Monday, August 6, 2012

Steve Earle: Live at the Cotton Club, 1988 (FM Broadcast)

At the conclusion of Hardcore Troubador: The Life and Near-Death of Steve Earle, author Lauren St. John references Guy Clark's warning that "song-writing is not a competitive sport". That's a necessary reminder in these hyper-competitive times but I'm still gonna nominate Steve Earle's "Copperhead Road" as the greatest narrative song of the last twenty-five years.

Narrative song-wring isn't as dominant a force in rock and pop as it is in hip-hop, folk and country. Since Earle has his boots planted in both folk and country, it's no wonder he's so beholden to the power of narrative. And fucking hell does "Copperhead Road" deliver a taut, cinematic story of a family's long tradition of trafficking. Ironically, the literal-minded music video (don't miss the lingering shot of a birthday cake that accompanies the line "volunteered for the army on my birthday" line) does the song no favours. Of course, that video's short-comings leave the field open for a feature-length movie based on the song - hell, it'd have to be better then the one based on "Harper Valley PTA".

Steve Earle and the Dukes
Live at the Cotton Club, Atlanta, GA
17th December 1988

1.  Copperhead Road
2.  Good Ol' Boy (Getting' Tough)
3.  The Rain Came Down
4.  San Antonio Girl
5.  Even When I'm Blue
6.  Someday
7.  The Devil's Right Hand
8.  Fearless Heart
9.  Snake Oil
10. Back to the Wall
11. I Ain't Ever Satisfied
12. Johnny Come Lately
13. Nothing But a Child
14. The Week of Living Dangerously
15. Waiting on You
16. You Belong to Me
17. I Love You Too Much


18. Dead Flowers
19. Guitar Town
20. No. 29*
21. My Baby Worships Me*
22. It's All Up to You*

*With Jeff Healey

Let us know what you think of Steve Earle in general and "Copperhead Road" in specific in the COMMENTS section.


  1. Love your site and your passion!!! Looking for the link my friend!!

  2. Let us know what you think of Steve Earle in general and "Copperhead Road" in specific RIGHT HERE!
    After all I got some more rare Earle, if y'all interested.

    P.S. Anon, I hope you've left a word or two behind before and not just spoken up now due to a delay. Otherwise, thanks for the good words.

  3. I gave up being a completist for Steve Earle more out of exhaustion than any lesser regard for his music.

    This is from the period when I was whole hog on the guy, so I think I am going to enjoy this.

    "The Week of Living Dangerously" is one of the greatest song TITLES of all time.


    Ace K.

    1. Reading "Hardcore Troubadour" got me back on the Earle train.

  4. Some of my thoughts on SE, based on a recent solo appearance, are here: Thanks for posting this; looking forward to listening. He is one of the best,without doubt.

  5. steve earle is a legend
    thanks heaps

    1. Transcendental Blues was his masterpiece in my humble opinion--a truly great album, with the always able Will Rigby on drums for most of it. Will is worth checking out.

    2. FC
      Nice piece

      He is.

      I will have to listen to TB, I'm still playing catch-up.

  6. great stuff, thanks

  7. Oh, and how could I forget, very good on The Wire (but then again, what actor WASN'T on that show?).

    Ace K.

    1. Steve was on The Wire? - I'm so behind the times.

  8. Copperhead Road IS an amazing narrative song. He gets three generations of of an outlaw family into three solid verses, and you feel as if you're there watching. He ties running moonshine in with planting 'the seeds from Columbia and Mexico', and all the baggage of politics and rebellion comes right with it. Masterful.
    A good narrative song can be like watching a movie, and Steve Earle is a great craftsman of narrative songs. Check out 'Tom Ames' Prayer' and 'The Devil's Right Hand'. And also 'Me And The Eagle' and 'Ellis Unit One', both of which were written for movies.

    1. The song is, to employ an over-used word, epic.

      Yeah love DRH and EU1 - great songs.

  9. Another great narrative song from SE is "Tom Ames' Prayer," a solid short story of a ballad that never fails to catch the ear. Also, we love any tapes ya got with that king-hell string band he went 'round with, featuring Norman Blake and the late great Junior Huskey.

    Thanks for this one, too. Diggin' us some Dukes.

  10. Hey, James, agreed on Copperhead Road as a great narrative song. As you wrote, it's like a movie, and in the style of some great narrative structures it links up the past with the present and the seeming failure to get at root causes of problems.

    Well, that's way too intellectual. Let's just say he kicks ass.


  11. thanks for sharing.

  12. The first time I heard Copperhead Road I was driving back from the flea market where I'd bought a tape copy of the album. I had also just bought a beater volvo 760 - i cranked that mother fucker so loud that it made my ears hurt.


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