If you go

What: Steve Earle & The Dukes with The Mastersons

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4

Where: Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder

Cost: $25-$30

More info: bouldertheater.com

Ditching the rhinestone cowboy getup for leather, 1970s-'80s outlaw country musicians threw a wrench into mainstream Texas ballads. They went raw, giving honky-tonk an edge.

Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Steve Earle is one of them. Now, more than 40 years later, this "hard-core troubadour" is finding his zen with yoga.

"I started practicing yoga about a year and a half ago," said Earle, 62. "That's been a life-changer. I'm probably physically in better shape than I have been ever. It's a spiritual practice, mainly, but, you pray and meditate every day — and you get a ticket to the gun show. It's a f***in trip. Yoga is amazing."


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Earle and his band The Dukes (Chris Masterson, Eleanor Whitmore, Kelly Looney, Brad Pemberton and Ricky Ray Jackson), are playing a show on Friday, Aug. 4, at the Boulder Theater. Opening the show is The Mastersons, a husband-wife duo who are also the Dukes' Masterson and Whitmore. They will perform their own set behind their May album "Transient Lullaby."

In the good ol' outlaw country days, musicians stripped the genre to its roots and threw in some snarl. Early outlaws included Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. The ethos spread into the younger stylings of Hank Williams Jr., Townes Van Zandt and Earle.

Earle, on tour behind June's release "So You Wannabe An Outlaw," said the album is "very heavily based" on Jennings' "Honky Tonk Heroes" — a 1973 album that shaped the outlaw movement.

"There were people that inspired me," he said. "That's what this record is all about."

Earle's music has done many things for him in his expansive career. Legends have recorded it (Cash, Jennings, Miranda Lambert and Emmylou Harris). It's been featured in dozens of films. His 1988 hit "Copperhead Road" is one of country line-dancing's favorite anthems. Earle has released 16 studio albums, has won three Grammy awards, has written a collection of short stories (and a novel), and has dabbled in theater — he wrote an off-Broadway play and penned the score (while debuting his stage acting chops) for Richard Maxwell's "Samara."

"I wrote music for it and I got kind of tricked to be in it," he said, laughing. "It was f***ing frightening." He has also appeared in TV's "The Wire" and "Treme."

Theater is something he said he'd like to explore more.

"I spend money on a few things, baseball, live theater and guitars," Earle said, as he's working on a couple musicals with Broadway ambitions. "I love theater, it's so organic, there are so many moving parts, it's such a collective art form and so different than what I normally do."

Can't afford to retire

It all started in Nashville when he got his first check from a publishing company for song writing at 19. The road wasn't easy, he said. Now almost 23 years sober, he said he's been focusing on taking care of himself, including the yoga, plus going to the gym every day.

"You kind of have to start taking better care of yourself as you get older or you can't do f***in' anything," he said, adding that if he hadn't taken control of his health, he would be "a different 62 than now." But looking in the mirror, he said, he still sees his younger self. ("Guys are delusional," he said, laughing. "When I look in the mirror, I don't see the dude with the beard, I see me when I was 20.")

Both younger and older stages of Earle, who identifies as a socialist, had a knack for penning political banter and promoting human rights as the backbone of many of his songs. But he said he's not a protest-song writer.

"I write more songs about girls than I do anything else," he said. "Not everybody can and not everybody should write political songs." He noted that some of the best protest songs come out of hip hop. "I'm a pretty political person and I've found a way to do it, I think. I mean, I piss people off sometimes, and when I do, I'm trying to. You have to find some other way to get people to listen to rhetoric rather than just by beating them about the head and shoulders. It's one cool thing songs can do and I think I'm pretty good at it."

Earle said he has no plans to retire.

"I can't afford to, for one thing," he said. "I don't think people who do what they love for a living ever retire ... And I got married and divorced late in life and I'm going to be paying for that for a long time. I have a 7-year-old son who has autism and he has things that he requires that are expensive, so I'm probably going to be working for the rest of my life, and I'm OK with that."

Earle said he's excited to spend some time in Boulder. He's played eTown a bunch, and the venue's founders Nick and Helen Forster are friends. He also mentioned his pal and sometime Boulder resident Tim O'Brien (co-founder of Boulder's famed-bluegrass band, Hot Rize), who was "the heart of my longest-running bluegrass band," early 2000's Bluegrass Dukes.

"I always have loved Boulder," Earle said. "Every dog has a bandana around its neck and a Frisbee in its mouth. It's my kind of town."

As for being a part of popularizing the outlaw country subgenre, Earle said that's just how popular music goes.

"Every once in awhile, there's a period where something cool happens in Nashville," he said. "Just like pop music and rock music, it's no different. It's a lot of people following whatever's happened before, thinking they're going to repeat it. And every once in a while somebody does something that's unique and new and solid and it holds up. That's what you live for. That's why you listen to music, to hear that stuff."

Christy Fantz: 303-473-1107, fantz@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/fantzypants