By the time Steve Earle reached Guitar Town, he had travelled far. It was his debut album, but the Virginian country-rock troubadour was already 31 when it was released, and had been treading the boards around Nashville for a dozen years. Even then, the album took seven months to make its Billboard chart debut, but when it did on 25 October 1986, it officially launched one of the most notable careers of any Americana artist.
Earle had even appeared in the much-underrated and recommended Nashville documentary Heartworn Highways when he was a mere 20-year-old, alongside such emerging figureheads as Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Rodney Crowell. His first EP was released in 1982, as he began to be noticed around Music Row as a songwriter, covered by Johnny Lee and, in a personal landmark, Carl Perkins.
After the false start of a deal with CBS, Earle found himself among supporters and kindred spirits at MCA. Guitar Town was written primarily by the singer-guitarist, with input from Tony Brown, Richard Bennett and Jimbeau Hinson. Word soon spread about its refreshingly “real” sound, which embraced country’s roots and gave them an authentic rock edge.
The title song became a top ten country hit, while the album itself topped the country listings and made No. 89 in a solid 20-week run. It went gold for 500,000 US sales in 1999, by which time Earle was a seasoned survivor who continues his prolific career to this day: by 2017, he was up to his 17th studio release with the admirable So You Wannabe An Outlaw. In the autumn of 2018, his extensive North American tour has him on the road well into the new year.
The deluxe edition of Guitar Town can be bought here.
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