With a title like that, I am sure you may be thinking this blog will be about country music-it is a little, but not much.
Growing up I guess you could have called me a nerd, before the term was cool! I never really followed the current trends of music at the time. Grew up in the 1970's so we had Disco and what can I say. I enjoyed musicals and one of those at the time was the great Hollywood Block Buster-"Paint Your Wagon" staring Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin. This is one of the only, if not THE only movie you will ever see either one of them sing. For my 13th birthday I received the album of Paint Your Wagon, featuring the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band! Who in the heaven were these guys??? Well after finding one of their albums, Stars and Stripes Forever, I was hooked. Noticed I mentioned albums, well actually they were on cassette tapes and played on a simple cassette player from Sears.
From that time on it was the only music I would listen to. I have almost all of their albums. I saw my first concert when I was 21, where I converted by best friend to their music.
Fast Forward 20 years.
I became involved with a local history center where I had the honor of working with Paul Idleman who in his previous life was a concert photographer! He introduced me to a small recording studio which contained a private concert theatre. There I had the extreme pleasure of watching John McEuen and Jimmy Ibbotson of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band perform, and like a nerdy groupie I lugged my albums and they were more than gracious to sign them. You have to understand these guys are like gods to me, so to meet them on such an intimate manner, was a life long dream. John and Jimmy shared stories and it was there I learned of John's life long friendship with Steve Martin.
It is very exciting for me to share with you this story as well as the news of Steve Martin's New Album.Steve Martin - The Crow
new songs for the 5 string banjo

It has been 45 years or thereabouts that I have been listening to Steve play the banjo. We both started about the same week, in te mid-'60's music haze found in Garden Grove, California, during our years working in the Disneyland Magic shop. One day at my house my brother Bill had his friend over laying music. (Dave Simpson) Dave was playing an RB 150.. he knew Jesse James, Jed Clampett, Hard Ain't it Hard.. and Cripple Creek. It was the best sound we had ever heard. I remember Steve asking then this music store owner (Dave owned the Long Beach McCabe's Guitar Shop) “just how much is a good.. used.. cheap banjo, anyway?” Well, Steve ended up buying that banjo from him, and I think you'll agree, when you hear the Clawhammer Medley on the album, it was a smart move. It recorded GREAT..

By Dec. 19 that year I had my first banjo, a Ludwig (my 18th birthday), and started my career as a groupie for the Dillards… well, I did average seeing at least 6 -7 shows of theirs a month, watching Doug like a hawk. I remember showing Steve that following year Dillard, Keith, and Scruggs licks I was picking up from slowing down records … about half way through he would go his own way. Soon a couple years later his own way led to his own tunes, and the ones he came up with often made me jealous. That was then. Over the ensuing years every now and then he would say “hey, listen to this new tune”, and once more he had come up with a new statement for the banjo. Now, “only 45 years later”, there are enough for a whole album. Instead of jealous, I am the proud producer of what I think is the best album of new music for the 5 string banjo in years.

I went to several different musical worlds to frame his notes, and found that, like his film and book works, there were many different frames that seemed appropriate. The Calico Train, starting as an instrumental, just sounded Irish to me. I told him to get the coming lyrics to reflect those influences.. he did. As Mary Black is one of Steve's favorite singers, I emailed Joe in Dublin (her husband/manager) about Steve's hope to have her sing his song. On the way back from Dublin three weeks later I felt like that dream had come true. I hope you like it as much as we do, and find lots of ear cookies in it. It is one of my favorite recordings I have ever made.

Since the decision to make it longer came in after it was recorded and the slow part was led by Steve's banjo.. I had a lot of doctoring to do on the front.. I had Stuart play along with Steve's rubato kind of performance on the basic, the first slow part.. Then took out all the basic track instrumemts from this slow part.. I made drone sounds with hammering on open tuned guitars, bowing my guitar in G tuning, and adding bagpipe drone D in Ireland.. I had to do this because Mary's voice just did not sound good in the slow part with the banjo plinking away.. but worked against the mournful fiddle of Stuart. Since there was SO MUCH leakage on all the mics, I had get rid of the basic tracks instruments for this part of the song.. Then .. when the tempo picks up.. it is all skate and everything is fine. Overall, I feel like this is (if I have any, that is) one of my 'masterpieces' of recording.

Pitkin Co. Turnaround is one Steve and I had played for years, even once in the '70's on the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, and it got knocked out quick as a double banjo tune.. again, one I wish I had written. The great Chris Caswell and I had so much fun with his three overdubs it made it sound like some of these were written for his keyboard talents. Brittany played a solo on this, as did Russ and Matt, that just like their others on the album showed they are masters at their craft.

But that all came about because a great team had been assembled with hot licks waiting, thanks to Tony and Pete for getting things together for the basic sessions to start in Englewood at Bennett Studios last July. We didn't have to wait long, as we cut 15 tracks in 4 busy days in New Jersey. I then did overdubs in Nashville and Dublin.. and a little in my studio in Hollywood.. and mixed a lot at my place and then at Nick Sevilla's. I have worked with Nick several times, and thought he would be the perfect engineer for this.. I was right.

Tony and Steve 'killed the Crow', and 16 year old Jourdan jumped right on top of Banana Banjo. You can find out about the incredible Jourdan Urbach on his website.. just google him. I saw Jourdan at a Carnegie Hall concert in November and went backstage to meet him. He was performing some classical pieces with the symphony, the field his music is in, also featuring that night a three-part piece my friend Chris Caswell had written for him. I asked him to play on this cut, and a couple days later we got it done.. I wanted to orchestrate Banana Banjo, because I think some of this kind of music can reach a broader audience if it has these kinds of sounds.. and that is again where the genius of
Chris Caswell came in. He caught it good with his orchestra, then I plugged in Jourdan, stretched the song from 1:02 to 2:06.. and am shocked about how it worked.

Pete played a solo that was so good on Words Unspoken I wanted him to sell it to me so I could call it mine. His Pretty Flowers backup was great too.. he takes it after the Steve opening, then bows out of the way for Earl to come in. Overall, we came.. we picked.. we conquered .. and as we attacked all these songs written by Steve it became apparent that he is a musician disguised as an actor.

Stuart Duncan filled any missing spaces, Jerry Douglas fluxed his way in to put his icing on the Steve cake, Kenny Malone kept it moving in the way only he can. Dolly and Vince came to the table and left us with a classic old country song (I tested this on several astute old-country ears, and they were shocked they had not heard this 'old song', which lyric was finished about an hour before they sang).

My great friend in music, David Amram, gave many songs his im-pick-able world view, and Tim O'Brien made it sound like
Daddy Played the Banjo. It made my son Andrew cry when he heard this sad song. Tim had a cold the first day, but came in a second time hot, and killed it right off.

As we recorded things would happen, like when Steve wanted to write lyrics for a cool frailing instrumental - Late For School (frailing, like 'nother' is not in the dictionary, but that is a whole nother thing). That 2 _ min song became 4:40 or so, and will set a new mark for most words in one bluegrassy song. Thanks to my protools working well and a couple years of practice with it for my XM radio show, several things were sewn together.

Going to Capitol Records (the famous round building in Hollywood) for their echo was exciting. They have the best chambers in the world, and as Steve allowed me to work with his actor budget instead of a banjo budget, we went there and got it done. Listen for that sound when Dolly sings 'you' at he end of a sentence.. or the last word of any lyric. I used the room I did my first Hollywood audition in (1966 with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.. they passed on us. . . but we ended up on Liberty, which years later was bought by UA, then Capitol bought UA) to get that magic echo. All this was kept in line by Nick, who used up everything he had learned, I think.

It has been great getting some of my favorite pickers together and laying in to music that I think will stand the test of time. I truly feel that if I was starting now to play, I would spend time slowing down the record to figure out Wally on the Run and just what are those cool chords climbing up the next a la Don Reno, as well as several of the other tunes. Don't have to now! Tony is writing a book of all the tunes tabbed out! Did I mention that Tony's harmonies on Wally on the Run .. oh, never mind.. he is always good, and this is a high mark for him.

This is an album I think you will want to stick in your ears many times. It will take you back to a place you've never been . . . it did me, and I was there.

John McEuen
Producer, Steve Martin - The Crow
Jan. 12, 2009

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