I like to hear Steve Earle sing just fine, but I really like to hear him talk. The man behind “Guitar Town,” “Copperhead Road” and “Galway Girl” is headlining the three-day-long Rhythm & Roots Festival at Charlestown, RI’s Ninnigret Park on Friday night, and for the last few mornings I’ve been scrolling Earle interviews while riding the bus to work in Brooklyn. Pithy, witty, earnest, occasionally wise – the 63-year-old singer is a thoughtful gent whose on-stage exposition can be just as entertaining as his interview responses. Below you’ll find 10 quick bites that stuck with me this week.
Earle’s band the Dukes doesn’t pull any punches when they kick their country-rock into action; they knock you around a bit. Last year’s So You Wannabe an Outlaw has just as much snarl as his best work, and the Waylon and Willie covers mix well with the Earle originals. So save some energy for the Friday closer at Ninigret; it’s the 30th anniversary of Copperhead Road album and the Dukes have been roaring through its program. The Rhythm & Roots curators saved the best for last.
I’m a firm believer that rock & roll only becomes an art form because of the lyrics. If it hadn’t been for Bob Dylan wanting to be John Lennon and John Lennon wanting to be Bob Dylan, it wouldn’t have been cranked up to the level of literature that makes it OK for rock & roll to be taken seriously. – Rolling Stone
I know one way [Willie Nelson] heard about me was his, like, grandniece heard him playing the version of ‘The Devil’s Right Hand’ by the Highwaymen when she about five or something. And he played the whole record for relatives some place and she said, ‘I don’t know. I like it better by the real guy.’ So, around then, Willie would occasionally refer to me as ‘the fucking real guy.’ – PopMatters
I like sitting where I want to in the movies, and when you go to the theater at the last minute you can get a really good seat if you’re looking for a single. If I go to a baseball game I can stay for the whole thing. Being single in New York City doesn’t suck. I’m lonely sometimes, but I’m on the road half the time and that’s pretty lonely anyway. – The Guardian
I couldn’t have made this record [‘So You Wannabe an Outlaw’] if I hadn’t have made all the records I made between ‘Guitar Town’ (Earle’s 1987 debut album) and this one. I joked when somebody earlier asked me what this record was before I actually made it and I said it might have been the record I might have made if (label executive) Jimmy Bowen hadn’t pissed me off after ‘Guitar Town.’ It was funny, but the deal is that all the stuff that I’ve done, I don’t have a single record that I’m not proud of or any musical wave that I’ve ever made that I regret. – KansasCity.com
I have the complete works of William Shakespeare on my phone but I also have all of the Harry Potter books. I think J.K. Rowling will be remembered. She is the (Charles) Dickens of our era. – Eldoradonews.com
I’m OK with “folk singer.” Rock ‘n’ roll is folk music, and so is hip-hop. When a couple of kids get a piece of digital gear they don’t really understand, and throw the fucking manual away and just start pushing buttons, that’s the same thing as an NYU student with a banjo in 1957. It’s just doing it yourself, making music for yourself. – Billboard
To tell you the truth, for my own output, what I’m interested in are old-fashioned musicals, where the play holds up and each and every one of the songs holds up on their own, when you take them out of their environment. It’s starting to happen again. “Dear Evan Hansen” is really good and that’s pretty inspiring. I loved “Hamilton,” which I saw three times, (it’s) everything that it’s cracked up to be. But it’s still an opera and not a book musical. I’m just fascinated with book musicals because it’s an American art form. We kind of invented it. – theplanetweekly
I’m still writing the political record, but I’m going to hold it and keep writing it because I want it to be exactly right, and not come out until late 2019/2020 so it bumps up right against the election cycle. – City Pages
I think “Blowing in the Wind,” is way up there [as far as political songs go]. It’s an overt anti-war statement right as we were getting into the Vietnam War. When we were just getting into it, some people were just figuring it out what Vietnam was.. The Peter, Paul and Mary version, which I thought was the coolest things because I love Peter, Paul and Mary records. They’re not watered down or anything, they’re just their versions of those songs and they prove that he was important, that he was important as a songwriter. His manager knew that and his manager knew that you have a copyright that’s why he was able to make a living even though he wasn’t selling that many records. – The Nation
The best stuff coming out of Nashville is all by women except for Chris Stapleton. He’s great. The guys just wanna sing about getting fucked up. They’re just doing hip-hop for people who are afraid of black people. I like the new Kendrick Lamar record, so I’ll just listen to that. – The Guardian
Full Rhythm & Roots Line-Up
Check Earle’s track on Marc Ribot’s upcoming Songs of Resistance 1942-2018