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Justin Townes Earle Talks Substance Abuse and Sobriety

Donald Bowers, Getty Images

Justin Townes Earle inherited a lot from his singer-songwriter father, Steve Earle. Mainly, creative talent, an appreciation for a wide variety of music … and a propensity towards drugs and alcohol that began when Justin was only 12 years old. But thanks to a series of unfortunate events, culminating in a recent arrest, he has a fresh determination to lead a healthy, clean life.

The award-winning artist was arrested in September after an argument in Indianapolis over a broken mirror in his dressing room before a show. The result was a night in jail, a month in rehab, and the cancellation of shows on Justin’s new tour to promote his latest CD, ‘Harlem River Blues.’

“It was a fight between me and a club owner that a bunch of other people should not have gotten involved in,” he tells the Wall Street Journal about the fracas that grew into a street-wide blow-up.

Clearly no stranger to legal woes, Justin’s latest episode was damaging enough to motivate him to change. “Everywhere I’ve ever been locked up, you’re in for two hours and then you’re out,” he says. Forced to stay in jail until the following afternoon, plus still facing charges of battery and public intoxication, he received the painful wake-up call he needed.

“Up until Indianapolis, for close to a year before, I’d been performing s— face drunk every night,” he states. “I was able to pull through but it got to the point where it didn’t work anymore.” Playing more than 250 shows a year, Justin admits he was consuming as much as a half-gallon of vodka every day, thanks in large part to the venues he was playing in and the people in his circle.

“It takes a lot for someone with the substance abuse issues I have to stay away from such things,” he acknowledges. “If you hang around the barber shop long enough, you’re going to get a haircut. I’d just gotten to a point with my drinking that it required a medical detox. Alcoholics and junkies tend to become stupid when it comes to that. We need giant catastrophes to hip us to the fact that we’re f—– up.”

The Nashville native now calls New York City home and credits his relocation with much of his career resurgence. “[In Nashville], if you start having any success in the music business, it has this weird way of backlashing on you,” he insists. “You go from being everybody’s poster boy to everybody’s enemy.”

Rededicated to his sobriety — which includes occasionally attending 12-step meetings with his now-sober father — Justin is optimistic about his future, both personally an professionally. “There’s really no such thing as bad press,” he says. “Johnny f—— Cash, you know? Getting arrested is never going to hurt your record sales, unless you go to jail for a year. We missed a month. I’m going to get the Johnny Thunders treatment for a little while. There’s going to be a bunch of [jerks] who show up just to see what I’m going to do.”

The 28-year old recently resumed his tour, which runs through February, by playing in Nashville this past weekend. See his concert schedule here.

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