Steve Earle and The Dukes were channeling Waylon Jennings at the Rialto Theatre on Aug. 8. This tour is in support of his new album, So You Wannabe An Outlaw. Earle tours extensively and he has made a stop in Tucson with each tour. The only exception was his participation in the Arizona SB 1070 sound strike in 2010. The sound strike didn’t seem to accomplish much and Tucsonans were thrilled to have Earle back on our stages. Earle didn’t push politics during the show, but the subject of immigration did arise.
The Mastersons opened the show with a short set. Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore are a married duo, and they have been a part of The Dukes. Their set is Americana music at its best. Chris is a master guitarist. Eleanor is a wizard with the fiddle and mandolin. Both are fine vocalists and together they make musical magic.
It is easy to label Earle’s music as Americana. However it is a mixture of Country Rockabilly, Blues, Celtic, and Rock. On this tour, Earle has The Dukes, including pedal steel player, Ricky Jackson who reminds us that country is well represented in the outlaw sound. Kelley Looney added an ever-present bass sound that was very prevalent in Waylon Jennings band. Chris Masterson played his guitars with the grit and passion created by the country outlaws. Eleanor Whitmore’s vocals were pristine as well as her fiddle playing. Brad Pemberton’s rock drumming was a replica of the driving sound of Jennings back in the day. Earle was on a roll for the fans.
Earle spoke of his nurturing relationship with Texas songwriter, Guy Clark. His introduction and tribute to Clarke revealed much about Earle’s past history. “I dropped out of school at 17. As I traveled around Texas I met Townes Van Zandt. I followed him around Texas for a couple of years. I went to Nashville and met Guy Clark. Guy taught me a lot of stuff. I never used some of it. He told me (and Rodney Crowell) not to use a co-writer or a rhyme dictionary. We went out and bought a rhyme dictionary and a thesaurus. We lost Guy and everybody misses him, especially me and Rodney Crowell. We were teenagers when we went to Nashville and Guy embraced us. Guy was sick for a long time. I saw him as much as I could the last year. I went back to Nashville and we had a wake after Guy’s death. About 60 people showed up. A lot of them were young writers that I had never met. We played a lot of songs and cried a bit. When it was over, some of us got on a tour bus and traveled with his ashes to Santa Fe. We were headed there because Terry Allen had agreed to incorporate Clark’s ashes into a bronze sculpture. We arrived in New Mexico and had another wake and cried some more. I returned to Nashville and wrote “Goodbye Michelangelo.”
Earle carries on the work of the original outlaws of country music. It’s obvious that his friendships over the years are life-long and he holds them dear to his heart. He came out to the lobby after the show for a meet and greet. He mentioned to AXS that Waylon Jennings wore a bandana around his wrist to remind everyone that Earle was in prison. Jennings did that until Earle was released from prison. Earle’s songs and stories are successful because there is no doubt that he tells the truth. The tour and the album, So You Wannabe An Outlaw, is a commemoration of those friends who have passed on. This was a very satisfying two-hour show. For a complete set list, please click here.