Justin Townes Earle (January 4, 1982 – August 20, 2020) was an American singer-songwriter and musician. After his debut EP Yuma (2007) he released eight full-length albums. He was recognized with an Americana Music Award for Emerging Artist of the Year in 2009 and for Song of the Year in 2011 for "Harlem River Blues". His father is alternative country artist Steve Earle.
Earle grew up in South Nashville, Tennessee, with his mother, Carol Ann Hunter Earle. His father, Steve Earle, gave him his middle name in honor of his own mentor, singer and songwriter Townes van Zandt. At the age of two he was left by his father with his mother, but returned to live with his father after his father became clean in 1994. He dropped out of school, occasionally touring with and working for his father, eventually moving to eastern Tennessee with other songwriters. Like his father, Earle battled addiction beginning in his early teens.
Earle played in two Nashville bands: the Distributors rock band and ragtime and bluegrass combo the Swindlers. He spent some time as guitarist and keyboardist for his father's touring band the Dukes. He developed a hybrid style of music mixing folk, blues and country.
In 2007, Earle released a six-song EP called Yuma. He then signed a contract with Chicago's Bloodshot Records and released an album called The Good Life in 2008. In 2009 he released the album Midnight at the Movies. In 2010 he released the album Harlem River Blues, followed by the album Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now in 2012. From 2014 to 2017, Earle released a "family trilogy" of albums, comprising Single Mothers (2014), Absent Fathers (2015), and Kids in the Street (2017).
His last album, The Saint of Lost Causes, was released in May 2019.
Earle produced Wanda Jackson's album Unfinished Business in 2012.
Earle played the Grand Ole Opry in 2008, Historical WSM, South By Southwest (2008–2010, 2012), the historic Beacon Theater (May 2009), Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion (September 2009), Bonnaroo (2009) Bumbershoot (2010), the East Coast Blues & Roots Music Festival (Byron Bay, Australia), 2012, the Bowery Ballroom (March 2010) the Winnipeg Folk Festival (July 2008), and the Nelsonville Music Festival (2008 and 2011).
In 2009 Earle co-billed The Big Surprise Tour with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Old Crow Medicine Show, and The Felice Brothers. In 2012 he appeared in an episode of the HBO television series Treme with his father.
In September 2009, Earle received an Americana Music Award for New and Emerging Artist of the Year. In 2011 Earle received the Americana Music Award in the Song of the Year category for "Harlem River Blues". His album of the same name has been described as having a "gently flowing, urban Americana sound, with horns, organ and tangy electric guitar". That year he also contributed a cover of Maybe Baby on the 2011 tribute album Rave on Buddy Holly. and played Newport Folk Festival and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.
Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now was listed at album number 37 on Rolling Stone's list of the top 50 albums of 2012, with the annotation as follows: "The son of country-rock renegade Steve Earle has grown into a songwriter to rival his dad."
Earle began using drugs at age 12 and continued for many years. He went to rehabilitation clinics nine times followed by periods of sobriety. He relapsed in September 2010 when he was involved in a fight with an Indianapolis club owner. He relapsed again in 2016.
Earle moved to New York City in 2009, then returned to Nashville for several years. He married Jenn Marie Maynard in 2013 and he and his wife lived on the West Coast. Their only child, a daughter named Etta, was born in June 2017.
Earle died on August 20, 2020, in Nashville, Tennessee, at the age of 38. His death was announced by his label on social media on August 23. The cause of death was not immediately announced, but Nashville police said they are investigating the death as a probable drug overdose.
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.
Date: October 2020.
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Justin Townes Earle, (3) Steve Earle (unknown/website).