Steve Martin: A Mild and Hazy Guy

When Land of punt heard Steve Martin was hitting the road this fall we were ecstatic. Martin back on stage telling jokes. Then a second later it dawned on us he was supporting his new bluegrass album and not returning to stand-up comedy.

Steve Martin, seen here with a CGI banjo, begins his 2009 tour with a Grammy Salute to Country Music on September 9 at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville

Steve Martin, seen here with a CGI banjo, begins his 2009 tour with a Grammy Salute to Country Music on September 9 at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville

When a discussion of who is the greatest stand-up comedian of all-time erupts names like Pryor, Crosby, Murphy, Carlin, Seinfeld and Nixon are quickly bandied about. For some reason, Martin’s name is left out. In LOP’s opinion, Martin should be included in this argument as he’s one of the greatest stand-up comedians of all-time. We say this mainly because he paid us to say it but if truth be told we probably mean it.

Sadly, the 64-year old Martin isn’t putting on his arrow-through-the-head gag and breaking out his “Let’s Get Small” routine. But he is doing a little “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”

The multi-talented Martin is hitting the road starting September 9th in Nashville to support his new album The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo. Steve Martin tickets will be sold for about 20 dates. His tour concludes November 3rd at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, Washington.

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For this entire tour, Martin will be going green. It won’t be cheap. He had to pay a lot of money for paint that won’t come off when he takes a shower.

Martin’s tour seems to contradict statements he made early this year.

“I know what my specialty is — playing songs I write, and if I’m asked to step outside that specialty, I can get a little nervous. It’s a dichotomy; on one hand I can play my own songs with anybody, but if I got into a really serious bluegrass crowd, I’d play a couple standards and retire,” Martin told billboard.com (not a reporter form the site but the actually homepage itself).

“I think I would just do a bluegrass festival or something like that. I guess I have to get a band, right? I wouldn’t even know how to do an hour show of music. I’d have to think about that.”

Martin will play the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco on October 3rd.

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Apparently, Martin has. The man who has done everything, comedy, acting, writing, art collecting, eating sandwiches, will now perform in cities like Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago and Dallas. Martin will even perform in the small town of Toronto.

For the tens of Martin fans his prowess on the banjo is nothing new. Martin started playing the banjo when he was seventeen (two years after he started using drugs but two years before he started having sex). He incorporated the five-string into his universe famous comedy act.

“I needed everything,” says Martin. “I did jokes, I did juggling, I did magic. I put the banjo in just to fill time, so I’d have enough to call it a show.”

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Through the years, Martin and the banjo were inexorably linked but it seemed more of a hobby, a way to unwind, then a full on career. However, in 2001 bluegrass pioneer, Earl Scruggs, asked Martin to play on “Foggy Mountain Breakdown for the album Earl Scruggs and Friends.

Then in 2007, Martin added an original song, “The Crow,” to the album Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular by Tony Trischka.

“The Crow” made the bluegrass charts. Which is amazing. It’s absolutely stunning. It’s a wonder of wonders. Who would have ever thought there’s actually a chart for bluegrass music!

“I don’t know how many that means,” says Martin. “It might have sold two.”

A still from Steve Martin's famous performance on Meet The Press.  It was the show's eigtth highest rated show of teh year,

A still from Steve Martin's famous performance on Meet The Press. It was the show's eighth highest rated show of the year,

As for his album, The Crow, Martin employed the help of some big time acts like Vince Gill and Dolly Parton. Gill parked cars while Parton swept floors. The album was produced by John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The Crow peaked at No. 93 on the Billboard 200 and snagged the top spot on the Bluegrass Albums chart.

Bluegrass music is to country what the blues is to rock and roll. Everyone thinks it cool, it’s hard to play but no one really listens to it.

Martin plays the banjo using the unique clawhammer form. This is analogous to Jackie Chan using his drunk style kung fu or Sarah Palin using her Republican politics. Clawhammer is a style in which the musician’s fingernails push down on the banjo’s strings. Traditionally the strings are pulled up with picks or a small industrial strength crane.

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