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Steve Martin playing banjo on SNL last week? & The Crow

February 5, 2009

By Maggie Williams

Steve Martin, yes that crazy guy, hit the stage with his band on last week’s Saturday Night Live and played an original, albeit it silly, composition called Late for School. Me thinks this caught a few off guard who didn’t quite know what to make of it. It reminded me of a video snippet I saw when Steve came out on stage and played a nice rendition of a song called Father’s Pride on his banjo at a tribute for Diane Keaton. The audience was at a loss, snickering and laughing now and then, waiting oh so patiently for the funny, which never came.

One of the many things that I’ve dabbled in but never got good at is the banjo and I remember seeing Steve play the banjo in his first comedy stage acts back in the 70’s and thinking, he’s good. Through the years, he’s incorporated the banjo now and then into his other works but never seemed serious about it, at least not publicly.

My fav’s in the banjo playing arena are Earl Scruggs (duh), Béla Fleck and John Hartford (banjo, fiddle, singer, dancer, nut job). Steve has been playing banjo for 40ish years and is pretty damn good. The thing that strikes me when he’s playing, is that he seems to be so content and at peace. Of course, who could forget the classic Foggy Mountain Breakdown with Scruggs and a gang of notables; can you name them all? Here’s a hint, some of their initials are VG, JD, MS, RS.

While very good at three finger picking like everyone else, Steve is also quite adept at the clawhammer style, which I never could get. It’s fun to watch because you can’t quite see what’s happening behind the back side of the hand, the fingers are doing something mysterious and it has a subtle rhythm; a little extra beat that seems to come from nowhere.

In addition to being a funny guy, writer/author, and movie star, Steve Martin is a bonafide musician, now having written a number of songs for the banjo which he and his friends perform on his new CD entitled The Crow, also released last week. Here he is playing the title track with Béla Fleck and Tony Trischka on the Letterman show.

Here he is playing another track, Wally on the Run, on The Late Show just last week.

So, back to SNL. Steve hosted the show for a record 15th time. The monologue and appearances in sketches were mediocre, but I really enjoyed the song and I just know that it was probably the most puzzling and least favorite part for most people.

Steve Martin on Saturday Night Live playing his song Late for School from his new CD titled The Crow; notice that he plays this one clawhammer style.

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Steve’s new album is The Crow – New Songs for the 5-String Banjo and the CD is available from; it’s also available as an mp3 download. It’s an awesome album, makes me think of childhood, not sure why. FYI, Late for School is the only song Steve sings on and in his own words, there’s a reason why guest vocals include Vince Gill, Dolly Parton, Mary Black, and Tim O’Brien, one of my new favorites.  Guest musicians such as Earl Scruggs, Pete Wernick and Tony Trischka on banjo, Jerry Douglas on dobro, round it out to make this an all star cast.

Read/listen to this NPR All Things Considered interview Comedian Takes Banjo Seriously.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jimmy permalink
    April 7, 2009 11:57 am

    FYI, AP, Reuters and others are reporting that Steve and his banjo will be making his debut on the Grand Ole Opry on May 30.

    Joining him will be Vince Gil, Dolly Parton, Amy Grant, and Tim O’Brien.

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