Contrary to what you may have heard, Justin Townes Earle is not dead — yet 

The past year has been a banner one for Justin Townes Earle.

The 29-year-old twangsmith landed a cameo on HBO’s New Orleans-based drama “Treme,” playing guitar behind the troubadour character Harley — played by his real-life father, Steve Earle.

GQ Magazine just named him one of 2010’s 25 Best Dressed Men, thanks to his angular Billy Reid-designed suits. And he’s just made the best album of his career, the R&B-meets-Carter-Family-ish new “Harlem River Blues” on Bloodshot. All rock-solid reasons to be cheerful.

Earle, however, has been in quite an ornery mood this month. Why? “Because the Dallas Observer decided to put out an article that predicted I would die in 2011,” says the lanky, tattooed singer, who plays The City today.

“I guess it’s because of my hard living, but they did a list of celebrities they thought would die this year, and it was me and Aretha Franklin. So the Dallas Observer is now going to  be the butt of every joke I tell on Twitter for the rest of the tour.”

But the paper didn’t pull its prediction from thin air. Long before Earle discovered his genetic songwriting talent, he lived a drug-addicted, pistol-packing hardscrabble life in Nashville.

But by the time he made his breakthrough third set in 2009, “Midnight at the Movies,” he was walking the straight and narrow. “I’d been completely clean for five years,” he says.

“But I just grew bored of it — I’m only human. So I went on a rip and it lasted for about a year and a half. And I made “Harlem River Blues” that way — I was out until 7 a.m. every night, just getting loaded and drinking all day.”

Earle’s arrogant attitude at the time — “I’m still doing my job, so f--- y’all!” — landed him in jail for 16 hours in September, when he drunkenly derailed at a Midwest nightclub.

“Sometimes it takes a minor explosion to stop me in my tracks,” says the singer, who checked himself into rehab afterwards. “I was in a bad position. I was drinking a bottle of vodka a day and chasing that with several grams of coke a day. But the problem was, I could have a bellyful of vodka and a headful of cocaine and still walk out onstage and put on a show.”

Now Earle is soberly, tentatively celebrating his successes. “But I don’t regret a f------ thing,” he says, defiantly. “I’m not worried right now — I’m totally relaxed. Because no matter what the Dallas Observer says, I’m really, really hard to kill!”

IF YOU GO

Justin Townes Earle


Where:
Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. today

Tickets: $17

Contact: (415) 885-0750; www.gamhtickets.com

About The Author

Tom Lanham

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