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Police trace death of Earle, who peformed here often, to drug OD


Justin Townes Earle is seen peforming during one of his appearances in Whitesburg . (Photo by Thomas Biggs)

Justin Townes Earle is seen performing during one of his appearances in Whitesburg . (Photo by Thomas Biggs)

Nashville police said a preliminary investigation into the death of singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle shows his death was a probable drug overdose.

Police spokesman Don Aaron said officers did a welfare check at Earle’s home on Sunday where he was found dead. A friend called police after no one had heard from the 38-year-old since Thursday, Aug. 20. Aaron said there were no signs of a struggle or foul play. Autopsy results are pending.

Earle, who performed four times in Whitesburg (three of the shows at Summit City between April 2008 and April 2009), was a leading performer of American roots music known for his introspective and haunting style. He was the son of country star Steve Earle, although the younger Earle was mostly raised by his single mother.

A conscious throwback to old-time country and blues music, Earle released such albums as “Harlem River Blues” and “The Saint of Lost Causes” and was named Emerging Act of the Year at the 2009 Americana Honors & Awards ceremony. He wrote often of loneliness, flight and forgiveness.

Earle was a Nashville native and his father named him in part for songwriter and family friend Townes Van Zandt (“Pancho and Lefty”), although Justin would say that his mother, Carol Ann Hunter, would have preferred a different name.

“ My mother hated Townes Van Zandt,” he told Rolling Stone in 2019. “My first name was supposed to be Townes, but my mother would not have it. She hated him because of the trouble that Dad and him got into, but she still played his music.”

After each of Earle’s performances in Whitesburg, Summit City staff and promoter Greg Napier praised him for his friendliness, while concert patrons appeared appreciative of Earle’s willingness to sign autographs and pose for photographs.

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