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.