At the Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday, Rascal Flatts will be joined by a special guest on banjo — the actor, comedian and respected musician — Steve Martin. The 66-year-old will be touring this summer with the Steep Canyon Rangers in support of their Grammy nominated album, “Rare Bird Alert.” The tour kicks off in Indio, Calif. at Stagecoach Festival on April 28th and ends Sept. 1 in Los Angeles at the Pantages Theatre. The album features 13 tracks written by Martin, including a live version of “King Tut” and special guest vocals from Paul McCartney and the Dixie Chicks.
Martin also has a book out called, “The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten: The Tweets of Steve Martin.”
He spoke to Billboard about bluegrass music, his new book and the passing of banjo legend and bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs, whom he’ll reportedly pay tribute to at the ACM Awards on Sunday.
This must be a tough day for you in light of Earl Scruggs’ passing.
Yes, it was very sad when we got the news yesterday. The whole bluegrass community is sort of well, sad.
Would you have considered him the best banjo player in bluegrass?
Well it’s more than that. He was certainly historically the most important banjo player and he really changed how the five string banjo is played and how it’s heard. ( Read Martin’s story on Scruggs for The New Yorker)
And when did you become interested in that form of music?
When I was 16 or younger there was a folk music craze in Orange County, California where I lived and loved the bands that came around and toured. It came down to records too and I was able to get a five string banjo and start playing. I started playing when I was around 17.
Did you feel like you were growing up in the wrong state? Like maybe you should have been born in Tennessee?
Oh no, I was very happy with where I grew up. I really loved it, the beach, being near Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm. I was able to become a performer there. It was all part of my young, youthful history. I started working at Disneyland when I was 10. I got to dress up and go into this amusement park that was well kept. It was wholesome and then I went to work at Knotts Berry Farm which was also a very wholesome place. I got a job there as an actor and comedian and musician.
How many hours a day do you normally practice?
Well that varies. Sometimes it can be 3 or 4 or 5 or 6, if I’m with the band. Sometimes it can be 30 minutes (laughs).
You have a book out of your musings from Twitter. How did you get into tweeting?
Basically I was inspired by Tom Hanks. He was tweeting and I asked him, ‘What are you doing? What are you doing?’ And he said, ‘Oh I just do it to tell people about my movies and things like that.’ And I thought that might be interesting because I realized I was going on these TV shows and having to come up with ten minutes of material in order to talk about my recent movie and here I could just talk about my movie as it turned out… but it didn’t work out that way at all. I was still coming up with a month of material to talk about my movie for one tweet. But anyway it’s still fun, I enjoy doing it. It’s like having an audience follow you around all day.
Do you know this is a good one because I’m cracking myself up?
It does work that way and sometimes the responses I get are funnier than my own tweets. So I’ve collected them and saved them. That’s what the book is about, me and my responses.
Does it bother you that quite possibly the most famous banjo song in pop culture is “Dueling Banjos” from “Deliverance”?
It doesn’t bother me at all. Actually I might argue with that because another most famous song would be the theme from “The Beverly Hillbillies” or “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” the song from “Bonnie and Clyde.” So there are a couple of ‘most famous’ banjo songs.
But still… the theme song from “The Beverly Hillbillies”?
It’s just something we have to face. And everything changes. That’s why I always wear a suit and tie when I play bluegrass.
Do you feel like you’re helping changing the face of bluegrass?
I don’t know. That’s what I do when I go on stage. I don’t make hillbilly jokes or things like that. I’m just playing it as the person I am, not pretending to be anything else. The band I play with, we all dress in suits and ties.
In the beginning when you first started playing did people come expecting stand-up?
No actually they weren’t. In fact I do more comedy now in the show than I did when I started. I actually want people to know that there is comedy in the show. It’s sort of 60% music, 40% comedy and I like doing that. I like doing an entertaining show. I don’t want people to show up and think I’m going to turn my back on them and play the banjo.
Tour dates and links to tickets can be found on Martin’s website .