Steve Earle recalls the late great Townes Van Zandt
Steve Earle’s admiration for Townes Van Zandt is nearly as legendary as the two men themselves. Point one: A teenage Earle started following the iconic country singer-songwriter upon discovering him in Houston back in 1972. Point two: He named his first son after him, the emerging Justin Townes Earle who’s now commanding attention for his own potent honky tonk delivery and lyrical skills. Point three: He just released an entire album covering 15 Van Zandt songs, simply titled Townes. Recording the core vocals and guitar tracks live in his New York apartment last September, the gritty Grammy-winning Earle is now taking the musical tribute—and his memories of one of the most underappreciated and prolific poets—on the road, and he’ll be hitting The Rio at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 7. When he talks about Van Zandt, whose infamous life of alcohol and drug abuse ended on New Year’s Day of 1997 at the age of 52, Earle’s tone shifts restlessly between poignant awe of the man and his influence, to somber lament (and riled frustration) for the fame, health and success that his idol never obtained. Like Van Zandt, Earle rose in the growlin’ blues, country-rock songwriting ranks only to fall to his own substance abuse and eventual imprisonment in the early ’90s. Unlike Van Zandt, he made it out of the darkness—sobering up and singing again to reclaim himself, a family and his lauded career. Townes Van Zandt epitomized the struggling, self-destructive folk phenom that could never quite enjoy the brilliance he emanated, and now Steve Earle is giving his greatest mentor what he could never hold onto in life: the spotlight.