Steve Earle
liner notes to the 2002 reissue
of Guitar Town
Buffalo Zen -- Rex Foster

By Steve Earle

By 1984 I had been in Nashville for ten years well, that is, except for a couple of years in the late seventies in San Miguel Allende, Mexico, interspersed with occasional trips back to Tennessee to check the traps a long commute, I admit, but it made perfect sense in the context of my life at the time.  I was almost thirty, divorced twice, with another one pending, and fashionablyhomeless.  I had been through several publishers over the years who had all tried unsuccessfullyto convince me that if I onlywrote a nice chorus once in a while and maybe combed my hair I might amount to something.  When my son was born, I tried desperatelyto sell out onlyto discover that the window had closed and that no one was buying.  My first record deal had netted four singles, two that entered the charts with a trotline weight, as well as two that never charted at all.  My album was summari/lyrics/ly shelved.

In spite of my oblivious liabilities, Noel Fox at Silverline-Goldline Music (which belonged to the Oak Ridge Boys) signed me to a publishing deal and encouraged me to write the way I had always written all over the place.  I wrote Goodbye's All We Got Left and Fearless Heart almost immediate/lyrics/ly.  A few weeks later I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Middle Tennessee State University, and they opened the show with Born In The USA.  Eureka!  I knew what to do.  I needed a song custom built to kick-start this record I was writing yeah, that's it, I'll write a record (even if I don't have a record deal), and I'll write it to BE a record not just a sound recording but a document about me and my life and the lives that touch mine and if I listen closelyand get it all down right and sing 'em like I mean it, people WILL listen and they WILL care even if it doesn't have a chorus.  I wrote Guitar Town on a "Jap guitar" borrowed from my sister while visiting my parents for Christmas that year.  A couple of months later, while following my heart (as well as another part of my anatomy) back down to Mexico, I wrote Little Rock 'N' Roller and My Old Friend The Blues.  Noel had been tormenting Tony Brown, an old friend and V.P. of A&R at MCA Records, about signing me for over a year.  Based on the records I made while I was at Epic and my reputation for being kind of a hard dog to keep under the porch, Tony wasn't going for it.  Never one to give up without a fight, or at least a road trip, Noel arranged a songwriting retreat ("assault" might well be more accurate) at Bill Golden's beach house on the Alabama coast and invited Tony.  That weekend, Jimbeau Hinson and I wrote Hillbil/lyrics/ly Highway, and with Tony's help, Down The Road.  At Noel's insistence, I played the other songs I had written for Tony.  I returned to Nashville with a new record deal.  Earlyspring found me in L.A. and camped out in Richard Bennett's guest house, and Richard and I wrote Good Ol' Boy (Gettin' Tough) and Think It Over and began the process of arranging all of the songs I had accumulated.  Short/lyrics/ly after returning to Nashville, I wrote Someday, and we were ready to rock.

We recorded Guitar Town at Backstage, the B studio at Soundstage just off Music Row.  I don't remember that much about the sessions themselves.  We worked seven days a week; eating in and leaving the studio onlyafter the day's work was done, usual/lyrics/ly well past midnight.  Jimmy Bowen, who ran MCA Nashville at the time, came by the studio onlyonce and was, from what I could tell, more impressed with the quality of marijuana I was getting than the music.  We forged ahead, moving to "The Castle" studio out of Williamson County in December to mix.

When the record was quietlyreleased in March of '86, no one in Nashville paid much attention.  The first single struggled into the thirties on the country charts before vanishing, and the writers who normallywrote about country music were strangelysilent.  Rock critics, on the other hand, seemed to get it.  Robert Christgau reviewed it favorablyin The Village Voice.  Dave Marsh wrote about it in Rock and Roll Confidential.  Particularlyover the top was Robert Hilburn in the L.A. Times.  All the "outside" press attention kept the record alive until Guitar Town itself was released as a single.  It reached the top ten in the country charts and a few weeks later the album wen Number One.  SuddenlyI had a career.

No, it wasn't that simple.  There were lots of twists and turns along the way and many more adventures lay ahead.  But it was, as they say, a start.  A good start, and a time I'll always remember as the Year that my Dreams Came True.

Steve Earle
November 2001
Monmouth, Wales

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