The winners are:
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.