South Texas Entertainment Art Music
Steve Earle will be @ The House of Rock in Corpus Christi, TX Sunday May 10th, 2015
SHOW Starts @ 7:00pm
STEVE EARLE & THE DUKES
Rockin The House
By Rusty & Tamma Hicks, STEAM Magazine
STEAM Thanks for taking some time out and talking with us. I know the show at the House Of Rock here in Corpus Christi came up real quick and I believe it’s been a while since you played here.
SE Yeah, it’s been a while; I think it’s been 15 years since I played the Executive Surf Club. This will be the second pass through Texas and I’ll be back a third time in late summer for Austin. But yeah, I don’t get south of San Antonio much. I think we’ve only played Corpus Christi two times; once with Rosanne Cash in 1987 and I think the next time I played there was at the Executive Surf Club and I haven’t been since.
As a kid growing up in San Antonio we’d go for vacation in Port Aransas. We went to Gardner State Park a few times, but by and large people in Houston go to there, whereas San Antonio people go to Padre Island or Port Aransas.
STEAM That’s very true. The reason we distribute in San Antonio and Austin is because this is where they vacation, and they want to know what’s going on down here.
SE Actually, I was on Padre Island when got my ear pierced. I was 15 years old and there was a girl with a needle in the middle of the night. It hurt like hell; there was no ice involved, just hurt like hell. (laughing)
STEAM That’s too funny. So the next question I have for you is what drew you to Townes Van Zandt?
SE Well, I was 14 when I figured out who he was. It’s because I’d started playing at the Gatehouse Coffee Shop in San Antonio at 14. And what I’d do was go down there and bug them until they let me play, so when I first started I was playing Donovan and Bob Dylan songs. At the time I didn’t know there was much of a difference between Townes Van Zandt and Bob Dylan; I learned about him at the coffee house because all the folkies would sit around and talk about him in hushed tones. So when I went to find his records they were sitting right next to Bob Dylan’s, so really I didn’t know any difference between Townes and anyone else who had their records in a record store. So he was a big deal to me as I started going around and playing at other places. There was a service club coffee house in San Antonio that I played at and the guys there pointed me to a coffee house in Killeen ran by GIs; then I started hearing about a bar in Houston, The Old Quarter, where Townes played by that time.
The first time I was ever in a room with Townes, I was crashing Jerry Jeff Walker’s 33rd birthday party in town. I was not invited. I had overheard John Edmondson tell a girl where this party was, so I lied to this other girl about being invited because she had a car and I had hitchhiked there and needed a ride. I just went in, stayed close to the wall with my hat down over my eyes, and hope that nobody realized I didn’t belong there; by then I was 17.
Milton Carol was there, so was Rusty Weir, BW Stevens, and Jerry Jeff. Of course Townes came in in the middle of the night and started a craps game where he lost the jacket he was wearing, that he had just gotten for his birthday a week earlier, and all of his money and I thought “my hero”.
STEAM That’s a cool story! You know, I had wondered how a young kid would’ve picked up on Van Zandt.
SE I had an uncle that was five years older than me, but playing in rock ‘n roll bands and I wanted to sound like Jimi Hendrix. My dad wouldn’t let me have an electric guitar, so I gravitated to more acoustic stuff; and my uncle was horrified because he didn’t raise me to be a “folkie.” Of course the other thing was that I was too young to play in places that served liquor. You know if you were in a coffee house anywhere in Texas in 1969, you’d heard tales of Townes.
STEAM Do you remember the first time you heard your song on the radio.
SE Oh God, I don’t remember. I think the first one of my songs was probably not me doing it, it was Johnny Lee; a song called “When You Fall In Love”. It has the dubious distinction to be the first Johnny Lee single that did not go to number one. It did make it to number eight, but it did get on the radio. That was the year Justin was born and I thought that maybe Justin wasn’t going to be raised on food stamps all his life. (laughing) I was in Nashville somewhere when I heard that.
STEAM You are a true all around artist! Besides being a Grammy winning songwriter you have written your autobiography, a novel, books of poetry, and you paint.
SE Hey, I’m just trying to make a living. The music business isn’t as big as it used to be and you have to do a lot of things to piece together a living. I’m kind of headed towards Broadway right now. I live in New York and am in the very beginning process of developing Washington Square Serenade into a Broadway musical, because I think that’s where the monies are going. It’s going to go back to Broadway where it originated, because the record business is going to collapse.
STEAM So along those lines, where do you see recorded music fit in?
SE CDs are going to be gone in five years. They’ll be for kids and people who are into pop music and buy five or ten at a time, but for most people it’s going to be downloads strictly. For people who listen to singer-songwriters and rock music it’ll be more like listening to jazz or bluegrass and for them the formats going to be vinyl with the download card, which is what I’m doing now. I sell CDs, but our home-based format is an LP vinyl with download card and I’ve quit putting 15 songs on my records because that takes two discs; I’m also sequencing them like I did when I first started making records, with a side 1 and side 2.
STEAM For you what is the best part of putting out a project?
SE I don’t know, I think the thing is that I’m really lucky to have a job that allows me to do the things I love; however, it does feel like a job. There are deadlines and I need to get my stuff done, but because I’m working I can’t go to the baseball games or I can’t watch girls. But then I get my work done so the deadlines over and I’m okay, but then there’s a new deadline to work on.
STEAM How do you deal with writers block?
SE Well, I don’t really get it. I don’t know why but I can’t really remember ever having it. There’s always something to write. What I tell people to fight writer’s block is don’t run around the subway with earbuds in, don’t bottle yourself in, and don’t cut yourself off from input. Walk around every once in a while unplugged. Read. You have to take stuff in, to be able to put stuff out.
STEAM Thank you. I think that’s probably one of the best answers I’ve had for that. How often do you paint?
SE Boy, I haven’t painted in a long time. There was a spurt about three years back when I did a lot and I need to start again because I’m single again and nobody can bitch that I get paint on stuff. I’ve got an apartment that has got great light for painting; southern exposure on the fourth floor.
STEAM I love the artwork on your new album, Terraplane; do you do your album covers?
SE Oh, no they are done by Tony Fitzpatrick out of Chicago; he is a much bigger deal as a painter than I am.
STEAM I was reading an article on Terraplane and it said that this is your first blues album and that you haven’t really done a lot of blues before.
SE Well, actually I have done blues. This is just the first album that stays in that territory.
STEAM I was watching David Letterman not too long ago and saw you perform “You’re The Best Lover I Ever Had” off Terraplane. I really enjoyed that. I think it will be a song that people will quickly recognized as yours, just like Copperhead Road.
SE Well, will see. Supposedly the song that has the most activity on the streaming services worldwide is “Galway Girl” and it has been for several years; it gets more downloads than any of my other songs because there’s a lot of Irish, everywhere. In fact, it’s one of those songs that are played at almost every wedding in Ireland.
STEAM This will be your second summer doing Camp Copperhead; what exactly is it?
SE Yeah, this is the second year I’ll be teaching a songwriting a Master class. It’s four nights, five days in the Catskills where cell phones don’t work. We have people coming back from last year, new people, and I teach every minute of it. Mornings are long Master classes, while everyone’s divided up into four groups for the afternoons. One group will spend the afternoon with me and the other three will work with one of the graduate students that I have coming or doing other activities including learning guitar. It’s a really beautiful place in upstate New York.
STEAM So when you say Masters class does that mean you already have to be a songwriter?
SE No; this means that I’m the one who teaches every day. There are different topics from structure to literature. We talk about Shakespeare, and of course I make everybody write a haiku, which makes some people cry, but I think it’s a great exercise. I’ve been teaching it for a while; I started with it at the Old Town Folk Music School about 20 years ago, but it’s developed over the years.
STEAM Is this something you’d like to teach at a university level?
SE Yeah, I would like to do that, but right now it would be a cut in pay and I can’t do that because I’m supporting half of the women in Tennessee. I also have a little boy with Autism and he goes to a very expensive school.
STEAM Speaking of your young son, how has he influenced your work?
SE Well, you know it’s a lot of work. He was diagnosed at the exact same time Allison and I were separating. He thinks he lives in a house with a train in the middle of it; when I’m home, he’s with me, so I’m working on touring less to be home with him as he gets older. He just turned five and he’s in a very good school with a lot of one-on-one and is 40 hours a week, which is what kids with autism need because that’s what works the best. And luckily in New York there are not only services for these kids but there’s funding for them as well; which is great for us because his school is extremely expensive.
STEAM You are very fortunate in that.
SE We are very fortunate and it’s becoming my main active point of activism. In fact, a few weeks ago I was doing a benefit for Autism Speaks with Shawn Colvin, Stephen Stills, and Neil Young. Stephen has a boy with Asperger’s and, his wife, Kristin is a huge autism activist in LA. So autism is going to be huge part of my life and activism is going to be right there with it.
STEAM Being the parents of a special needs person, I want you to know how much we appreciated your activism because it brings a spotlight to all the kids, not just those with a specific disability. We really appreciate it as it helps everyone.
SE Oh, absolutely. And you know this is why you need to pay taxes, so everybody can take care of everybody and use the resources that are there. The costs are daunting and ridiculous. There was a time at one point where everyone was headed towards having what they needed and then suddenly, across the nation, people were unwilling to pay taxes and when we are successful we want to keep it all until we’re dead and then pass it to our kids to screw them up. You know, I’ve always been kind of a socialist and even more so now.
STEAM Speaking of which, with your political views I have to say that being a Texan and an opponents of capital punishment has probably got to be one of the hardest roads you could choose.
SE Well, I was at SXSW a few weeks ago. When leaving the Austin airport I walked by the statue of Barbara Jordan; that’s Texas I left in 1974, and somewhere, something happened. I can tell you people did not even imagine that Texas would have a Republican governor back then. When I left in fact, Texas was becoming a Southern California. When I left Willie Nelson even came back and I remember standing in a cow pasture with a bunch of cowboys that used to kick my ass listening to the same music. And then things changed and you can’t blame it on me; I wasn’t there. Just know, it wasn’t always like that.