Steve Earle wanted to make a blues record for the same reason he made a bluegrass album in 1999: to try his hand at writing songs in that style. The veteran singer, songwriter and actor premieres “Baby Baby Baby (Baby),” the opening track from his upcoming LP “Terraplane,” today on Speakeasy.
“I’m always arrogant enough to think I can add something to the canon,” Earle says, laughing. “I’m a songwriter, I’ve been doing it a long time, I’m still writing and I think I get better as time goes on.”
Earle spends enough time on tour that he tends to write songs during sound checks before concerts. This time, “I found myself writing a blues record,” he says. “I guess it’s what’s going on in my life, and I’d rather let the songs speak for themselves than go into all that.”
He drew inspiration for the songs on “Terraplane” from the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, early ZZ Top and Canned Heat, along with his current band, the Dukes—particularly guitarist Chris Masterson, who helped put Earle at ease with playing electric blues.
“Chris cut his teeth in Texas playing blues,” Earle says. “What I needed encouragement with was the electric stuff. The acoustic stuff I’m pretty comfortable with.”
“Baby Baby Baby (Baby),” a rough-edged stomper of a tune, grew out of the harmonica riff that starts the song, and expanded from there. “I’ve always experimented with writing choruses that dumb,” says Earle, who adds, “I thought it was funny to call it ‘Baby Baby Baby’ and then subtitle it ‘Baby.’”
The singer has tinkered with the blues before, but in what he calls “this broad concept of the blues that I wholly embrace that I got from Townes Van Zandt,” the Texas songwriter Earle counted as a friend and major influence, rather than the “musicology” approach he took on much of “Terraplane.”
“The blues aren’t necessarily about being depressed, they’re a reaction to all those tensions that relationships between men and women create, and those tensions that just trying to get by in the world create,” Earle says.
“Terraplane” is due Feb. 17 on New West Records. What do you think of “Baby Baby Baby (Baby)?” Leave your thoughts in the comments.