DIARY - 5 FEBRUARY 2004 - INTERVIEW WITH STEVE EARLE
WITH STEVE EARLE - 2000
STEVE CATCHES THE BIRDS
Earle made his second Australian tour he discovered two stunning songbirds
- Iris De Ment and Kasey Chambers.
Earle - 12 Jan 2004
( photo by Steve Snowden)
recruited Iris for his 10th album The Mountain after he saw her perform
at the 1998 East Coast Blues Festival at Byron Bay.
"I was standing there and I thought there's my duet partner for
the bluegrass record," Earle told Nu Country in a call from Nashville
"I've always been an Iris De Ment fan. There's always been a
duet on my last couple of albums - one with Lucinda Williams and one
with Siobahn Kennedy. I was well into writing the songs and knew what
kind of record I was going to make with the McCoury band. Iris is
a big Del McCoury fan as well, it worked out great."
Iris - youngest of 14 children and latter day wife of Greg Brown -
also co-wrote her third album title track The Way I Should with five
times wed former convict country legend Merle Haggard.
She also won acclaim for her duet with McClinton on Trouble on that
But the conduit for the other discovery was Ohio born singer-songwriter
Buddy Miller, lead guitarist in the bands of both Earle and Emmylou
normal duet partner - wife Julie - wasn't available so Buddy performed
at Byron Bay with Dead Ringer Band singer Chambers.
"Kasey Chambers, man, is probably the best female hillbilly singer
I've heard in a long, long time," Earle, now 49, revealed, "she's
working on a solo album. She's a pretty damn good songwriter and she's
getting better all the time. She's only young. She might be 22 by now.
We're trying to pull the duet together. The song's written and they recorded
it when I was in Ireland. Hopefully, the duet will be on her new solo
Steve's duets appear to have more longevity than some of his marriages
- but his fourth wife Lou Ann became his sixth wife when he divorced fifth
wife Theresa Ensenat who signed Guns n Roses to their major record deal.
Earle is once again single but his musical marriage with the Del McCoury
Band blew hats off cats from Nashville to Newcastle.
Especially when Earle was later bounced from the tour for alleged on stage
profanity that burned the buckle of the bluegrass bible belt.
The union began in 1990 when the McCourys cut Earle song Call Me If
You Need A Fool on their album Blue Side Of Town.
"You have no idea how cool it is to have a song on that record,"
Steve confided, "it's one of the best bluegrass records ever made."
And, of course, there was the collaboration with the McCourys on the tune
I Still Carry You Around on Steve's 9th album El Corazon
Del McCoury debuted in 1959 before joining Bill Monroe's band in 1963
as a banjo player and then working in a sawmill.
Del cut his first disc, Dixie Pals, in 1967 and was part of the trio for
the acclaimed album Mac, Doc & Del.
The Mountain was born one night in 1995 when the late Bill Monroe walked
on stage during an Earle concert at the Tennessee Performing Arts Centre
Monroe lit the flame sang six songs with Earle, Pete Rowan, Roy Huskey
Jr and Norman Blake.
That inspiration was catalysed by Virginia born, Texas raised and long
time Tennessee resident Earle who cut the vocals and instrumentation live
with the exception of the marathon Roy Huskey Jr tribute The Pilgrim.
"It's the fun way and right way to record this type of music,"
says Earle who drew his inspiration for Copperhead Road from the descendants
of the moonshiners in his adoptive home state and jumped the border for
the Harlan Man/Mountain suite.
"I've got a friend from East Kentucky who flew right over West Virginia
and said it looked like they had peeled the pig and turned it loose,"
Earle revealed, "it originally came from a conversation with Kathy
Whitley, she was Keith Whitley's first wife. We're really good friends.
They come in now and knock the top off the whole mountain. That's the
only type of coal mining that's going on up there. As hard as it was on
everyone underground mining was a way of life and how people made a living.
My orientation is pretty western because I'm from Texas but I've lived
on this side of the Mississippi for quite a while now. It's the first
time I got pretty deep into that. It's where the inspiration for this
music comes from. I decided to see what was in there."
What Earle found was translated into songs that dug beneath the surface
of a genre which re-invented itself with the advent of artists like Nashville
Bluegrass Band, Austin Lounge Lizards, Claire Lynch, Alison Krauss, Pete
Rowan and a swag of younger artists.
That mood is set by the intro track Texas Eagle - a devastatingly accurate
biographical piece on the demise of trains across the U.S.
took a pro-active stance on the blanding out of mainstream country with
his murder ballad Carrie Brown.
"The main thing wrong with country music today is there's not enough
songs about killing people," says Steve whose previous albums were
littered with losers, "I missed the Long Black Veils, Katie Dears
etc. Carrie Brown is totally fictional, of course."
Earle, whose wanderlust owes as much to Woody Guthrie as Dylan and Hank,
found it easy to write Lee Roy's Dust Bowl Blues and Long, Lonesome
"It's my Do Re Mi," Earle says, "I lived in California.
It's the type of song I would have written five or six years ago if I
could have written. I wasn't writing hardly any thing at all before I
got clean. I thought about a song like that for a long time but I wrote
it just for the record."
Earle also wrote the tune Outlaw's Honeymoon for the movie Niagara,
Niagara but withdrew the song after a publishing dispute.
"I co-publish my stuff with a large publisher who pays a lot of money
for my half of it," says Earle, "it's a lot my livelihood and
the film maker wanted my share. I'm not going to give him one of my songs
for life. I said they could kiss my Texas arse."
Earle's spirit may have been spiked by his heroin and jail years but his
soul has emerged unscathed - especially on the tribute to double bassist
Huskey who died of lung cancer at 53 and was also honoured by Sam Bush
in his Song For Roy from his album Howling At The Moon.
asked to sing at his funeral where I was a pall bearer," Earle revealed,
"I scanned a couple of ideas about what I was going to sing but I
wasn't happy with any of them. So I finally decided to write something.
Everyone on that track is someone who worked with Roy or was close to
Roy. His widow Lisa and the kids Taylor and J.T. There's also Benny Martin
and Roy's father who came to Nashville together. Sam Bush had to be there,
he plays mandolin on that track. It's the only thing on the record we
didn't record live. Ronnie McCoury played bouzouki. But I had to go to
Tucson, Arizona, to get Emmylou and her daughter Meaghan on it. They were
working on a Linda Ronstadt album, it was the first duet together of Emmylou
Ironically, The Mountain was chased up the Americana charts by
Trio 2 - whose sales exceeded 150,000 despite being ignored by
Steve is also pro-active with his own record label E Squared - formed
with the late Jack Emerson - the launch pad for artists diverse as The
V-Roys (Knoxville), 6 String Drag (North Carolina), Cheri Knight (New
England), Ross Rice (Memphis), former Energy Orchard singer Bap Kennedy
also his support of the campaign to eradicate land mines - fully documented
in the Buddy Miller song 100 Million Little Bombs from his second
album Poison Love.
"The Vietnam Veterans Federation is one of a whole bunch of organisations
doing stuff in Cambodia and Vietnam on land mines," Earle revealed
after Ms Harris, her mother and a group toured Vietnam and Cambodia.
"It's amazing to think when was the last time you saw an amputee
in America. No, you don't see that many. But in Phnom Penn you would see
three or four amputees every city block. The land mines are doing every
bit of it. The U.S. hasn't signed a treaty but I'm here because I have
a big mouth and they know it. It's embarrassing the U.S. China & Russia
haven't signed a treaty. They manufacture most of them. Clinton made a
lot of concessions but they didn't outlaw them. But the mentality is that
the middle class are doing better so everyone is doing alright."
Earle has replaced his hunger for opiates with a pipe penchant and an
energetic song rebirth in locales diverse as Galway and hidden nooks and
crannies of the U.S.A.
His tune All Of My Life joined Dolly Parton's Jolene in
a recent remake of Psycho and he won wide acclaim for Me And
The Eagle in Robert Redford movie The Horse Whisperer which
shot Allison Moorer to fame with her hit A Softer Place To Fall.
Right now Earle shows no sign of needing a softer place to fall.
/ back to diary