Country Outlaw to Renaissance Man

Steve Earle is a Texan country rocker who has distinguished himself far beyond music. He left his state long ago to be an artist with a passion for music and left-wing activism.

He’s released his first album since the shock of President Donald Trump’s election and although the 62-year-old singer and guitarist has returned to Texas, for now, he’s keeping down the volume on his politics but not on his music.

His 16th studio album, “So You Wanna Be An Outlaw,” reaches into country roots with mixed guitar and storytelling, while still preserving his characteristic “hard edge”. The album marks the first time Earle has recorded in Texas’s capital Austin, now a major music hub.  He had moved to the country music capital Nashville at 19 before moving to New York.  He found that in Austin “the girls were too pretty and the dope was too cheap, and I knew I would never get anything done there!” In addition, as he was from San Antonio, Austin was too close to some of his seven ex-wives.  Even so, Earle headed to Austin to commune with local legend Willie Nelson.

Nelson now sings with Earle on the title track of “So You Wanna Be an Outlaw.” The album dedicated the album to the late Texas-born mentor and outlaw Waylon Jennings. The track “Outlaw Country” captures a moment when Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings discovered a freedom they didn’t have before,” Earle said. “That’s why they were called outlaws; it didn’t have anything to do with a lifestyle.”  “I’m a post-Bob Dylan songwriter. I write songs that are intended to be a form of literature,” Earle said.

He initially found fame with his 1986 album “Guitar Town” then released his next major album “Copperhead Road” two years later, but since then, he has tackled numerous social issues. He’s written a novel that focuses on abortion and a play focused on capital punishment (which he opposes), performed on Broadway and had guest spots on “The Wire”, the popular TV series.

As a supporter of candidate Bernie Sanders, he expected Hillary Clinton to defeat Trump. “I went on stage that night believing I was going to come off to the first female president of the United States, and I came off and it’s the Trump” 

A few weeks after the election, Earle recorded “So You Wanna Be an Outlaw.”  “These folks voted for Donald Trump because they felt no one was listening to them,” he said. “I’m going to listen rather than just talk as I write this next album.”