During the 1970s, Steve Martin was the most successful standup comedian in America, earning the level of commercial success -- sold-out arena performances, platinum records, hit singles, and delirious fan adulation -- usually reserved for rock stars. Although his career went on to encompass stints as an acclaimed dramatic actor and playwright, for many supporters, the "Wild and Crazy Guy" persona defined on his comedy records remains Martin's true artistic legacy. Although born August 14, 1945, in Waco, Texas, Martin spent the majority of his childhood in California, eventually working a concession booth at Disneyland as a teen. There he learned a variety of performing skills ranging from magic and juggling to playing the banjo and sculpting balloon animals. After graduating from college, Martin began writing, and occasionally performing, comic material for television programs including The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Glen Campbell Hour, and The Sonny & Cher Show. At the tail-end of the '60s he moved to Canada, where, in addition to appearing as a semi-regular on the syndicated series Half the George Kirby Comedy Hour, he also began working as a standup. Soon, Martin graduated to opening for rock performers, where his long hair, scraggly beard, and hippie wardrobe aligned him firmly with the counterculture movement of the era. However, while in his twenties, his hair began to go white; gradually, Martin began adapting his on-stage persona to fit the change, re-emerging as a clean-cut, immaculately dressed conservative. The contrast with his increasingly high-concept comic identity was sharp: superficially silly and daft, Martin's act contemptuously mocked the inherent stupidity of the standup form, mining catch phrases, props, and schticks to create a unique brand of scathing anti-comedy. After earning a following on the standup circuit, Martin rose to national prominence thanks to a series of guest appearances on the NBC network's sketch comedy phenomenon Saturday Night Live, as well as a number of performances on The Tonight Show. With the release of his 1977 album debut, Let's Get Small, Martin's career exploded; the record reached the Top Ten, his concerts became immediate sellouts, and one-liners like "I am...one wild and crazy guy!" and "Well excuuuse me!" became hip catch phrases. After a cameo in the musical Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, he made his proper film debut with 1978's The Jerk, which he also scripted; additionally, he wrote a best-selling book, Cruel Shoes. Also in 1978, A Wild and Crazy Guy, Martin's most successful LP, was released. Another platinum seller, it reached the number two slot on the charts on the strength of the hilarious hit single "King Tut," a pseudo-disco record mocking the then-current national obsession with the legendary Egyptian ruler. Nonetheless, Martin was clearly losing interest in the narrow parameters of the standup form; after his final two albums, 1979's Comedy Is Not Pretty and the following year's Steve Martin Brothers, he made the film musical Pennies from Heaven, a significant move away from his idiotic Jerk persona, and eventually retired from standup performance altogether. After several underappreciated comedies in tandem with director Carl Reiner (including the clever Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid), Martin won acclaim for his superb slapstick performance in 1984's All of Me. With his sweet performance and stellar screenplay for 1987's Roxanne, a delicate comic spin on Cyrano de Bergerac, he won the critical success that had long eluded him, and soon graduated into dramatic roles in films like Lawrence Kasdan's Grand Canyon and the Silas Marner update A Simple Twist of Fate. Still, by the '90s, Martin seemed largely disenchanted with Hollywood filmmaking, virtually sleepwalking through bland mainstream comedies like Father of the Bride and Sgt. Bilko; instead, he focused his energies on the stage, writing the acclaimed theatrical production Picasso at the Lapin Agile. Ever eclectic, Martin also took the time to record a banjo album, and when the John McKuen-produced Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo appeared from Rounder Records in 2009, it showed he was no slouch on the instrument, and the album further revealed Martin's immense and versatile talent. Martin supported its release by hitting the road with the Steep Canyon Rangers, who served as his backup band. The collaboration was warmly received and led to the release of 2011's Rare Bird Alert, which featured Martin as a temporary member of the Steep Canyon Rangers and included guest appearances by Paul McCartney and the Dixie Chicks. Love Has Come for You, a collaboration with Edie Brickell that featured her lyrics and singing over Martin's banjo-composed melodies, appeared in the spring of 2013. Reaching number one on Billboard's Top Bluegrass Albums chart, Love Has Come for You was a major success, spawning a tour -- documented on a 2014 live set -- and a sequel, So Familiar, which appeared in October 2015. Love Has Come for You also inspired Martin and Brickell to write a musical, the Walter Bobbie-directed Bright Star. Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina just after World War II, the show debuted in 2014, and in 2016, Ghostlight issued the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Bright Star. Martin's second studio collaboration with the Steep Canyon Rangers was announced by the summer 2017 release of lead single "Caroline." The album, titled Long-Awaited Album, arrived in September of that year. ~ Jason Ankeny & Steve Leggett
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Pop - Released January 24, 1994 | Warner Bros.
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Before becoming a Hollywood A-list actor, Steve Martin first made a name for himself as a writer for a number of successful stateside television variety shows. His résumé included credits on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Glen Campbell Hour, and -- during a brief stint living in Canada -- the influential Half the George Kirby Comedy Hour. By the mid-'70s Martin had paid his dues opening for rock acts and had begun to develop a highly original alternative to the typical pseudo-hip sex and drug humor of the era. Let's Get Small, Martin's debut long-player released in 1977, would further assert his anti-comedy act with a platter full of smart wordplay and aural jousting, as well as some of the artist's remarkable banjo picking and frailing. In fact, Martin kicks off the festivities with the witty "Ramblin' Man/Theme from Ramblin' Man" number, firmly establishing his multifaceted lightning-quick wit -- like dividing the room into two-sevenths and five-sevenths to participate in a mile-a-minute singalong. He one-ups the typical smarmy "Vegas" lounge act by making comparisons to the $4.50 price of admission (in 1977 dollars) to the $25 price tag of experiencing a show on the Sin City strip. The title performance of "Let's Get Small" is a clever parody of the experimental nature of the perpetually growing drug culture -- which is particularly appropriate as Martin is addressing denizens of the Boarding House nightclub in San Francisco. During "Excuse Me," he goes so far as to direct his satire at any residual hippies who might still be hanging around the venue, blaming them for the lack of functioning "mood lighting." This short bit ultimately launched one of the entertainer's most enduring catch phrases. "Mad at My Mother" is as close to a straight narrative as listeners can expect on Let's Get Small, taking a few surrealistic spins on the typical mother-son relationship. Similarly, the weird and whimsical "Grandmother's Song" reveals Martin's penchant for silly verbal non sequiturs as if they were nothing out of the ordinary. Let's Get Small was one of the rare comedy endeavors to find a mainstream audience during the height of the disco era, climbing all the way to a very respectable number ten on the pop chart and setting the stage for Martin's follow-up, 1978's A Wild and Crazy Guy. ~ Lindsay Planer
Country - Released January 1, 2009 | New Rounder
First off, there's no "King Tut" here, and this isn't Steve Martin with an arrow through his head using the five-string banjo as a prop and trying to be funny. The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo is exactly what the title says it is -- it's a banjo album, spotlighting Martin originals on the instrument (of the 16 tracks, all but one are his own compositions). And guess what? Martin is pretty good at the banjo, and this is no vanity project. Tracks like the stirring and revealing "Daddy Played the Banjo," the blisteringly kinetic "Hoedown at Alice's," the very pretty "Freddie's Lilt," and the expansive, even beautifully ornate "Calico Train" (there are two versions here) not only wouldn't seem out of place on any progressive bluegrass album, they'd probably be the best cuts on it. Martin has a lot of help, yes, from the likes of Mary Black, Vince Gill, Tim O'Brien, Dolly Parton, Earl Scruggs (Scruggs' presence here should tell you something about Martin's playing chops), Tony Trischka, and Pete Wernick, and the album is lovingly produced by John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, but make no mistake, this is completely Martin's album and it's his vision all the way. He even takes a very successful shot at frailing the banjo with the lovely and modal "Clawhammer Medley," the one non-original here. Everyone knows that Martin can be very funny, but The Crow isn't a joke. It's a first-class banjo album. One wonders if entering an archery tournament is next on this talented performer's agenda. Here's guessing Martin's probably pretty good at that, too. ~ Steve Leggett
Rock - Released July 24, 2012 | Rhino - Warner Bros.
With regard to Steve Martin's discography, "the worst" is how The Steve Martin Brothers is usually tagged, which isn't so harsh when you consider some of his other albums are classics or just plain old good. It's an oddball release for sure, with half devoted to standup -- very loose and stream-of-consciousness standup -- and the other half showing off Martin's self-taught banjo playing and his love of lively bluegrass. The worst thing about the album is the sloppy way the standup side is put together. What must be the intro to his "cocktail" act in Vegas is stuck in the middle of the set while other short bits are sequenced in a way so there's no momentum. The instrumental side of the album is actually pleasant and sometimes exciting, with Martin's fast fingers skillfully delivering these tunes with renowned folk like Vassar Clements and John McEuen at his side. Even Martin admits this was a way to finish off his contract at Warner Bros. and concentrate on acting, but it's hardly the disaster some make it out to be. It may even be the best half-standup, half-bluegrass album you'll ever hear. ~ David Jeffries
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