News Column

Steve Martin Bringing His Musical Self To Bushnell

June 11, 2014

By Maryellen Fillo, The Hartford Courant

June 11--For most fans, Steve Martin is the hilarious comic who first hit mainstream as the "wild and crazy" guy on Saturday Night Live, further honed a profession as a stand-up comic, and then went on to star in a slew of movies including "Parenthood," "The Jerk," "It's Complicated" and "The Big Year."

But the award winning 68-year-old, who will bring his concert tour with well-known singer Edie Brickell and the Steep Canyon Rangers to The Bushnell in Hartford on Thursday, June 19, is also an accomplished author, art collector, playwright and musician. Married, with a 1-year-old, Martin was tight-lipped about fatherhood and his personal life, but was seriously ready to go on forever about his music with Brickell. Their program, described as a storytelling mix of banjo playing and folksy, bluesy vocals, is designed to entertain he promised as he Spilled the Beans with Java.

Q: The name of your Grammy winning song on the album of the same name, "Love Has Come For You," seems very romantic, not something I would normally associate with you or banjo music. What was the inspiration?

A: Actually Edie wrote the lyrics and I think she was just making it up out of her head. I had the banjo melody and she first heard it when I played it to her over the telephone. She was cooking and as she listened she said the first line of the lyrics, "She had a child by that man from the bank," just came to her when she heard the music. And once she had the first line, she felt she had the whole story. Of course, it just wouldn't have been as romantic if the lyrics were "she fell in love with the man from the gym."

Q: Explain the banjo as if you were teaching a music theory class in 50 words or less.

A: I would say first of all, it's a very American instrument that really developed in the 19th century. Its ancestors came from Africa but it really defined itself in America. There were a lot of black banjo players at first and then came minstrel shows. Then the banjo became a sort of ladies instrument. You can still see ads of ladies in their parlor playing the banjo. It's had a very, very varied history. And it takes several illustrations, four-string and five-string. In the '30s and '40s, banjo music developed into blue grass. Is that 50 words?

Q: Now could you explain it from your heart?

A: I find the banjo to be an emotional instrument and not only when it is played slowly. It has a model sound, a certain melancholy to it when played one way. And it also has emotion when it is played fast, the way Earl Scruggs did. It's a very American sound. I started playing when I was 16. John McEuen, of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, was one of my best friends and helped me learn to play.

Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the banjo?

A: Probably the biggest is that it is a good time instrument only. I feel it is much, much richer than that.

Q: You're best known as an actor and comic. And of course there were those early forays into music; "King Tut" comes to mind. Does music trump everything now, expect for maybe being a relatively new dad?

A: Certainly my whole life has shifted as far as priorities and right now music is number one professionally. There are a couple of movies in the works but those projects are too far off to talk about. And as far as being a dad, it's good but I don't like to talk about it

Q: Who are your idols when it comes to music?

A: The band I work with, the Steep Canyon Rangers, and of course, Edie. I am also very enchanted right now with The Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek. They are fantastic.

Q: If you could play with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?

A: I had the good fortune to play with Earl Scruggs and got to know him a little. I would have loved to have known Joel Sweeney; he played the banjo in the 19th century and made it popular.

Q: You haven't done a movie in a few years and you did say you have something in the works, but in the meantime, will there be more music?

A: I have a new CD/DVD "Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers featuring Edie Brickell Live." It's only been out a couple of months but I would like to do another CD with the Canyon Rangers. And we have a new musical, "Bright Star," that opens at The Old Globe Theater in San Diego in the fall. It brings a lot of things together. We did the playwrighting together, I did the music and the original story, she did the lyrics.

Q: The word was you sneaked into Hartford a few months ago to see the Hartford Stage production of your play, "The Underpants." What did you think?

A: I saw it and I loved it.

Q: You share top billing with Edie on the concert bill. What does she have that you don't, other than the obvious?

A: She brings such an unusual quality to music. Music can be straight forward or askew. She finds the emotional heart through her lyrics and always continually surprises me with what she does.

Q: Will her husband Paul Simon be at the concert here in Hartford. You know, they did have that little tiff.

A: I don't know anything about it and don't know if he is coming.

Q: You are included on a new list of "50 Best Banjo Players" on ranker.com along with Jerry Garcia, Burl Ives, John Lennon, Kermit the Frog and Peter Tork of the Monkees. Are you surprised?

A: I didn't see the list but love being on it. I feel accomplished.

Q: Most people know you for your comedy, not your music. Will they still enjoy the show here in Hartford?

A: Actually our show has a lot of comedy, it's 40 percent comedy. For me it is a revitalization of performing live, standing up on stage, getting the immediate feedback. So there will be music and comedy, something for everyone. Me, Edie, the Canyon Ranger, we try to do the most entertaining show we can. We really enjoy what we do and every night we always try to do our best.

Q: What is something most people don't know about you?

A: I don't really have an answer for you. I guess that I can trick rope, the way cowboys do. Although I usually only bring it out at parties.

Tickets for "Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers Featuring Edie Brickell" on June 19 start at $29.50 at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Information: 860-987-5900 and bushnell.org.

___

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