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The First Time: Steve Earle

From his first meeting with Guy Clark to the country song that made him cry

Steve Earle released his tribute album to songwriter Guy Clark last week. In Rolling Stone‘s video series “The First Time,” he recounts his first meeting with the no-nonsense Clark, who along with Townes Van Zandt, became creative north stars for Earle.

Both introductions didn’t start off particularly well, with Clark poking fun at Earle’s hat while he played pool and Van Zandt attending one of his gigs — and incessantly calling for him to sing “Wabash Cannonball.” “I’m being heckled by my hero,” Earle recalls.

The “Copperhead Road” singer also talks about his introduction to activism (taking up collections for the first Earth Day and sabotaging construction equipment by putting sugar in the gas tanks); the first album he ever bought (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band); and the country song to first make him cry (“If We Make It Through December” by Merle Haggard).

On Earle’s new album Guy, he sings his personal favorites of Clark, including “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” “Dublin Blues” and “The Randall Knife,” which Earle says he almost didn’t record because it was too intimidating. Ultimately, he decided to cut it first.

“To me that was like your first day in jail. You pick out the biggest guy in the yard and you knock him out and then you get to keep your radio,” he told Rolling Stone. “I just knew to tackle that first.”

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