Alt-country rocker Steve Earle and country star Miranda Lambert shared writing credit on one of Lambert's biggest hits from her debut album in 2005, but the two never actually got into a writers' room until more than a decade later.
Lambert wrote the song "Kerosene,'' the album title track, which led to her first Grammy nomination. But she later decided it sounded too similar to a song penned by Earle, so she gave him credit.
"I hate telling her this, but I would have never done anything about it,'' said the 62-year-old Grammy-winning songwriter known for songs like "Copperhead Road.'' "It's a gift from Miranda the way I see it.''
But that connection and a chance meeting between the two at a beauty salon lead Earle to decide it was finally time to do a proper co-write with one of country music's biggest stars. Last year the two penned a twangy breakup duet featuring fiddle and guitar that melds the two voices, one weathered and the other weary.
The two later cut the song in Austin, Texas, for Earle's new album, "So You Wannabe An Outlaw,'' released last week.
"It was a really cool experience to write with him and he's such an amazing songwriter,'' Lambert said. "I was intimidated but I learned a lot.''
Earle has the same high opinion of Lambert, calling her last effort — the critically acclaimed double album "The Weight of These Wings'' — stunning.
"The women are the strong singer-songwriters in Nashville as this point,'' Earle said during a tour rehearsal in Nashville, Tennessee. "Chris Stapleton is an exception. Most of the guys, their stuff is all right, but they are mostly, largely just party songs. It's kind of hip-hop for people who are afraid of black people, I guess, as far as I can tell.''
But he doesn't blame country radio for largely ignoring female artists.
"I think the labels have an idea of what is selling and right now the common wisdom is guys under 30 is what's selling in country music,'' Earle said.
When Earle first arrived in Nashville from Austin in the '70s, he was the young gun among a group of veteran singer-songwriters like Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, Guy Clark, Waylon Jennings and more. It was the beginning of the outlaw movement, which Earle attempts to revisit on his new record.
Earle, who broke out with his 1986 debut "Guitar Town,'' said he still runs into fans who believe the movement was all about booze, drugs and a freewheeling lifestyle, although Earle's previous addictions have contributed to that lore.
"Part of the point of this record was to rehabilitate the term 'outlaw,''' he said.
"There was this moment when country music that was art was going on here and in Austin, and I was there.''
In writing the record, Earle swapped out his acoustic guitar for a Fender Telecaster and spent a lot of time listening to Jennings' "Honky Tonk Heroes.'' He growls on the title track with Willie Nelson that being an outlaw meant "you can't ever go home.''
"I was always grateful and was very aware that I had just gotten here in time to be a part of a moment,'' said Earle. "A lot of the things that I am able to do at this point in my life, I am able to do because I happened to be lucky and be in the right place at the right time.''