R.I.P.: Justin Townes Earle

This just sucks. People aren’t supposed to die at age 38. The news this past Sunday night that Justin Townes Earle had passed away was a shock that I just couldn’t shake off.

Although I have been a fan of his dad (Steve Earle) since his first record, that had little to do with my love of JTE’s music. I just loved to watch him play in his smooth old-timey way accompanying himself with that amazing clawhammer picking style of his. At the last show of his that I saw, the person I was with was new to his music and refused to believe that he wasn’t playing to a backing track of a second guitar.

I was fortunate to see him play many times and will miss not seeing him again. I will forever treasure this video that someone captured at the Louisville Forecastle Festival in 2012. I stood just a few feet away and was mesmerized. Justin did the rare thing of making a cover version of a song that somehow almost makes us forget the original. Watch him own The Replacement’s “Can’t Hardly Wait.”

But I have another story about Justin Townes Earle which is how I will always remember him.

In Nashville’s Green Hills there is today a Trader Joe’s that once was a Wild Oats supermarket. I worked close by and walked there every day for lunch. I usually went late in the afternoon and sat outside at a table by myself reading while I ate. Well, one day about 20 years ago, this young kid sat at the table next to me and started up a conversation before he even sat down.

After just a few minutes I recognized who he was. Although he had yet to release any records, I knew he was Steve’s son and had started playing around town. I never let on that I knew who he was, and for the most part just listened to the joy this young man had about his new band and his musical future. I wish I could recall more of our chat, but knowing me, I was intent to just listen and encourage him. I will never forget how incredibly excited and upbeat he was.

It’s no secret that he struggled with life, but despite all his setbacks, he achieved great success and leaves a worthy musical legacy. When I think of him, I will always remember that happy kid I met one afternoon in Green Hills. My heart also goes out to Steve, who while he doesn’t know me from Adam, I have been in the same room enough times to feel like we’ve been friends forever.

This still sucks.

Here’s a shot I took of JTE playing the 2019 Pilgrimage Festival in Franklin, TN.  



  1. PELIKAN14@AOL.COM · · Reply

    Really nice obit………thanks…..I think you speak for many people that knew him personally and fans………………



  2. This is certainly sad. I’m not familiar with Justin’s music. It looks like he has struggled with drug addiction for many years – heartbreaking! I’ve listened to some of his father’s music and like it.

  3. Mike, thank you for sharing those personal experiences of JTE. Such a terrible tragedy for the world when musicians pass on 😦

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