The Mastersons Leave Steve Earle’s Backing Band The Dukes
It is the end of an era for the Steve Earle’s legendary backing band The Dukes. The husband and wife duo of lead guitar player Chris Masterson and fiddle/mandolin player Eleanor Whitmore have decided to depart the band. The duo also fronts their own band called The Mastersons when they’re not recording and touring with Steve Earle.
“The time has come for us to end our tenure as members of Steve Earle’s band The Dukes,” they said on October 3rd. “After 12 years and 7 albums, it’s time to move on. It has been an absolute honor and privilege to stand stage right of a living legend night after night. Steve has been an incredible ally and advocate for our bands The Mastersons and The Whitmore Sisters. We have Steve to credit for being the one who prompted us to make our first album, and we cannot thank him enough! We also have an immense love and respect for our bandmates, the crew and the entire team that keeps the show on the road.”
The Whitmore Sisters is another project Eleanor Whitmore started with her sister and fellow performer Bonnie Whitmore earlier this year, releasing their debut album Ghost Stories in January. The Mastersons were easy to spot in The Dukes—Chris with his white hair, and Eleanor with her red curly hair. Stellar musicians, they made up the nucleus of The Dukes.
“This past decade has seen us crisscrossing the globe endlessly, only pausing momentarily to make records,” the duo continued. “We’ve toured though sickness, the loss of family members and other challenging circumstances. We now find ourselves wanting a time to pause, to reflect and to find a way to enjoy the fruits of our labor a bit more. Moving forward ,you will surely see us onstage, hear us on a record and find us out and about with our own endeavors and other artists. We’re just taking a moment to recalibrate and redefine how exactly we’re going to do this.”
Steve Earle started The Dukes after he moved back to his native Texas from Nashville for the first time in the late 70s. Working in Nashville as a staff songwriter, Steve grew frustrated and decided he needed a change. When he came back to Nashville in the mid 80s, it was with The Dukes behind him, and primarily as a performer.
Some long time members of The Dukes have passed away in recent years. Bass player Kelley Looney died in November of 2019. Looney had been in the band since 1988. Steel guitar player William “Bucky” Baxter passed away on August 12th, 2020. Baxter was a co-founder of The Dukes.
Steve Earle mentioned earlier this week on his SiriusXM radio show that his “whole band had resigned via email.” Otherwise, he’s not addressed the departures publicly, or named replacements so far. This past weekend, Earle appeared at Luckenbach TX as part of the unveiling of the new statue of Jerry Jeff Walker and Hondo Crouch. Earle released a tribute album to Jerry Jeff Walker earlier this year called Jerry Jeff.
“Our love for music hasn’t waned, and we are deeply grateful and consider ourselves very lucky to keep the lights on with art,” the Mastersons continued in their statement. “We cherish the experiences we’ve had thus far and the fans we’ve made along the way, who likely discovered us at one of Steve’s shows.”
October 13, 2022 @ 2:05 pm
I have seen every iteration of Steve’s band live since I first saw him in 1986. I liked the Mastersons just fine but the best version was with the two mentioned above; Kelley Looney and Bucky Baxter. They also cooked when ex-Del Lords lead guitarist Eric Ambel was in the band. Always a live killer show.
October 13, 2022 @ 6:30 pm
Saw them at Memphis in May 1998 and they were blazing. Great cover of Wild Thing.
David: The Duke of Everything
October 13, 2022 @ 2:55 pm
Kind of odd to quit by text. Seems like there is more to the story. About time for Steve to settle down anyway.
October 13, 2022 @ 3:10 pm
I don’t think this will put Earle out of business. There are so many great players out there. And Steve is big enough that some hungry young guitar- or fiddle player will see a gig in his band as a stepping stone.
But I don’t disagree that it’s strange and there’s more to it.
October 16, 2022 @ 12:45 pm
They were probably scared of him. Goodbye, Earle.
October 17, 2022 @ 2:00 am
I’m sure the band was already informed and the text was put out for the fans.
David: The Duke of Everything
October 17, 2022 @ 8:24 am
The band was the one doing the texting, the article specifically said the members resigned by text. Which obviously means they didn’t tell him face to face or even with a phone call. These people had been performing with him for a long time. It would be like you were married for 15 years and just texted your spouse that you are filing for divorce. For one it would be very rude and in these people’s case unprofessional, but also means that something led to it so there is more to it.
October 21, 2022 @ 2:41 pm
Steve has an autistic son in a very expensive school in NewYork. It will be hard for him to quit, I would imagine.
October 13, 2022 @ 3:12 pm
Steve has some good tunes.
October 13, 2022 @ 4:11 pm
Yea, a couple.
Wilson Pick It
October 13, 2022 @ 6:56 pm
Copperhead Road for example
October 14, 2022 @ 2:12 am
And maybe a few dozen others I could think of.
October 14, 2022 @ 6:10 am
I have to admit that around 1995 Steve was the only thing I wanted to hear. A disc called “Essential Steve Earle” was the gateway to that. In those days he wrote great songs w/o the politics.
October 21, 2022 @ 2:43 pm
October 13, 2022 @ 3:13 pm
David, I agree. It’s odd
No offense meant to anyone but given Earles strong personality and history, one wonders what the deal really is.
October 13, 2022 @ 5:48 pm
October 14, 2022 @ 1:09 am
Twelve years is a GREAT run. Steve will regroup and the Masterson’s had to make this move eventually. Their own recording careers have eclipsed their primo sideman gigs. I’m just glad I got to see Steve Earle and The Dukes while they were in the band.
October 14, 2022 @ 10:26 am
Steve Earle will always be the line dance king!
1.- Steve Earle
2- Brooks and Dunn
3- Billy Ray Cyrus
4- Tracy Byrd
October 14, 2022 @ 1:35 pm
“Steve Earle mentioned earlier this week on his SiriusXM radio show that his “whole band had resigned via email.””
He’s a strange ranger to be sure, but that sentence either takes aloofness to another level, or the departure was very one-sided.
October 20, 2022 @ 8:04 pm
That show was the best thing on XM aside from Mojo Nixon’s rants. Sometimes I would listen and feel like I was in a musical survey course at NYU. Almost makes me want to sign up again.
October 15, 2022 @ 9:06 am
Eleanor singing Steve’s “If I Could See Your Face Again” from the Ghosts… album is the most beautifully haunting song I’ve heard. Chokes me up every time.
October 18, 2022 @ 5:48 pm
I wonder if entire band includes the steel guitar, bass player and drummer? Yes, I know what entire means but I only heard of The Masterson’s resigning.
October 20, 2022 @ 8:30 pm
I just received an e-mail alert/ ticket offer: Steve Earle will be headlining and hosting a benefit show for a school for kids with autism (which his son attends) on December 19 the longstanding Midtown NYC performance venue, Town Hall.
Featured guests and doing their own sets will be
David Byrne, Terry Allen, Matt Savage and The Mastersons
So, maybe the idea that the Matersons made some acrimonious break from Steve Earle is a tad overblown.
October 21, 2022 @ 2:48 pm
Yes, I saw that as well. I definitely think that’s a deliberate sign by both parties that everything is cool, or at least, amicable. It makes total sense that The Mastersons would want to strike out more on their own, as well as the Whitmore Sisters. Maybe there is drama, but I’m not sure it’s fair to assume there is.
October 22, 2022 @ 7:35 pm
He said on the broadcast that they are still going to do a few more shows, so I just don’t see hard feelings from anyone involved. He wished them all success and they are only saying good things about their time with the band. I don’t need to need to know more than that.
October 25, 2022 @ 11:01 am
This isn’t new for Steve. During the run for The Mountain the Del McCroury Band walked away after some number of shows. He eventually replaced them to include Tim O’Brien, etc.