This is a tribute to the oft-married singer-songwriter and the women who have inspired him. Both Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush share a fondness for Steve Earle's brand of Country music. It taught them that Country was still viable, and gave them confidence to reimagine the sound. And when the duo found out what a shameless romantic Earle was, they had to set all his comings and goings to music. Nettles looks at it this way: "There comes a point in life of a troubadour when the character can become heroic. Even legendary."
The Sugarland duo has never formally met Steve Earle, but Kristian Bush has crossed paths with him, which led to this song. In our 2013 interview with Kristian, he explained that in 1995, he was working on an album with his group Billy Pilgrim at Treasure Isle Recorders in Nashville. As luck would have it, so was Earle. "He had gotten out of jail and he came into Nashville to make a record, and I was the guy making a record the day before," said Bush. "I met him in the hallway, and all the players stayed in the room. He made an album called I Feel Alright, and I was making a Billy Pilgrim album called Bloom. All the players are literally the same on both records, and so is the producer [Richard Dodd]. He was just the next guy slated in.
It always felt like the Steve Earle awesome version of a record and then the Billy Pilgrim version of that time in the world. So that's all I really knew of Steven. That's how I met him. I'd heard Guitar Town before, and I'd heard Copperhead Road, but I hadn't really associated it with anything other than, 'Oh, that's kind of cool.' And when he re-launched, I was interested in him because he was using the same players and the same producer. And I was like, 'Oh, man, when that record comes out, I've got to remember to write that guy's name down so I can listen to his record.' Because how weird is it that you're using the same band the same producer, different songs. But when do you ever get that litmus test?"
When Kristian Bush brought up the name Steve Earle to Jennifer Nettles, he was surprised to hear that she had never heard of the singer. This led to the song. Says Bush: "I told her some of the anecdotes - I didn't know if were true or not, but I told her the parts of the stories I knew. And I knew that he had had multiple wives, and I knew that he had married Wife No. 1 again as Wife No. 4. There was some sort of strange little thing in there, and I loved the romantic-ness of the fact that, in my mind, you could kind of track his wives by his love songs. I loved this idea that you could listen to his albums and they're like, 'Oh, man, I wonder who that one was about.'
So I was telling her this, and sometimes when I tell stories, Jennifer will just be like, 'Oh, tell me more, tell me more.' We were laughing, and I said, 'Well, then he moved to Ireland, and then he did this, and then he did that.' So she was like, 'This is totally a song.' I was like, 'Really? Okay,' and I picked up a guitar and started going. I would say a line and she'd say the next line, then I'd say a line and she'd say the next line. We wrote it in about 25, 30 minutes."
Has Steve Earle heard this song? Not likely. Here's what Kristian Bush told us: "We sent it to him. His manager responded to us and said, 'Steve said he doesn't read any press that anyone writes about him, [long deliberate pause], and sure as s--t would never listen to a song that anyone wrote about him.'"