I have two stories about meeting Justin Townes Earle. They aren’t amazing stories and I guess I’m writing them down so I remember (or at least remember what little I remember).
The first time I “met” Justin was... I actually don’t remember. It was about 20+ years ago in Manhattan. Jen and I went to a Steve Earle show at the Beacon Theater in the upper west side of Manhattan. It was the first time I recall Steve mentioning his son. Steve said his son would rebel against him by playing golf. I am pretty sure he had Justin come on stage and play a song with the band. After the show Jen and I went over to Steve’s bus to wait so I could give Steve a calendar of some photographs a friend of mine had taken of Civil War battlefields.
We waited a bit and the bus driver opened his window and asked us what we were waiting for. I explained and then driver called Justin over. All we did was say hello and then I or Justin handed the driver the calendar.
Flash forward years later and Justin released some of his own music (Yuma EP and then a full album called The Good Life. I immediately loved his sound, his style - the whole shebang. In fact, when I re-entered the workforce, I would listen to The Good Life endlessly as I commuted. I remember walking west on West 17th Street listening to that album. I know it couldn’t have been every single day, but boy... if anyone could wear out an MP3, it would have been me and that album.
As Twitter became a thing (not the awful thing it has become now), I started following him. One day he tweeted he’d be playing a free show at a small bar in Manhattan. It might have been the 11th Street Bar, but I honestly don’t remember. Looking on a map now, that seems right.
I don’t recall the year, but my children were young and so I almost didn’t even go.
I got there early and saw Justin setting up his equipment in the small area just past the bar. So I sat at the bar and ordered a drink. I was the only one there. A few minutes later Justin comes walking down and sits right next to me. We talked for about 15 minutes. I am pretty sure I didn’t gush. I did, however, ask him “Which three artists should I listen to?”
He said, Charlie Rich, Don Covay, and Willis Alan Ramsey. I had only heard of Charlie Rich (who hasn’t?) and, in fact, my note still has Covay written as Covey and the other as Willis Allen Ramsey.
The other thing I remember about that encounter was noticing we both had iPhones (still pretty new things at the time). His phone rang. The name that came up said MOM.
To say I’m heartbroken is an understatement and I can’t imagine the grief his folks feel. And I just feel plain sick for his wife and their little girl.
RIP Justin Townes Earle.