Steve Earle Biography

adapted from the 1987 fan club bio, the former Winter Harvest web site biography, family members, and other sources


Last updated:  16 November 1997


Stephen Fain Earle was born on 17 January 1955 in Ft. Monroe, Virginia, and is the eldest child of parents Jack and Barbara Earle. Legend has it that Steve's grandfather sent a can of Lone Star dirt to be placed under the delivery table so that the first ground Steve's feet touched would be Texan.

Steve grew up in Schertz, Texas, which is 17 miles north of San Antonio. He is the eldest child of five — his younger siblings are Mark, Kelly, Stacey, and Pat. Steve got his first guitar at age 11, and learned to play quickly enough to win 3rd place in the Schertz school district's annual talent show when he was 13.

At 14, Steve left home for Houston to be with his uncle Nick Fain, who was only 19 himself at the time. Nick encouraged Steve's guitar playing and soon after, Steve met Townes Van Zandt, who inspired him to make music his career. (Steve later commented on TVZ... "He was a real good teacher and a real bad role model.") At 19, Steve made his way to Nashville.

Before he left, Steve made an appearance in high school (he didn't leave before making friends with some others who were caught somewhere between the "kicker" and "surfer" factions).

While struggling in the music industry, Steve paid the bills with odd jobs. "I've never had a job longer than three months in my life. I've always led a bohemian lifestyle. I have framed houses, worked on oil rigs, worked on shrimp boats and in restaurants, but it was different for me because I knew I was always going to get out". Steve worked offshore for a month, "I came back with the most money I'd ever had in my life and I got in the most trouble I'd ever gotten into my life".

In Nashville, Steve played in various bands to support himself. Steve's first known professional recording was with Guy Clark on Guy's album Old No. 1. Steve played bass and sang back-up vocals on the song Desperadoes Waiting For A Train.

Steve eventually wrote songs that were recorded by some major players at the time. After landing his first publishing deal with Sunbury Dunbar (a division of RCA), he received $75 per week draw as a staff writer. He almost had a song, Mustang Wine, recorded by Elvis Presley... but Elvis never showed up for the session. The song was later recorded by Carl Perkins, and Johnny Lee had a Top 10 hit in 1982 with When You Fall In Love, a song that Steve co-wrote with John Scott Sherrill.

From 1982-1985, Steve recorded some rockabilly tracks for Epic, but Epic did a poor job promoting him, and the singles had little success. The songs from a 7" vinyl EP that was released in 1982, Pink & Black, later showed up in the post-Guitar Town (1986) frenzy as Early Tracks. Epic wasn't totally stupid — better late than never. The songs, although all in the rockabilly genre, reinforced Steve's reputation as an accomplished songwriter.

In 1987, the critically acclaimed Exit 0 was released.  I Ain't Ever Satisfied gained some rock air play, but that made the country radio stations skittish and Nowhere Road wasn't given much of a chance.

Copperhead Road followed in 1988 and represented a sharper turn towards rock.  The album's only serious U.S. single was Copperhead Road, which was targeted exclusively to rock radio.Other promotional-only singles ("Nothing But A Child," "Even When I’m Blue," and "Back To The Wall") were released in the U.S., but never marketed with any real conviction.  A better effort was made in the U.K., which released commercial singles of "Copperhead Road," "Back To The Wall," "Justice in Ontario," and a rare 3" CD single of "Johnny Come Lately."

A much harder-sounding The Hard Way was released in 1990.  The live recording Shut Up and Die Like an Aviator followed in 1991 and was the last album of Steve's contract with MCA.  The label chose not to renew his contract when it expired due to the escalating severity of his drug problem.What followed was a four year draught and Mr. Earle disappeared from the music scene.

Steve was arrested and sent to prison for possession of narcotics, which ultimately saved his life.  He successfully completed a rehab program and was paroled in late 1994.

During Steve's break from recording, which he calls his "vacation in the ghetto", Barbara Behler (of Warner-Chappell), John Dotson (Steve's former manager), and Mark Brown (also with Warner-Chappell) compiled the promotional CD Uncut Gems and shopped it around to other recording artists in Nashville. The CD was an excellent compilation of some otherwise unknown and unrecorded Steve Earle songs and resulted in artists like Travis Tritt and Stacy Dean Campbell recording Sometimes She Forgets and Robert Earl Keen, Jr. recording Tom Ames' Prayer.

Train A Comin' came out in early 1995 and is a collection of Steve's own mostly-older acoustic compositions plus some favorite covers. "This is exactly the record I needed to make right now... no major label would let me make this record, especially coming back after four years. I always wanted to do it. It was a low pressure record, at a point in my life when I needed a low pressure record".

I Feel Alright follwed in March 1996 on Steve's own label E2 and is a mix of country, rock, and rockabilly.

Steve is currently writing and recording new songs for an album he hopes to have out by the end of 1997.

Steve is involved in raising his three children — two sons (Justin with wife #3 and Ian with wife #4) and his step daughter (Amy, the daughter of Lou Anne, who was wife #4 and #6).

Steve's mom and dad are now living near Nashville.  Steve's elder of his younger brothers, Mark, is living in Lubbock, Texas.  The youngest Earle, Patrick, is living near Nashville and often tours with Steve as part of his crew.  Steve's elder younger sister, Kelly, lives near Boston, Massachusetts. The second youngest Earle child, Stacey, lives in Ashland City, Tennessee with her husband, Mark Stuart [Mark is a member of the current Dukes] and has her own recording career in Nashville.

- Lisa Kemper


1995-1997   Forsting Etc   (lisa@mcs.com)   —   All Rights Reserved|

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