We made note late last year of the fact that comedian, actor and banjo player Steve Martin was preparing to record an album of serious banjo music.
The recording has been completed, produced by fellow banjo man John McEuen, with assistance from Tony Trischka and Pete Wernick. Helping out in the studio were Russ Barenberg on guitar, Matt Flinner on mandolin and Brittany Haas on fiddle, among others. New Martin compositions are the foucs, performed in both 3 finger and clawhammer styles.
We’ve not been able to find out yet whether a label is involved, or when the CD might be released. Steve is vacationing now in Greece, but we are hopeful of obtaining an interview upon his return.
We did reach producer John McEuen, who shared a number of thoughts about working with Martin in the studio.
“Steve’s playing was really good. Driving, yet sensitive when needed. This album will amaze many because it will show people that Steve takes his music as seriously as he does his other work and performs it at that level. Steve has written some of my favorite banjo tunes. I think after the release of Steve’s new album a couple of tunes might become standard fare for new pickers.
There was one time, during the opening of one song, where Steve had to play the exact same notes and rhythm as Russ Barenburg was playing on guitar, with just the two instruments opening. Well, Steve was rushing ahead of the guitar and Tony Trischka was a little concerned. Steve needs to lock with the guitar and he’s ahead. How do we get him to do that?
Knowing Steve was accustomed to taking direction and since I had the mantle of producer, I hit the talkback and said ‘Steve …. you’re ahead of the guitar!!!! You’re rushing!! It seems like you can’t wait for the tune to start. So, listen and do exactly what Russ is doing.’
Steve said, ‘Oh!! OK.’
In the middle of the next pass which was the take we kept, Tony Trischka and I looked at each and said at the same time with reference to Steve ‘I wish I could do that.’
Another song required that Steve count it off. Steve was setting the tempo right from the first beat for a big chord from all. Steve went ‘One, Two, Three, Four’ and started playing. I had to stop them and say ‘We need the last number to be silent, so it starts clean Steve, got it?’
Steve said, ‘OK. Here we go.. One, Two, Four’ and started playing except everyone was laughing. We started and counted right the next time.”
McEuen also spoke about the banjos used, including Steve’s newest banjo, a custom Kel Kroydon from American Made Banjo.
“It was great to have the Kel Kroydon banjo on hand for the Steve Martin Album. Although he used his other long time banjos on many cuts, the Kel Kroydon was the one of choice for three or four of the 15 songs recorded. This was determined by trying all the different banjos Steve brought.
Of course, his favorite Florentine that I had found for him in Kansas City in the late ’70s sounds great (I actually think his favorite Florentine is mine). He also brought his RB 250 that was his first banjo, the open back. They all sounded great, but there were some tunes the Kel Kroydon was the one of choice and it performed beautifully.”
It will be very interesting to see how much attention this release gets from the entertainment media, and I’m sure I’m not the only banjo picker eager to hear this recording.