Steve Martin

Steve Martin BANJO ON HIS KNEE

Newsweek - - NEWS -

STEVE MARTIN has been a sadis­tic den­tist, an out-of-towner, a frus­trated trav­eler, a fa­ther of 12 and a jerk. Now he’s just happy to be a banjo player—in real life, not on screen. In re­cent years, the com­edy leg­end has stepped away from Hol­ly­wood and shifted his fo­cus to theater (his com­edy Me­teor Shower— star­ring Amy Schumer—is set to open on Broad­way in Novem­ber) and a long­time pas­sion: blue­grass mu­sic. On Septem­ber 22, the skilled banjo player will re­lease a new al­bum, The Long-awaited Al­bum (yes, that’s the ti­tle), with his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers. The songs are up­tempo, goofy sto­ries of love (“Caro­line”) and fam­ily awk­ward­ness (“Strangest Christ­mas Yet”).

Martin, who fa­mously in­cor­po­rated the banjo into his ’70s standup act, is pretty sure the blue­grass com­mu­nity doesn’t see him as an ac­tor-dab­bler. “Well, I don’t know what they say about me be­hind my back,” he says with a laugh.

The banjo hasn’t been a pop­u­lar in­stru­ment for some time. What at­tracted you to it, and do you wish more peo­ple shared your af­fec­tion for it?

I loved the banjo from the first time I ever heard it. I found it to be quite an emo­tional in­stru­ment. Its pop­u­lar­ity is just right. It’s a spe­cial­ized in­stru­ment, it’s a spe­cial­ized sound, [and] not ev­ery­one’s go­ing to grav­i­tate to it or needs to know about it.

Even though movies are no longer a pri­or­ity for you, are there any film­mak­ers you’d like to work with, given the op­por­tu­nity?

Oh yeah. Coen broth­ers. There’s so many peo­ple. I did work with Ang Lee. Un­for­tu­nately, the movie [ Billy Lynn’s Long Haf­time Walk] was a flop. But I liked it. Di­rec­tors’ names aren’t on the tip of my tongue any­more; I’m in such a dif­fer­ent world now.… I think a new co­me­dian is Jerry Se­in­feld. That’s how be­hind the times I am. —ZACH SCHONFELD

STRINGS AT­TACHED: Martin, seated, far right, with his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers.

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