Back in 1979, Steve Martin co-wrote and starred in The Jerk, which remains my favorite straight ahead comedy film ever made. Ten years prior to that, at the age of 23, Martin had already earned himself an Emmy as a 23-year-old writer for The Smother Brothers Comedy Hour. In the decade that separated those two milestones, the comedian had established himself as a successful stand-up through regular appearances on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson, breaking attendance records selling out arenas with his live shows, and earning a pair of Grammys for his platinum-selling comedy albums. When he began making films, he simply walked away from doing stand-up and didn’t look back, feeling as though he had already accomplished what he set out to with the art form. He moved on to a successful acting career and went on to become known for his work as as an author, screenwriter, playwright, and, eventually, a respected art collector. Throughout his career he has collected an American Comedy Award, a pair of People’s Choice Awards, multiple critics awards, two from the Writers Guild of America, and various other film and comedy awards including an honorary Oscar. He has also been nominated for a pair of Tonys, a pair of Teen Choice Awards, and several Golden Globes. These do not even include his Kennedy Center Honor, his Mark Twain Prize, or his Disney Legend Award. The man is, without a doubt, a living legend, even credited as popularizing the “air quotes,” but throughout all of these twists, turns, and successes, there has always been music.
Back in his stand-up days, it wasn’t uncommon for Martin to break out his banjo, but although he had been mastering the instrument since he was a teenager, it was understandably viewed as part as more of a secondary talent, simply part of the routine of one of the most influential performers in comedy history. Over the last decade or so, however, greater acknowledgement has been paid to his tremendous musical prowess, as Steve is also now considered one of the greats at wielding his chosen instrument. On his final comedy album, The Steve Martin Brothers , the second half was devoted to showcasing his banjo skills, but it wasn’t until 2009‘s The Crow: New Songs For The 5-String Banjo that a full release was truly dedicated to his musical talent. The LP which featured the likes of such artists as Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, and banjo legend, Earl Scruggs, won him a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album, an award that his 2012 followup, Rare Bird Alert, with his backing band, The Steep Canyon Rangers, was also nominated for. Martin‘s first Grammy for music actually came way back in 2001, when he earned the award for Best Country Instrumental Performance for accompanying Scruggs on a remake of his classic, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” In 2013, Steve Martin teamed up Edie Brickell to release the collaborative album, Love Has Come For you, with the title track earning the Grammy for Best American Roots Song, and followed up the release with another full-length titled, So Familiar, only two years later. Inspired by their work on Love Has Come For You, the duo pursued their collaboration further by writing and composing the Broadway musical, Bright Star, which is set in North Carolina‘s Blue Ridge Mountains in the mid-1940s. While the album didn’t win the Grammy or several Tony awards that it was nominated for, it did, however, take home a handful of others, including a Drama Desk Award and two Outer Critics Circle Awards. In 2010, he even created his own Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass, with the intention of bringing “recognition to an individual or group for outstanding accomplishment in the field of five-string banjo or bluegrass music” and provide greater visibility to the art form at large.
Few artists are able to earn tremendous success in one field and still be able to transfer so smoothly into another, let alone thrive within it to such a degree. This is an achievement that Martin has proven capable of time and time again. Back in July it was announced that he will be releasing a brand new studio effort with The Steep Canyon Rangers titled, The Long-Awaited Album, through Rounder Records with a slated release date of September 22nd. The new LP marks first collaboration of the sort with the Grammy-winning North Carolina outfit since Rare Bird Alert five years ago, and today we get our first taste in the form of a video for the lead off track, “Caroline.” For the video Steve has recruited Bill Hader and Cecily Strong, a pair of incredibly talented fellow comedians known for their work on Saturday Night Live, to star in it. Another interesting fact about Martin that reflects his level of impact and influence is that, although he’s hosted the late night sketch comedy program 15 times and appeared almost twice as many times in random, often memorable skits, over the last 4 decades, he was never actually an official cast member on the program himself; something that many of us often forget. What I enjoy the most about this new “Caroline” video is how the artist doesn’t seem concerned with allowing his two separate worlds of comedy and music to intersect. The lyrics address a breakup, the difficulties of moving on, and how it can affect the perception of oneself if the other party transitions out of that with a greater level of ease. For this one, he addresses a universal concept in a manner that is both directly raw and shines a spotlight on the comical absurdity behind it. Now that he’s achieved as much as he has, there is no need to remind the world that he is more than just a comedian, or that his musical ventures have merit — there’s nothing left to prove. Steve Martin is a multi-faceted artist and individual that is allowing these otherwise disparate aspects bleed into each other to produce something more multi-dimensional. Just as his comedy was infused with music, now his music has become infused with comedy, and it’s nice to see someone of his stature in this era of his life continuing to move forward, while coming full circle.
Check out the video below.
The Long-Awaited Album can be pre-ordered now in various formats and bundles via SteveMartin.com