A famous — or infamous — name can be a heavy load to bear. Yet Justin Townes Earle somehow has managed to establish himself as a musical force to be reckoned with, all while shouldering the weighty burden of being the son of outlaw country giant Steve Earle and the namesake and godson of legendary songwriter Townes Van Zandt.
Although he has found success on his own terms, that unavoidable reflected celebrity was a decidedly double-edged sword early on, says Earle, who will take the stage Friday, Sept. 5, at Track 29.
“It’s kind of a mixed blessing because you do get looked at immediately,” he said, in a 2008 interview with the Times Free Press. “You’re not going to be off the radar for very long. The problem with that is that everyone is looking at you, so you have to do what you do and hope that you’re good at it.”
Now 32 and based in New York City, the singer/songwriter said his budding interest in songwriting as a teen was less a matter of familial expectation and more of using music as an escape from other responsibilities.
“I was about 15 when I started taking it seriously, quit school and started playing music,” Earle said. “When I say ‘playing music,’ it was really more bumming around with a guitar and drinking way too much.”
Through early influences such as Kurt Cobain, Alice in Chains and Mudhoney, Earle played in several Nashville bands before donning the singer/songwriter mantle as a solo artist. The early days were hardscrabble. Following in his father’s footsteps, he drank too much and took drugs. At the time, Earle recalled himself as “drunken” with an “out-of-control ego.”
Eventually, he re-evaluated his life, got clean and set off to forge a career as a solo artist. Early on, it was slow going. He sold copies of his first, self-recorded EP, “Yuma,” out of the bed of his truck before attracting the attention of Chicago-based independent label Bloodshot Records. He remained with Bloodshot through four subsequent full-length albums.
IF YOU GO
• What: Justin Townes Earle
• When: 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5
• Where: Track 29, 1400 Market St.
• Admission: $18 in advance, $20 day of show
• Phone: 423-521-2929
• Website: track29.co
• Artist website: justintownesearle.com
• 2007: “Yuma”
• 2008: “The Good Life”
• 2009: “Midnight at the Movies”
• 2010: “Harlem River Blues”
• 2012: “Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now”
• 2014: “Single Mothers”
Earle’s appearance at Track 29 will mark the launch of his fall tour, which will coincide with the release next week of “Single Mothers,” his fifth full-length project and his first project with new label Vagrant Records.
Through the years, Earle has earned several noteworthy accolades, including Americana Music Awards for New and Emerging Artist of the Year (2009) and Song of the Year (2011).
Earle’s last album, “Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now,” came out in 2012 and landed at the No. 37 spot on Rolling Stones’ list of the Top 50 Albums of the Year.
In its justification for including Earle in the feature, the publication made clear that he had definitively stepped out from under his family’s shadow, saying:
“The son of country-rock renegade Steve Earle has grown into a songwriter to rival his dad.”
Contact Casey Phillips at email@example.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @Phillips CTFP.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...