Gettin’ by: Steve Earle comes to Brown County in support of new album

The bombastic personality and electric stage presence was inescapable for an aspiring musician growing up in 1970s Texas.

Steve Earle was determined to make it as a musician. After dropping out of high school, he took to the coffeehouse circuit, playing anywhere that would have him. He encountered numerous performers who took him under his wing, helping shape him as a songwriter and a singer.

Others inspired him through their music. Jerry Jeff Walker was foremost among them.

“I wanted to be Jerry Jeff Walker very badly in 1972,” Earle said.

Fifty years later, Earle has captured what Walker meant to him and to the musical world as a whole. His new album, “JERRY JEFF,” is a 10-track collection made up of Walker’s hit tracks and rareties, with songs ranging from “Mr. Bojangles” to “Getting By” to “Gypsy Songman.”

In tribute to his friend and mentor, and in support of the new album, Earle is hitting the road this summer. He and his band, the Dukes, will perform at Brown County Music Center in Nashville on June 3, with special guests the Whitmore Sisters serving as opener.

The show will blend much of the music from “JERRY JEFF” while also including favorites from his more than 35 years as a performer.

“I try to give people their money’s worth,” he said. “We’ll play the songs that people think they’ll want to hear. I play ‘Copperhead Road’ every night. If you don’t pass out, you will hear ‘Copperhead Road.’”

Earle is a prolific artist, constantly writing, touring and making music. He has published a novel and collection of short stories, acted in films, television and on stage, and produced for other artists. Recently, he wrote the music and appeard in the play “Coal Country,” which told the story of the disaster at Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia in 2010. He hosts a weekly radio show on Sirius XM, “Hardcore Troubadour.”

Since his debut album, “Guitar Town,” came out in 1986, Earle has built a reputation as one of the most talented and insightful singer-songwriters of his generation. His music has been critically acclaimed, as he won Grammy awards for releases “The Revolution Starts…Now,” “Washington Square Serenade” and “TOWNES,” in honor of Townes Van Zandt, the first of a trio of tributes to his mentors.

“JERRY JEFF” rounds out that group, which also included an album of Guy Clark’s music, “GUY.”

In the liner notes for the album, Earle writes, “So this record completes the set, the work of my first-hand teachers, TOWNES, GUY AND JERRY JEFF, the heroes I was lucky enough to sit across the room from so I could listen and learn up close and personal as they say. The records were recorded and released in the order in which they left this world, but make no mistake — it was Jerry Jeff who came first.”

Earle hadn’t initially planned to honor the three musicians in this way, though their impact on his was unmistakable. They all were monumental artists in Texas as Earle was developing as a musician. Ten years passed after Van Zandt died in 1996 before Earle embarked on the first tribute.

Then, when Clark died in 2016, he knew he had to do another.

“I wasn’t thinking of doing any more of them, and then Guy passed away, and I thought I had to make one for Guy, because he was even more of a direct teacher than Townes was,” he said.

When Walker died in 2020, Earle was already thinking of a tribute album. He had been invited to perform at a memorial concert for Walker in Luckenbach, Texas, in 2021, and performed a song at the graveside service.

“That kind of tipped me over, and I just pulled (Walker’s wife) Susan to the side. I wanted to get her blessing, and she said yeah. Then I started working on putting it together that day,” he said.

Earle tried to mix Walker’s most popular songs with deep cuts that had an impact on him. He also wanted to capture the essence and energy that made Walker such a legendary performer.

“When I lived in New York, I ran into a lot of people who knew him when he was here. Everybody says the same thing, whether they liked him or whether they didn’t — the one thing their memories had in common was, he was by far the best perfomer of all of his peers,” Earle said.

The record came out on May 27. With it finished, the next focus is on the start of the tour. The Brown County show will be the second of this tour, and Earle and the Dukes flew to Nashville, Tennessee, to start rehearsing this week.

“I’m glad its coming out, we’re going to get out on the road and I’m ready to play. I only get to tour in the summers these days, so it’ll be good to get on the road,” he said.