Banjo play no joke - Metro US

Banjo play no joke

While best known for his work on the silver screen over the past three-plus decades, Steve Martin is finally embracing a tiny aspect of his storied history and bringing it to the forefront.

“When I started doing comedy, I just put in everything I knew,” notes Martin about his early career.

Some might recall that in his salad days, the comedian would pull out a five-string banjo, serenading audiences with a song or two. And while it seemed like kitsch at the time, it became a definitive trademark that never blossomed past the odd ditty.

Until now, that is. Finally embracing his ability to its fullest, the 64-year-old has come out of the musical closet; released his debut bluegrass record dubbed The Crow: New Songs For The Five-String Banjo. Spirited, original and prodigious, the album is compelling, spurring Martin to hire on award-winning outfit The Steep Canyon Rangers for a North American tour that will play Roy Thomson Hall tomorrow.

“(Back then) I did magic tricks, I juggled and I played a few songs on the banjo,” Martin reflects, in awe of how his oddball hobby has become a major endeavour.

“Basically the act never changed. It just got bigger. Before shows I didn’t need to rehearse my routines so I practised banjo. It was important to the show because the comedy act looks so ad-libbed that I felt I needed something to show that I could actually do (something) hard.”

Still, the creation of The Crow: New Songs For The Five String Banjo isn’t exactly a flash-in-the-pan concept for Martin. Whittling away at crafting his own tunes over the years, it wasn’t until the offer to appear on an album with genre stalwart Earl Scruggs in 2001 that the bug bit. Inspired, Martin hunkered down to write enough tunes for a complete affair.

“I’d been playing these songs my whole life and in the last five years I wrote another ten songs. I was kind of merging into the banjo world again …. It was a whole kind of life opening up for me; (one) that’s music-centric rather than comedy-centric. I hadn’t performed comedy onstage in 30 years … you sort of get fried on it.”

At that though, Martin is wary of naysayers claiming he’s jumping on the actor/musician bandwagon currently inhabited by celluloid celebs with more disposable income to throw at their “careers” than bona fide talent.

“What they really want to be is a rock star rather than a rock musician,” he shrugs. “I really just want to play my songs. There’s an appearance difference when they get on stage because they try to look like rock musicians, or rock stars rather than just being true to their own personality.”

“I have been doing this for a long, long time,” he concludes, “(but) there is a prejudice against celebrities doing music if they didn’t come up that way. I haven’t found it, luckily. I’m sure there’ll be some backlash for something, you know. I’ll make a mistake onstage and get booed…”

Steve Martin performs at Roy Thomson Hall on Thursday.

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