Steve Martin has made a 50-year career out of being a funnyman, but his musical skills are no laughing matter.
The 72-year-old actor-comedian does some serious banjo shredding on The Long-Awaited Album, his second bluegrass record with North Carolina’s Steep Canyon Rangers. Martin realizes that banjos rank right next to bagpipes on the list of most-mocked instruments, but he says true music fans know “how highly sophisticated banjo players really are today. The standard of banjo playing is 10 times higher than it was when I started playing.”
Martin used a banjo as a prop during his stand-up act in the 1970s, but he grew more serious in 2001 after bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs asked him to play on “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”
Their recording won a Grammy, and Martin dove headfirst into bluegrass with albums featuring the Rangers and singer Edie Brickell.
However, as devoted as Martin is to banjos and traditional bluegrass, he’s no purist. The new album features a tongue-in-cheek promo video, quirky titles like “Angeline the Barista” and a song about scientists falling in love.
“I like to write about non-heroes. To me, science people are heroes, but unless they’re Einstein, they never get written about.”
While his bandmates handle most of the vocals, Martin sometimes steps up to the mic. “When the song is kind of funny or quirky, I end up singing it,” he says. “But I like to leave the singing to people who can actually sing.”