May 12, 2011

From the Editor: He'll get a-goin' to hear Steve Martin's masterful picking

By ROD HARMON Deputy Managing Editor

I hated country music as a child. Despised it, actually.

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It probably had something to do with my dad being a huge country fan, watching "Hee Haw" reruns every night, singing songs like "Beer Drinking Daddy" and playing the same Ernest Tubb record over and over for years (literally). In response, I listened to the loudest heavy metal and hardcore punk that I could, preferably ones that made fun of country music.

So yes, teenage rebellion and all that. But I defy anyone to listen to Ernest singing "when ol' goin' gets a-goin', ol' goin' ain't comin' back" for 18 years straight and not do the same.

Despite all that, I've always held an appreciation for bluegrass. It had a pureness, a raw intensity, a -- dare I say it -- authenticity that commercial country lacked. I marveled at the rapid-style fingering of the banjo players and fiddlers (not unlike, I suppose, the rock guitarists I admired), the seamless intertwining of instruments that sounded complicated yet simple at the same time.

And one of my first exposures to bluegrass was Steve Martin.

I don't remember whether it was on "Saturday Night Live" or his classic comedy album "Let's Get Small," but I remember how awed I was by his banjo-playing talents. "Hey, this guy's pretty good!" he would exclaim after a few bars, then launch into a smoking-hot version of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown."

The audience was shocked. I was shocked. We knew Steve Martin as a comedian, the "wild and crazy guy" who wore an arrow through his head and murmured curse words into balloons as he blew them up so the balloons would say "god-----t" when they popped. The Jerk. The Festrunk Brother.

Not a bluegrass master.

But as he often does, Martin defied expectations. When he played bluegrass, it wasn't that much different from him tackling a dramatic role at the height of his comedy career, or writing a play about Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein. He follows his own muse.

Thankfully, that muse has led to a collaboration with The Steep Canyon Rangers, who will accompany Martin in a bluegrass concert at Merrill Auditorium on Wednesday. You can read all about it on the next page.

There will likely be some comedy sprinkled throughout the show. But even if there isn't, you should go. Make no mistake about it -- Martin knows how to play his instrument. Two Grammy awards for music is testament to that.

And if he plays "When Ole Goin' Gets A-Goin' " bluegrass-style, he might actually get me to like the song.

Probably not. But stranger things have happened.

Deputy Managing Editor Rod Harmon may be contacted at 791-6450 or at:


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