INTERVIEW & REVIEW: Steve Martin on The Grand Ole Opry

Steve Martin, who will be 64 in August 2009, proves by the fact that he waited so many years to do his latest project, that you should never give up pursuing the dreams you had as a kid, and that if you keep dreaming, you can make those dreams a reality someday.

The Grand Ole Opry stage welcomed Martin for a very special performance Saturday May 30th and there was not an empty seat to be found. Martin along with Vince Gill, Amy Grant and John McEuen received enthusiastic applause and standing ovations after each song.

Prior to his performance on stage, a private press conference was held where Martin says he was 17 when he first decided to pick up the instrument and teach himself to play (with help from his friend John and listening to others play). Over the years has honed his expertise of various banjo styles, such as "three-finger" picking, made famous by Scruggs, and "clawhammer" a style known for its syncopated rhythms and distinct melodic phrasing that employs the back of the fingernails to strike or strum the strings, and a thumb technique that alternates between the strings.

When asked about his dreams of playing the Opry and what it meant to him, his reply was “that it ranks very high on his list of things he has always wanted to do”. He fell in love with Bluegrass in the 60’s when he wrote for the Smother’s Brothers comedy hour where Minnie Pearl was a frequent guest, and his desire to play has grown over the years.

Nashville is no stranger to Martin’s career. The Exit Inn was one of the first venue’s to host his comedy act and his first sold out crowd according to Martin.

His new CD project "The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo" was released in January 2009 online at and it has risen to No. 1 on Billboard's bluegrass chart. He is touring this spring playing songs backed by the Steep Canyon Rangers; comprised of five young men who play fiddle, guitar, stand-up bass, mandolin and banjo. "The Crow" debuted at No. 106 on the Billboard 200, when he performed the album track "Pretty Flowers" during the "American Idol" season finale along with contestants Megan Joy and Michael Sarver singing vocals.

When asked what has been the biggest surprise or unexpected reward so far on this new path he responded that the chance to play the Opry was definitely the biggest so far. Stating what a thrill it was to be in the studio with Vince Gill and Dolly Parton as they sang his songs was also an unbelievable moment, he stated he sat there and thought to himself that so many great musicians and artists never get that opportunity.

Vince Gill affirmed that he has always known Steve Martin had a musician’s heart and that the banjo was not just a prop, so he was not at all surprised when this project came up.

Martin noted the similarity in the energy and feeling before a live television performance and being backstage at the Opry. Martin said the emotion is much related. You know there is a live audience waiting and the excitement and anticipation is very much the same, and added “But I don’t know that I am worthy of being on the Opry stage.”

John McEuen (of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) produced the album for his lifelong friend and actor. Martin wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on this album, creating a new body of work that will stand alongside the classics for years to come. John says "The album is great! People will be shocked at how vast and varied is music is, and how great he plays… this album will show Steve as a composer of unique hot licks and soulful lyrics. He is definitely a songwriter with an unusual twist for notes and lyrics; and, in the 45 years I've known him, I've never heard him playing better. I am working with the Chaplin of our era”.

John has known and worked with Steve Martin since high school. John scored Steve's television specials, was instrumental in teaching him how to play the banjo, and has arranged his music and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band played on Steve's hit song, "King Tut." McEuen states “During the entire recording session, I felt a warmth that filled the room. I saw that every musician and all the engineers seemed focused on the music and nothing else. Sitting quietly and unassumingly, Steve played his banjo, teaching us some of his intricate compositions.” McEuen adds “Steve’s songs are infectious and haunting and leave you wanting to hear it again.”

Steve alluded to the fact that some of the compositions were written decades ago, but they sound as fresh as if they were hot off the press. That's because real music built to last, regardless of its genre, always maintains its value.

In 2001, Steve Martin was involved in a project with Earle Scruggs on the recording of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”, which featured Martin on 2nd banjo, Albert Lee and Vince Gill on guitars, Marty Stuart on mandolin, and Paul Shaffer on piano. "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" is a well recognized bluegrass music instrumental by the seminal bluegrass artists Flatt and Scruggs. It is frequently used as background music, and was featured in the 1967 motion picture Bonnie and Clyde, especially in the car chase scenes. Gill, who was also the host for the final portion of the Opry, asked Martin and McEuen to “try and play” the song, which they did with exuberance and energy.

Martin closed the show with his song “Late For School” which combines his talents as musician and comedian, and again had the crowd on their feet and wishing for more.

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