Steve Earle made his second appearance on Rolling Stone‘s virtual In My Room series on Tuesday, where the singer-songwriter paid tribute to his late son Justin Townes Earle with a trio of tracks from J.T. Released on January 4th, which would have marked Justin’s 39th birthday, J.T. features Earle’s renditions of 10 songs recorded by his son and one original.
Prior to his performance, the patriarch of the Earle family gave some background on the events surrounding his son’s death for the first time since Justin died on August 20th of a probable drug overdose. Steve unequivocally stated that 2020 was the worst year of his life, “and that’s saying something. I’ve kind of done some self-inflicted stuff, I’ve had some bad years of my life.”
Of his grieving process following Justin’s death, Steve said,
But the only thing I knew to do was make a record, and people have asked me ‘that must have been incredibly hard to do’ but the truth is I think the best I’ve been since this happened is when we were actually making the record. I don’t know how to explain it, but that’s just what I do. It’s just a way for me… cathartic, I’m not sure if that’s the word, I think it’s just a way for me to say goodbye and a way for me to make sure that I was giving him his due because we do the same thing. And just like every other record, I made this record for me. And it’s dedicated to Justin and his memory, but it happened because I needed to do it.
Steve chose “They Killed John Henry” for the first song of his In My Room session. Off 2009’s Midnight at the Movies, Steve said that he was always jealous of this song because somehow he had never recorded his own version of the classic John Henry folk song, an unbelievable feat for an outlaw country artist with nearly 40 years in the business. Next came arguably Justin’s most celebrated song, “Harlem River Blues”. Steve noted that this was the first song his son ever played on national television—on the Late Show with David Letterman in 2011, backed by a young guitarist named Jason Isbell—and one that Steve himself performed earlier this month on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Finally, Steve Earle closed his In My Room session with his lone original track on J.T., “Last Words”. The song recounts his final conversation with Justin on the phone, which ended with the two of them saying that they loved each other. Steve wrote the song three days after Justin died and it serves as a fitting eulogy to a talented songwriter and, more importantly, a loving son.
Watch Steve Earle’s second appearance on the In My Room virtual performance series from Rolling Stone.
Steve Earle – In My Room
[H/T Rolling Stone]