Steve Martin hits road with banjos, and some jokes

Fri Oct 2, 2009 3:06pm EDT
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By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Steve Martin may be one of the funniest guys on the planet. But when it comes to talking about the banjo, he is deadly serious. Eerily so.

Martin, 64, has been playing the banjo since he was a teenager, and is a respected practitioner in the bluegrass community. He has just begun his first concert tour to promote his critically acclaimed album "The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo," which features vocal assists from such A-listers as Dolly Parton and Vince Gill.

The album marked his first appearance on the U.S. charts since a comedy/banjo hybrid in 1981. It won two prizes -- for graphic design and the inevitably funny liner notes -- at the International Bluegrass Music Awards in Nashville on Thursday.

Most of the tracks are instrumentals, and Martin wrote all but one of the 16 cuts, some of which date back to the 1960s.

"I can't imagine what my life would be without the banjo," Martin told Reuters.

The dry-witted comic might have been expected to follow the admission with a punchline and an imaginary drum rimshot. But there was none.

Instead, he explained what drew him to an instrument often associated -- for better or worse -- with the theme song from the "Beverly Hillbillies" TV show and the inbred southerners in the movie "Deliverance."

"I just like the sound of the banjo. I can't explain why. It was the big bang for me. I really like what it can do. I like its range. I like that it's acoustic."   Continued...

<p>Actor Steve Martin performs with the Steep Canyon Rangers at a rehearsal concert at the Largo at the Coronet theatre in Los Angeles, September 30, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>