“When you get out there there will be this built-in audience of people curious about what Steve Earle’s son is, or what Waylon Jennings’ son is,” Jennings said. “So there is a little distrust of the audience right from the start. Are you here because you like my music or are you here because you like my father’s music? “
To include “JT” Earle, with the help of his 33-year-old son Ian, put Justin’s work on a list of 10 songs – two of them, “Turn Out My Lights” and “Far Away in Another Town,” Justin wrote with Scotty Melton – and booked a week in the Electric Lady Studios in New York.
He worked quickly and sent preparatory notes to his band via SMS. When they started recording, Justin had been dead less than two months. (They started their sessions before October 20th.) Earle, who had largely avoided speaking publicly about Justin’s death, wanted the album to have his testimony was.
He was also careful about being drawn into someone else’s memorial.
“I didn’t want to be asked to be on a tribute record with several people who I thought were perfectly capable and who killed him,” Earle said. His words were full of explosions. “So I thought the way to nip this in the bud was to make your own record.”
At this point in his career, Earle – with glasses and a long salt and pepper beard – is a renaissance man for whom mortality and addiction are a constant theme. In addition to his many albums, Earle has written a play about a woman on death row and a novel about the ghost of Hank Williams, and contributed music to a recent play about a mining disaster in West Virginia. He’s been writing a science fiction story for television lately.
The night before the first session for “JT”, Earle gathered the band for sushi in his apartment. Ray Kennedy, Earle’s longtime engineer, remembers the time in Electric Lady as solemn but focused. They started at 10 a.m. each day and ended at 4 p.m. so Earle could take care of his youngest son, John Henry, 10, who has autism.