Justin Townes Earle, a singer-songwriter and the son of musician Steve Earle, has died at the age of 38. His death was confirmed by a statement posted to his official Facebook page, although no cause of death was provided. On August 25, the Tennessean reported that Metro Nashville police confirmed his death was due to a “probable drug overdose.” His exact date of death is uncertain at this time but police went to his apartment for a welfare check on Sunday, the outlet wrote.
The message posted to Earle’s social media accounts reads: “It is with tremendous sadness that we inform you of the passing of our son, husband, father and friend Justin. 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. You will be missed dearly Justin.”
Earle was born on January 4, 1982, to acclaimed musician Steve Earle and his third wife, Carol Ann Hunter, according to the Tennessean. He was named after singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt. He grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, The A.V. Club reported, but dropped out of high school and began touring with his father and working with him for a while before pursuing his own music career.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Earle Released Several Albums During His Music Career & Won 2 Americana Music Awards
Earle traveled all over the U.S., settling in different cities for a short time before moving on, The A.V. Club reported. Although his career was cut short, it was prolific; as his website bio describes, “Between releasing four full-length-critically-acclaimed albums, constant touring, multiple stints in rehab, a new found sobriety, being born Steve Earle’s son, amicable and not-so-amicable break-ups with record labels, and facing the trials and tribulations of everyday life, it’s safe to say JTE has quite the story to tell.”
Earle began his music career touring with his father and performing gigs around Nashville, The A.V. Club reported. When he was 14, he started a residency at Springwater Supper Club for a weekly set of seven hours, according to No Depression. He told the publication, “I would play Mississippi John Hurt and Lightnin’ Hopkins — blues standards — at Springwater. That was the goal: I wanted to be an acoustic blues guy.”
Earle released nine albums in total, with his latest coming out in May 2019 titled The Saint of Lost Causes. He received Americana Music Awards twice, in 2009 winning the emerging artist of the year award and again in 2011 for song of the year for “Harlem River Blues.”
2. Earle Had Been Open About His Struggles With Sobriety & Started Using Drugs at the Age of 12
Earle had opened up in the past about his struggles with addiction and sobriety, with the Scotsman reporting that Earle had turned to drugs at the age of 12 and battled addiction for the next 10 years. He said the first time he saw crack cocaine, he was about nine years old and in the parking lot of a drugstore.
He told the outlet, “I was never one of those people that was confused, ‘oh I can quit in a day’ – I knew I couldn’t quit any day. I always knew there was something different about the way that I used drugs and drank to the way that my friends did, but it’s a wild thing to wake up when you’re 16 years old and realise you can’t stop shooting up.”
However, he said the majority of his addiction was during his time as a roadie or “coffeehouse musician.” As soon as he started making albums, he was sober, he told Rolling Stone, with the exception of a couple of relapses.
3. Earle Married Jenn Marie Earle in 2013 & the Couple Had a Daughter in 2017
— Justin Townes Earle (@JustinTEarle) August 15, 2017
Earle married Jenn Marie Earle in 2013, and in July 2017 the couple welcomed their daughter Etta St. James. In October 2019, he told the San Francisco Examiner that the couple had moved from California to Portland before the birth of their daughter. Earle spoke to The Boot in 2019 about how having a daughter influenced his music and his outlook on life.
He said, “My daughter is probably the reason I stopped writing songs that were so inward and started looking out into the world. I had to start worrying about the world because of her. I bought her a 9MM [handgun] the day she was born because I’m frightened like hell for her.”
Earle added that he found it difficult to be a good father while also pursuing his music career and told the outlet: “I’m a good father. I taught my daughter to cuss when the Cubs lose — she’s an Earle, so she’ll be fine. I’m a good father, but I’m a s***** husband. I’m built for the road; I don’t know what the hell to do at home.”
4. He Previously Spoke About Growing Up in Nashville as the Son of a Famous Singer-Songwriter
Earle previously opened up about his experience growing up in Nashville as the son of a famous singer-songwriter, Steve Earle. Although he lived with his mother for most of his childhood, he eventually quit high school and began working and touring with his father. In 2009, Earle told CMT what it was like growing up in Nashville with a famous father:
I spent many years, luckily, not in the public eye but trying to separate myself from my father. But, you know, I really realize that I sing different than my father. I write different than my father, I sound different than my father and any separation other than that is personal. And nobody else’s business.
He also spoke about being raised by his mother and the song “Mama’s Eyes,” which he wrote for his mother. He said the goal of the song was for people to know he was raised by Hunter, not by Steve Earle, and he wanted her to get some of the credit. He said, “She’d work three jobs at a time and really worked her a** off to make sure that my head stayed above water. And I was not an easy kid to keep up with. I was a pain in the a**. And I wanted to make sure that mom got hers because people write and talk about dad all the time. He gets plenty of attention.”
5. Many People Posted Tributes to the Talented Singer-Songwriter After His Death Was Announced
RIP Justin Townes Earle.
He lived a life not indifferent from his namesake and blood. And much like those who formed him, his music will live on. #ripjustintownesearle
His official socials are posting the news. pic.twitter.com/RrH1roeWDz
— Galleywinter (@galleywinter) August 24, 2020
After his death was announced on social media, many people took to social media to post tributes. Author Stephen King wrote, “It appears that Justin Townes Earle has died. I hope it’s a hoax but fear it is not. What a loss.”
Music group The Head and the Heart posted: “RIP Justin Townes Earle… We had the pleasure of playing a few shows together. He was such an immense songwriter and authentic soul. This year is a thief.”
Holy shit this is unbelievable. Justin Townes Earle was such a singular, irreverent, fuck-all talent. A folk voice for punks. "Harlem River Blues" got me through some of the roughest times in my life. Heartbroken. https://t.co/2pQwyC4sPe pic.twitter.com/JrO853dOQj
— Andrew Kirell (@AndrewKirell) August 24, 2020
I am beyond heartbroken. You were my muse, my friend, and my brother. I will always remember your kindness. Your songs will live forever. You can rest easy now. #justinTownesEarle pic.twitter.com/E9vKDlQSWh
— Sammy Brue (@SammyBrue) August 24, 2020
My friend, Justin Townes Earle, has passed away. Such a tremendous songwriter…he took me on 2 tours and always treated me so kindly….he understood struggle, he understood joy…I saw him at the peaks and valleys of both through the 13 years I knew him…we will miss you JT ❤ pic.twitter.com/rq74Qu3Hif
— Samantha Crain (@sjcrain) August 24, 2020