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Banjo Draws Steve Martin To Music

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Friday, January 30, 2009

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Steve Martin, known for his acting, will host this weekend’s “Saturday Night Live” primarily to promote his latest fi lm, “The Pink Panther 2,” which opens Friday, Feb. 6.

But don’t be surprised if he straps on a banjo and plays something from his new album.

Martin has just released “The Crow: New Songs For the Five-String Banjo,” a set of 15 of his own compositions recorded with guests such as Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Mary Black, Earl Scruggs, Tony Trischka, Tim O’Brien and Pete Wernick. It was produced by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s John McEuen, a high school friend of Martin’s.

“I think it all comes under the heading of I’m not getting any younger,” says Martin, 63, who’s been playing banjo since he was 17. “I had these songs, and I was up to speed ‘cause I sort of got back into the banjo in the last three years. And I thought ‘Now it’s time ...’ ”

Martin says five of the songs on “The Crow” — named after a track he wrote and performed on Trischka’s “Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular” in 2007 — date back to the late ’60s and early ’70s, while others are more recent. “Tin Roof” came along while he was filming 2003’s “Cheaper By the Dozen,” while “Pretty Flowers” was conceived while filming 2006’s “The Pink Panther” in Boston.

“I know what my specialty is — playing songs I write,” he explains, “and if I’m asked to step outside that specialty, I can get a little nervous. It’s a dichotomy; on one hand I can play my own songs with anybody, but if I got into a really serious bluegrass crowd, I’d play a couple standards and retire.”

Martin, who’s also working on a novel, hopes to play some live shows in support of “The Crow,” though he notes that, “I wouldn’t even know how to do an hour show of music. I guess I have to get a band, right?” Those will have to wait until the summer, however, after he wraps another role in an as-yet-untitled Nancy Myers-directed adult romantic comedy with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin.

Martin also is nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Spoken Album Category for his audio book version of his memoir “Born Standing Up.”

Steve Martin hosts “Saturday Night Live” at 11:30 p.m. Saturday on NBC (WDIV, Channel 4 in Detroit).

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