Trivia for April 22, 2022 – Most Famous Living Banjo Player

This Contest is Closed
The winners are:
Andy Bing
Ken Gallagher
Betsy Rome

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Who is the most famous living 5 string banjo player in the country?

ANSWER is “Steve Martin”

Additional Bowden Comments

Hard to believe isn’t it? Steve Martin was a young bluegrass banjo picker who included his banjo skills in his magic act, to get a job in the L.A. area theme parks like Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm. Comedy came after! The banjo was an integral part of his show until he got into movies, then it got “put away” for many years. In the 1990s Steve’s interest in the banjo started up again, and he studied clawhammer style under Mark Johnson of Florida, who attempted to blend bluegrass and clawhammer as “Clawgrass”. Steve got completely fired up again about banjo and soon hired the Steep Canyon Rangers bluegrass band from Asheville NC to be his steady working band. Steve did many bluegrass concerts, festivals, tv appearances and even a PBS July 4th Celebration broadcast from Washington DC as a banjo player. I remember that he graciously closed the July 4th broadcast by letting the Steep Canyon Rangers’ fiddler play Orange Blossom Special, which really isn’t a banjo showpiece. Steve also wrote and produced a short-running Broadway musical featuring bluegrass and banjos and string band music.

In the banjo world, he’s perhaps BEST known for putting his MONEY where his heart is — the annual Steve Martin Prize for Banjo which started out at a whopping $50,000, including an appearance for the winner with Steve on the David Letterman show. He and Noam Pikelny did a piece of stage business on Letterman where Steve handed Noam the check, which Noam put in his suit coat breast pocket. Then Steve surreptiously pulled it back with an attached piece of fishing line! All very broadly done of course, to audience delight.

Steve had a pretty good hit with an instrumental “The Crow” that he composed and played twin banjo on with Tony Trischka on Tony’s award winning double CD set. That got played on Letterman one night also.

Finally, Steve got together a banjo superstars act to play on Letterman, that included Earl Scruggs, Tony Trischka and others, all playing Foggy Mt. Breakdown with panache! Paul Shaeffer even took a very creditable piano break!

Steve Martin, a VERY talented banjo player to be sure (although he seems to like clawhammer almost more than 3 finger lately), has become a major force in bluegrass banjo. Others have sold more records (Ron Block with Allison Krauss +Union Station has probably been heard by more people than ANY other banjo player, but the general public doesn’t know his name), but Steve is without question the most FAMOUS bluegrass banjo player in the country now.

Dick Bowden

Dick Bowden recently retired after a 45 year career in the paper industry, and moved from Connecticut to Big Indian NY (Ulster County) where he ekes out a precarious existence as a groundskeeper. Dick has been performing bluegrass music on banjo and guitar since 1966 in his home state of Maine, throughout New England, and internationally with The Case Brothers - Martin & Gibson. He has performed for HVBA with the Old Time Bluegrass Singers, and also sent in a squadron of Dick Bowden's Flying Circus. Most recently Dick has played Dobro (tm) with the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band. Dick has written many articles for Bluegrass Unlimited, Bluegrass Today, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass magazine) and HVBA.

5 Responses

  • This question should be limited to people who are actually known for playing the five at a pro or at least semi-pro level, whatever else they may be known for (if anything). That limit would rule out, for a hypothetical example, the President if he liked to play the five when nobody was looking. With that limitation, my guess is Steve Martin, who has actually recorded on the banjo with a well regarded bluegrass band.

  • Steve Martin. Way more “famous” than any of he great players who have received his annual award or are on his jury panel.

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