When Mariah Carey isn't hanging with her kids and hubby Nick Cannon or beefing…
- Posted on Oct 14th 2009 4:30PM by Drew Berner
But his banjo was more than just a prop. The actor, comedian and author has always had admirable skill with the instrument -- he won a Grammy in 2001 for his role on bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs' 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown' remake -- and his songwriting talent extends beyond joke tunes.
This year, Martin released 'The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo,' an album of mostly original bluegrass songs. Knowing Martin's ironic style of humour, it would be easy to write his foray into bluegrass off as something done for a laugh, but that couldn't be further from the truth -- he's taking this very seriously, something he says most actors-turned-musicians don't do.
"What they really want to be is a rock star rather than a rock musician," Martin tells Spinner. "There's a difference when they get on stage because they try to look like rock stars rather than just being true to their own personality."
The banjo has always been an important part of Martin's life, even when he was first trying to make it as a comedian. "When I started doing comedy I didn't really have enough [material to fill the] time so I just put in everything I knew," Martin recalls. "I did magic tricks, I juggled and I played a few songs on the banjo. But I felt [banjo] was important to the show because the comedy act looks so ad-libbed that I felt I needed to show that I could actually do [something] that was hard."
While his commitment to mastering the clawhammer technique -- regarded as one of the most difficult banjo styles -- gives his music a distinct credibility, it was Martin's passion for bluegrass music that translated into six nominations and two wins at the recent International Bluegrass Music Association Awards earlier this month.
Martin's lighthearted personality shines through on his album on songs like 'Late for School,' but his music also shows an earnest, sensitive side that his fans don't often see. 'Pretty Flowers,' which Martin performed live on last spring's 'American Idol' finale, is a simple, sweet tune about two people in love, a far cry from the jokey songs he's best known for. What helped Martin reveal this more straight-laced side of himself was his childhood connection to bluegrass, which was the music he grew up listening to in Orange County, Calif.
"I love when the fiddle and banjo are talking to each other. With bluegrass, it has a lot of drive. I love the drama in the music," Martin says. "[With] clawhammer, I feel it has a lot of melancholy. So you've got this instrument with this really wide range. You can play a clawhammer tune on the banjo and see the fields of Kentucky and feel the wind and rain in your hair. It's really amazing."
Martin is in the midst of a 15-city tour across North America -- including stops in traditional bluegrass markets like Charlotte and Nashville as well as Seattle and Toronto -- but already he's thinking about another album.
"These songs were a long time coming, but since then I've written four new songs and we're playing two or three of them onstage now," Martin says. "I don't know if I'll get enough for another album, but I certainly plan on doing another record if I have enough songs, definitely."