Tag Archives: steve martin

How time does fly! The three months since our last post here have been filled with camps, swimming, a new mandolin DVD release, the IBMA convention, and one huge award for Murphy. The IBMA honored her with a Distinguished Achievement Award recognizing her groundbreaking work writing the history of women playing bluegrass: Pretty Good For A Girl: Women in Bluegrass.  They give out five each year and her co-recipients this year were Pete "Brother Oswald" Kirby, Alison Brown, Steve Martin, and the International Bluegrass Music Museum.

Murphy and Missy

Murphy Henry hugging Missy Raines as she goes to accept her Distinguished Achievement Award. Photo by Ted Lehman.

Missy Raines made the award presentation with a fabulous speech. I knew she would do an amazing job, but I was still blown away by how over-the-top amazing it was.

After the ceremony Murphy got introduced to Steve Martin by Alison Brown (who sits on the board for his Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo) and they got a picture of all three with their awards.

Murphy, Steve, Alison

Murphy Henry, Steve Martin, and Alison Brown with their Distinguished Achievement Awards plaques.

...and their shoes

...and their shoes!

Here is the entire presentation by Missy and Murphy's acceptance speech following. It is a great overview of Murphy's life and career. Her acceptance starts around the 9:00 mark. Thanks to Kathy Holiday for the video work!

Casey Henry

Y'all may or may not have heard this, but last week the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass was awarded to Noam Pikelny. The prize, which I was not aware existed---indeed very few people knew it existed since this is the first time its been given out---consisted of an unrestricted cash prize of $50,000 and a bronze sculpture created especially for the award by artist Eric Fischl.

I was so happy to hear that Noam got this fabulous honor. He's a mind-blowingly amazing player. When he moved from Nashville to New York some of us local banjo players joked---JOKED mind you---that we were glad he was gone because we're all now one spot higher on the list of people to call when you need a banjo player for a gig or session. I learned he had won on Twitter (where I get most of my current-events new these days) and tweeted a congratulations to him. (Incidently, Steve Martin is also now on Twitter.)

I'm also happy, and very impressed, that Steve Martin decided to start this award. It's funded by the Steve Martin Charitable Foundation, which is, of course, just Steve's money. But it's so cool of him to even think of using it to directly and immediately benefit the banjo/bluegrass world. The award's selection board includes Earl Scruggs, Alison Brown, Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka, and others, and The Bluegrass Blog has some details about how the selection was made.

Over the last couple of years I've watched how Steve has conducted his mid-life career expansion into bluegrass and it has raised him in my estimation. I've always been a fan of his movies and his writing, but he's really done everything right, in a carefully considered manner, in releasing his CD and touring with the Steep Canyon Rangers. He's lately been working in the studio with SCR on a new CD, and on top of that he released a kids book this month, Late for School, and has a new novel (An Object of Beauty) coming out in November. I commented to a friend that I didn't see how he could do all that and tour, too. She pointed out, "He has a staff."

Casey Henry

Casey Henry

Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers played at the Ryman Auditorium last night in Nashville. Steve said, “It’s been a long-time dream of mine to do a banjo show at the Ryman Auditorium. Tonight I feel I’m one step closer to that goal.”

John McEuen opened the show with a solo set. He walked on stage with no introduction after the house lights dimmed and said, “Hi, I’m Steve Martin. It’s been a rough year.” The most fun part of his set, for me, was when the entire audience sang (very loudly) the verses of the “Ballad of Jed Clampett” (a.k.a. The Beverly Hillbillies) with only slight prompting from John. Everybody was very into it.

It was obvious, though, after intermission, what everyone was waiting for. In the extended pause between when the house lights again dimmed and when the band entered the stage the guy next to me started clapping. Soon the whole audience was clapping in time, which escalated into thunderous applause as Steve and the Rangers approached the mics.

Nicky Saunders, Charles Humphrey, Graham Sharp, Steve Martin, Mike Guggino, Woody Platt

Nicky Sanders, Charles Humphrey, Graham Sharp, Steve Martin, Mike Guggino, Woody Platt

The whole show, from start to finish, was top-notch. Steve demonstrated his love and respect for the banjo and for bluegrass, while simultaneously managing to convey his excitement at actually getting to go on tour playing banjo. He also displayed a canny understanding of the bluegrass touring business: “If all goes according to plan, I’ll only lose $12,000.”

All the songs they performed were Steve’s originals, with the exception of the two that the Steep Canyon Rangers got to do solo: “Turn Up The Bottle” (from their new CD Deep In The Shade) and the a cappella “I Can’t Sit Down”, which the crowd absolutely loved.

Some of Steve’s remarks indicated that this was not your average bluegrass show, and signaled his awareness that many people in attendance may not be typical bluegrass fans. For one thing, Steve actually explained his tuner. Like many musicians now days, he had a clip-on tuner on his headstock. In between songs he told the audience what it was (something it would never occur to a bluegrass band to do) and added, “I can also check my email.”

In introducing “Pretty Flowers” Steve told how the song starting out as an attempt at bad poetry. About a year after he wrote it he took it out again and thought, “That might be some bad poetry, but it’s not a bad country song.” The Nashville audience absolutely howled at that one. Rhonda Vincent and Dan Tyminski joined him on stage to sing the lovely duet.

They made quite a joke out of Charles Humphrey’s bass. Steve remarked early in the show that they liked traveling with the Charles because his bass doubles as a refrigerator. At first I thought he was just making a joke about how big the bass is. But a little later, when Steve was about to leave the stage to let SCR do their songs he made the seemingly off-hand question, “Hey Charles, you got a nanner or something?” To the audience’s surprise Charles turned around the bass, took a panel off the back, reached inside and took out a banana to hand to Steve. (This bit was made possible by the amazing folding bass, designed by Charlie Chadwick.)

Steve explained to the audience how he liked to give his tunes names based on real-life experience. One, for example, was named by his wife. It was called “Don’t You Know Any Other Songs But That One.” Another true-to-life title, and one that demonstrates that Steve doesn’t come from the typical bluegrass background, was, “I Think My Masseuse Is Too Chatty.” But, he said, Rounder Records didn’t think that title was “bluegrassy enough,” so he called it “The Crow.” (All in good fun, of course.)

Nicky Saunders, SCR’s fiddler joined Steve to do a fiddle-banjo tune. In introducing it Steve talked about Flatt and Scruggs’s Carnegie Hall album, which received a smattering of applause. Then he said he’d always liked the tune on there called “Fiddle and Banjo.” At this point I clapped, but no one else did. Solo applause. Lovely. Anyway, Steve’s tune was called “Hide Behind A Rock.” It is, incidentally, nothing like “Fiddle and Banjo.”

He and Graham Sharp did a funny little bit. It’s gotta be weird for Graham, playing second banjo in the band. After the tune “Tin Roof,” on which Graham took a great break, Steve came up to the mic and complimented him on it. He said, in fact, it was “a little too good, if you know what I mean.” He asked Graham to demonstrate a typical lick he might play on a song and Graham does this long, notey phrase from the bottom of the neck up to the very top frets. Steve says, “Yeah, take out half those notes.” So Graham plays a simpler, bluesier lick that is just as awesome. So Steve comes back with, “Now take out a lot of those notes.” Graham plays his third string, really loudly. “Perfect,” Steve says.

The first encore was “Orange Blossom Special,” which has always been one of Nicky’s showpieces. I was a little surprised at the choice of song, since typically the banjo doesn’t have much of a role (no pun intended) on that tune. But as the arrangement unfolded I understood. The Rangers sang first line of the verses (Woody Platt, Mike Guggino, and Graham on the trio)—“Look yonder comin’”—and then Steve popped into the mic to finish the phrase, “Comin’ down the railroad track.” “It’s the Orange Blossom Special,” the boys sang. “Bringin my baby back,” Steve answered.

Second verse:

Boys: “I’m going down to Florida”

Steve: “Get some sand in my shoes.”

Boys: “Or maybe California”

Steve: “King Tut” (winces as he realizes he’s sung the wrong words…)

Boys: “Ride the Orange Blossom Special”

Steve: “And lose these Nashville blues.”

Nicky Saunders, John McEuen, Charles Humphrey, Graham Sharp, Gary Scruggs, Earl Scruggs, Mike Guggino, Steve Martin, Woddy Platt

Nicky Sanders, John McEuen, Charles Humphrey, Graham Sharp, Gary Scruggs, Earl Scruggs, Mike Guggino, Steve Martin, Woddy Platt

The pinnacle of the show, though, was the second encore when Steve called on stage John McEuen, Gary Scruggs, and the man himself (do I really need to say it?) Earl Scruggs. Long standing ovation from the hometown crowd. They played “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” (Was there ever any doubt was tune they’d do?) and although it was very hard to hear Earl it almost didn’t matter. Just seeing him play is magic in itself. (I did say almost.)

I’m just so glad that Steve is touring with the Rangers. He met them in North Carolina (his wife is a friend of Woody’s) (though when they play in Hollywood he says he met them “in rehab”) and he couldn’t have picked a better bunch of guys to accompany him. He is very respectful of them as a band, as musicians, and as individuals, making sure to specifically introduce everyone and to have a little interaction with each of them so that the audience gets to know them a little bit.

Steve Martin may not be the world’s best banjo player (which is so subjective a title as to be impossible to quantify—and as long as Earl is with us there’s no contest anyway) but he may well be the funniest. I think that Uncle Dave Macon would approve.