On his radio show, Steve Earle and guests describe where his music comes from, and on his new album he honors a man who led him to it.
Earle performs Saturday at Crystal Bay Casino Lake Tahoe. He became a renowned country artist in the late 1980s for his albums “Guitar Town” and “Copperhead Road.” Twenty years later, he paid tribute to Townes Van Zandt with the album “Townes,” and a decade later, he has released “Guy,” a collection of 16 songs by his mentor Guy Clark.
“I got lucky,” Earle said. “I was playing coffeehouses in Texas because I was too young to play places that served liquor. I knew who Townes Van Zant was from the time I was about 14. I met him in Houston at 17, so I got an automatic introduction to Guy two years later in Nashville.”
Clark and Van Zandt guided Earle in different ways.
“I tried to be Townes at first for a few years and I figured out that that was probably not a good idea,” Earle said. “Then I tried to be Guy. My influences up to that point were people I heard on records. It’s a whole different deal when you are dealing with somebody who’s sitting across the room from you. It was a real-life apprenticeship. He probably would have said he wasn’t teaching anybody anything but it’s a lie.”
A prolific songwriter, Earle also tends to be loquacious.
“Guy wasn’t a guy who talked a lot,” Earle said. “We were polar opposites. In that sense, I probably drove him nuts. But every time I asked him a question, I got an answer that made sense to me.”
Earle worked on the songs for “Guy” during sound checks on an extensive tour last year. The subsequent recording sessions only took a few days and most of the songs were completed in one take.
The Crystal Bay show will be opened by The Mastersons, a husband and wife duo of Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore. The couple will join Steve Earle & The Dukes for a two-hour set, about half of which will be songs from the new album.
Listeners also can check out the SiriusXM outlaw country radio show,” Steve Earle Hard-Core Troubadour Radio.”
When he’s at home in New York, Earle interviews artists. On the road, he will talk musicology.
“This history of what I do is important,” Earle said. “It’s passing that along and having other people pass it along knowing where this kind of music comes from.
“Essentially, folk music or country music, whatever you want to call it, it’s post Bob Dylan. Lyrics are what elevated rock and roll to an art form. Without Bob, it remains songs about sex and cars. That’s OK, those things are important, I guess. Not so much cars anymore. I am kind of over my motor-head thing.”
Music played on the outlaw station contrasts from modern country. The modern, or pop, country vs. traditional country is a longstanding issue, which Earle addressed with a story, kind of like he does in his songs.
“In 1986, I was in Vegas, a joint on the edge of town. It was a country dance hall, a kind of joint that I grew up around in Texas,” he said.” ’Guitar Town’ just went to No. 1. The dance floor was right in front of the stage. One guy, every time he’d walk by would yell at us, ‘Play something country.’ I finally stopped in the middle of the song and said, ‘You know what, I’ve got the No. 1 country album, so this week I get to decide what’s county and what’s not.’
“So I am not going to tell these kids coming up that what they’re doing is not country. Country music is the biggest it’s ever been. I am not going to tell anybody who’s out there doing it every night and dealing with country radio that they’re not country. That’s not up to me. I don’t get to decide. They get to define what country music is. It’s their turn.”
Steve Earle & The DukesOpening and backup players: The Mastersons
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17
Where: Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room
Tickets: $50 general admission seated; $60 Golden Circle
Red Room after-party: Darren Senn
ABOUT Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.