Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Tuesday, September 02, 2008

3 Steve Banjo Articles

These three articles all come from The Bluegrass Blog and concern Steve's new banjo album coming out very soon and the new banjo he used in some of the cuts.
Nedski with Steve and Tony
posted by John on 12.03.07 @ 9:42 am

Ned Luberecki, Steve Martin and Tony TrischkaWe got a note this morning from Ned Luberecki, banjo player extraordinaire, and one of the hosts of the Sirius Satellite Radio Bluegrass channel.

Ned had been out with Tony Trischka this past week, supplying the second banjo for a string of dates in support of Tony’s Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular CD, and told us that they had a surprise guest for Thursday’s show at The Cutting Room in New York City, in the person of Steve Martin.

“Tony told me earlier in the day that he had emailed Steve about the gig, not even knowing if Steve was in New York. We didn’t actually know that he was going to be there until just before show time. We had just a few minutes to rehearse before they opened the doors to the club, so we went over the triple banjo version of ‘The Crow’ with Steve playing the melody, Tony on the second and me on the third part. Then Tony asked if Steve would like to play anything else on the show.

Steve started playing a tune and asked if we wanted to figure it out. The song was ‘Pitkin County Turnaround’ which Steve had recorded on his ‘Steve Martin Brothers’ album. After Steve played through it once, I took a solo. Steve seemed surprised that I knew it. Afterward he asked me how I learned it so fast. I told him that I learned it from his record… 25 or 30 years ago!

For the record, I got my first banjo, and two Steve Martin records for Christmas the same year. If you were to look at those albums, you’d probably see the grooves worn clean on the parts where he played the banjo.

All joking aside, Steve was my original inspiration for starting to play the banjo. The first song I learned from a record (without tab) was his version of ‘8 More Miles To Louisville’ (which was part of his ‘You can’t play a sad song on the banjo’ bit). And believe it or not, I learned ‘Sally Goodin’ from the flip side of the 45 of ‘King Tut’ even before learning it from the Earl Scruggs book.”

Take that all you people who insist that Steve Martin had no impact as a banjo player!

Bela Fleck, Ned Luberecki and Tony Trischka on banjosNed also passed along this photo from a show he did with Tony back in October where they were joined by Bela Fleck for another Triple Banjo Bluegrass Extravaganza.

He also mentioned that there are a number of video clips from the recent Trischka dates up on YouTube.

Kel Kroydon and Steve Martin
posted by John on 01.14.08 @ 3:11 pm

Steve Martin and Tom Mirisola checking out Kel Kroydon banjos on the set of Pink Panther IIIn an earlier post, Casey Henry mentioned what a kick she got from knowing that she and Steve Martin played the same kind of banjo, referring to her recent signature model Kel Kroydon banjo.

I asked KK owner Tom Mirisola to tell us a bit more about the Steve Martin connection…

This all came about through Tony Ellis, who is a good friend of Steve’s, and an owner of a Kel Kroydon KK-11. One day Tony and I were talking about the Cryo Strings for a Cause charity and he mentioned he had a very good friend who wanted to talk to me about my banjos. When Tony told me it was Steve Martin I really didn’t know what to think. Tony asked if he could forward my contact information to Steve and we could talk banjos.

Well, of course I said OK. A few weeks later I was contacted by a production company who told me Steve would be in Boston filming the movie Pink Panther II and that he would like to get together with me during his stay. One afternoon in October 2007 we met Steve on set with my wife Karen and my granddaughter Casey.

I brought 5 Kel Kroydons with me for Steve to try out. Steve and I sat and picked, talked all about Kel Kroydon specifications and his 27 Florentine banjo. In between pickin’ and talking, Steve took all of us on set to watch the his new film being made. This was a thrill for all of us. Steve took the time to explain to Casey how the film was made, which she still talks about today. Casey can’t wait till the movie comes out.

Later that afternoon we left it if Steve was interested in a Kel Kroydon banjo we could build one to his specifications for him. Steve said he liked the Kel Kroydons and wanted to think about the banjo specifications he wanted to build. Steve said he would contact me after the movie was completed.

A few weeks later I received a phone call from Steve wanting to discuss his desired banjo specifications. He liked the ebony fingerboard, mahogany wood, and gold engraved plating, basically our Charlie Cushman model. Steve and I pulled up the American Made Banjo web site while we were on the phone, and he said, “That’s the banjo. It is beautiful.”

From there Robin Smith, Steve Gill and Charlie Cushman did their usual magic. The banjo was built and delivered to Steve just before the holidays. So far, he says the banjo looks and sounds great and the last I spoke with him he had taken the banjo with him on vacation. I’m sure in the future when Steve pops up out of nowhere to play at a venue, and you see him playing a banjo with an ebony fingerboard and “mother of toilet seat” peghead that sounds great, you will know exactly what he is playing.

Here are a couple more photos of Steve with his custom Kel Kroydon, and meeting with Tom’s family on the set.

Steve Martin banjo CD forthcoming
posted by John on 09.01.08 @ 10:28 am

Steve Martin celebrates Christmas with his new Kel Kroydon banjoWe made note late last year of the fact that comedian, actor and banjo player Steve Martin was preparing to record an album of serious banjo music.

The recording has been completed, produced by fellow banjo man John McCuen, with assistance from Tony Trischka and Pete Wernick. Helping out in the studio were Russ Barenberg on guitar, Matt Flinner on mandolin and Brittany Haas on fiddle, among others. New Martin compositions are the foucs, performed in both 3 finger and clawhammer styles.

We’ve not been able to find out yet whether a label is involved, or when the CD might be released. Steve is vacationing now in Greece, but we are hopeful of obtaining an interview upon his return.

We did reach producer John McCuen, who shared a number of thoughts about working with Martin in the studio.

“Steve’s playing was really good. Driving, yet sensitive when needed. This album will amaze many because it will show people that Steve takes his music as seriously as he does his other work and performs it at that level. Steve has written some of my favorite banjo tunes. I think after the release of Steve’s new album a couple of tunes might become standard fare for new pickers.

There was one time, during the opening of one song, where Steve had to play the exact same notes and rhythm as Russ Barenburg was playing on guitar, with just the two instruments opening. Well, Steve was rushing ahead of the guitar and Tony Trischka was a little concerned. Steve needs to lock with the guitar and he’s ahead. How do we get him to do that?

Knowing Steve was accustomed to taking direction and since I had the mantle of producer, I hit the talkback and said ‘Steve …. you’re ahead of the guitar!!!! You’re rushing!! It seems like you can’t wait for the tune to start. So, listen and do exactly what Russ is doing.’

Steve said, ‘Oh!! OK.’

In the middle of the next pass which was the take we kept, Tony Trischka and I looked at each and said at the same time with reference to Steve ‘I wish I could do that.’

Another song required that Steve count it off. Steve was setting the tempo right from the first beat for a big chord from all. Steve went ‘One, Two, Three, Four’ and started playing. I had to stop them and say ‘We need the last number to be silent, so it starts clean Steve, got it?’

Steve said, ‘OK. Here we go.. One, Two, Four’ and started playing except everyone was laughing. We started and counted right the next time.”

McCuen also spoke about the banjos used, including Steve’s newest banjo, a custom Kel Kroydon from American Made Banjo.

“It was great to have the Kel Kroydon banjo on hand for the Steve Martin Album. Although he used his other long time banjos on many cuts, the Kel Kroydon was the one of choice for three or four of the 15 songs recorded. This was determined by trying all the different banjos Steve brought.

Of course, his favorite Florentine that I had found for him in Kansas City in the late ’70s sounds great (I actually think his favorite Florentine is mine). He also brought his RB 250 that was his first banjo, the open back. They all sounded great, but there were some tunes the Kel Kroydon was the one of choice and it performed beautifully.”

It will be very interesting to see how much attention this release gets from the entertainment media, and I’m sure I’m not the only banjo picker eager to hear this recording.


This is great news--thanks for telling the story. I will no doubt buy the album when it comes out.


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