Poet, by the noted New York-based music writer David McGee.
In September 2007, Earle released his twelfth studio album, Washington Square Serenade, on New West Records. Earle recorded the album after relocating to New York City, and it was his first attempt at using digital audio workstation ProTools, as opposed to traditional analog recording techniques. The disc features wife Allison Moorer on "Days Aren't Long Enough".
In 2008, Earle produced Joan Baez's album Day After Tomorrow. In the winter, he toured Europe and North America in support of Washington Square Serenade, performing half the set solo and the other half with a DJ.
On May 12, 2009, Earle released a tribute album, Townes, on New West Records. The album contains 15 songs written by his late friend and musical mentor Townes Van Zandt. Guest artists appearing on the album include Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Earle's wife Allison Moorer, and his son Justin Townes Earle.