Justin Townes Earle Dead at 38
The Americana star and son of Steve Earle is gone too soon.
Rolling Stone (“Justin Townes Earle, Americana Singer-Songwriter, Dead at 38“):
Justin Townes Earle, the singer-songwriter known for his mix of old-timey roots music and modern-day Americana, has died at age 38. A rep for Earle’s label New West Records confirmed the musician’s death to Rolling Stone, though a cause of death was not immediately revealed.
“It is with tremendous sadness that we inform you of the passing of our son, husband, father and friend Justin,” a post on Earle’s Instagram page read. “So many of you have relied on his music and lyrics over the years and we hope that his music will continue to guide you on your journeys. You will be missed dearly Justin.”
Earle, a tall and gangly figure with a from-another-time aesthetic, was a captivating presence onstage, where he’d sometimes address the crowd in a carnival barker style. But it was his albums, like 2010’s soulful Harlem River Blues, 2017’s introspective Kids in the Street, and last year’s shuffling, ominous The Saint of Lost Causes that best summed up his man-out-of-time appeal. A favorite in Americana music circles, he was named Emerging Act of the Year at the 2009 American Honors & Awards, and nominated as Artist of the Year in 2012.
Born January 4th, 1982, Earle was the son of the country-rocker Steve Earle, who named him after his friend, the songwriter Townes Van Zandt. His mother, Carol Ann Hunter, never cared for the name, Earle told Rolling Stone last year.
“My mother hated Townes Van Zandt. My first name was supposed to be Townes, but my mother would not have it,” he said. “She hated him because of the trouble that Dad and him got into, but she still played his music.”
Earle first came on the scene with the 2007 EP Yuma, and would release a string of albums on the Bloodshot Records label. The title track to his 2010 project for the label, Harlem River Blues, won Song of the Year at the 2011 Americana Honors. He performed the song during an appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman, with Jason Isbell backing him up on guitar.
Like his father, Earle battled drugs and alcohol during his career. But as he told Chris Shiflett on the Walking the Floor podcast in 2017, he was sober when he began making records. “I got all my craziness out of the way as a coffeehouse musician and a roadie,” he said.
Earle, who was born and raised in Nashville, recalled his first time performing with his father, when he was just 17.
“Me and my dad played a few Doc Watson songs,” he told Rolling Stone. “We’re Earles, we’re arrogant, and we always feel good about what we do, but it was intimidating. I’ll tell you, the second time we played together, I had to play with him and Guy Clark at MerleFest, in front of Doc Watson. It scared the shit out of me.”
It’s a damn shame. He was really coming into his own as a musician, having not only carved out a style very distinct from that of his legendary father but also moving into producing albums for other artists.
My late wife an I saw JTE at the Birchmere, a small venue in the area, and were sitting right near the stage. He was the opening act for Casey Chambers, of whom she was a fan. This would have been around 2009, when he was just starting out, and it was the first I’d heard of him.
We also saw Steve Earle at the same venue a few years earlier. For that matter, I’ve seen both Doc Watson and Guy Clark, both now gone, over the years.
I’ve never seen Jason Isbell in person but enjoy his live shows on YouTube and other venues. And I’ve been listening to Chris Shiflett’s Walking the Floor podcast for years. He’s the lead guitarist for the Foo Fighters but his a side gig doing country-rock both as a solo artist and with the Dead Peasants.