Justin Townes Earle, Americana star and son of Steve Earle, dies aged 38

ustin Townes Earle performs on stage at Celtic Connections Festival at 02 ABC Glasgow on January 17, 2015 in Glasgow, Scotland
(Image credit: Ross Gilmore/Redferns via Getty Images)

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Justin Townes Earle, a celebrated Americana and roots music artist and the son of country star Steve Earle, has died at the age of 38.

Earle’s passing was announced in a posting on his social media pages: “It is with tremendous sadness that we inform you of the passing of our son, husband, father and friend Justin,” the post read. 

“So many of you have relied on his music and lyrics over the years and we hope that his music will continue to guide you on your journeys.”

No cause of death has been revealed.

The artist, who was named after his father’s friend, Townes Van Zandt, cut his teeth playing in Nashville-area bands, among them a rock outfit named the Distributors, and a bluesgrass act, the Swindlers. He also joined his father’s touring band, the Dukes, playing keyboards and guitar.

Early in his career he became known for his stark, sometimes old-timey approach, as well as an ongoing battle with drug addiction that became intertwined with his music and story.

Regarding his early guitar influences, Earle told the Chicagoist, “I learned about Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb through my father. I also picked up a few things from a street player in New Orleans named Frank Schapp. He's an amazing picker. Another guitarist I look up to is a man named Malcolm Holcomb. I've picked up a thing here, a thing there, and incorporate it into my own style. I'm kind of a ‘collector’ of picking styles.”

In 2007, Earle released his critically-acclaimed 2007 debut EP, Yuma, and went on to sign a recording contract with Bloodshot Records. He has since released eight studio albums, including the "family trilogy" of 2014’s Single Mothers, 2015’s Absent Fathers and 2017’s Kids in the Street.

His most recent release was 2019’s The Saint of Lost Causes, which mixed everything from traditional country, blues and folk to western swing, roots-rock and boogie-woogie.

“I kind of see it the same way that maybe Gram Parsons did,” he said of the record. “There’s this idea of moving forward and playing with newer sounds and different modes, but at the same time making sure you keep one foot firmly planted in the past as you feel out the future. 

"I think it’s really important to leave a trail, you know? Put down some breadcrumbs behind you.”

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.