The new Steve Earle & The Dukes album So You Wannabe an Outlaw finds the Texan singer-songwriter delving back to his early Texan roots, and the so-called ‘Outlaw’ movement of the early 70s in particular.
Steve Earle left Texas for Nashville at the age of 19 in ’74. He followed a path hewn by the original Outlaws – Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Billy Joe Shaver - all of whom were from Texas and all of who famously started exploring a longhaired rock and singer-songwriter influenced style that was at odds with the button down Nashville sensibility of the time.
Check out the latest installment, the title track from forthcoming from So You Wannabe An Outlaw featuring Willie Nelson:
Nelson and Jennings in particular owed something to a Nashville singer-songwriter scene that had also had its beginnings in Texas (although Waylon’s favourite Steve Young cut his teeth in Alabama). Two of the most prominent members of this singer-songwriter scene, Texans Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, are the two artists usually seen as the formost influence on a young Steve Earle; indeed Clark got Earle his first publishing contract in Nashville and employed him in his band, whilst Van Zandt, who was back in Texas by the time Earle moved to Nashville, has loomed large in Earle’s music and life and was the subject of one of Earle’s most quotable quotes: “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that".
Earle paid tribute to Van Zandt some years ago with an album of covers simply called ‘Townes’, and he pays tribute on the new album to Clark – who passed away last May - with the song "Goodbye Michelangelo" on the new album. However the ‘Outlaw’ influence is not something he’s ever really explored or acknowledged, making So You Wannabe An Outlaw unique amongst Earle’s work.
In addition to highlighting the influence across his own songs on the album and having Willie Nelson guest, he pays specific tribute to Willie, Waylon and Billy Joe with a number of covers that come with the bonus disc on the Deluxe Edition. We’ll listen to the originals of those first as we delve into the music that has influenced one of America’s great singers-songwriters..
Billy Joe Shaver - "Ain't No God in Mexico"
One of the unsung heroes of the Outlaw movement, Shaver was brought to prominence when Jennings recorded a number of Shaver songs on his ground-breaking Honky Tonk Heroes album. Billy Joe has never had the commercial success enjoyed by his more famous friends, but there has rarely been an artist as honest or profound. His songs will live forwarder.
Willie Nelson - "Sister's Coming Home"/"Down at the Corner Beer Joint"
From the massively influential 1974 Atlantic album Stages & Phases, which Willie recorded at Muscle Shoals with Jerry Wexler producing.
Willie Nelson - "The Local Memory"
From Willie’s 1973 Atlantic debut Shotgun Willie.
Waylon Jennings - "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?"
Great live version of the classic track from Waylon’s 1975 album Dreaming My Dreams.
Johnny Bush - “Whiskey River”
A signature tune for Willie, “Whiskey River” was co-written and first recorded by Texas honkytonk mainstay Johnny Bush, who guests on Earle’s “Walking to L.A” on the new album
Steve Young - “Lonesome On’ry & Mean”
A signature tune for Waylon and the title track for a 1973 album, ”Lonesome, On’ry & Mean” was written by the great Steve Young, who passed away in March last year.
Townes Van Zandt - “Pancho & Lefty”
One of the many classic tracks written by Townes, Willie had a hit duet with a cover of this recorded as a duet with Merle Haggard. This version is from the incredible film Heartworn Highways which also included Guy Clark, Steve Young and, as we’ll show below, a VERY young Steve Earle
Guy Clark – “She Aint’ Goin’ Nowhere”
“Standing on the gone side of leaving"... A perfect example of the undertated brilliance of Clark’s writing, this track, from his classic 1975 debut album Old No.1, features a very young Steve Earle on backing vocals.
Finally, we’ll have a quick look at some other writers and tracks that have influenced Steve over the years.
Rolling Stones – "Dead Flowers"
The Stones’ great early ‘70s country-rock period – together with their bad boy behaviour, were clear antecedents of Steve’s own style. He’s performed this one a lot over the years, as did Townes Van Zandt actually. Steve also recorded a great version of Keith Richard’s great "Some Girls" rocker "Before They Make Me Run". Here’s the Stones doing a great "Dead Flowers" - in Texas in ’72.
The Pogues - "A Pair of Brown Eyes"
They backed Steve on the key Copperhead Road track "Johnny Come Lately", and are probably the most apparent influence on the Irish thread that has run through Steve’s music ever since.
The Slickers - "Johnny Too Bad"
Reggae is not something often associate with American country music, but a lot of Jamaican reggae artists were covering country material in the ‘70s. Steve has spoken of the influence of the classic soundtrack "The Harder They Come" – one of the most important albums of the ‘70s – and has recorded at least two of its tracks, the Melodians "The Rivers of Babylon", and this track, which shows that the outlaw spirit certainly wasn’t something unique to country music.
So You Wannabe An Outlaw by Steve Earle is released on June 16 and is available to pre-order here.