It has been an extremely eventful year for guitarist and lead vocalist Woody Platt and his bluegrass group the Steep Canyon Rangers.
Much of the band’s success in 2011 has stemmed from their collaboration with actor and comedian Steve Martin, who joined the Rangers this year as a guest musician to feature his skill on the banjo.
In March, Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers released the album Rare Bird Alert to favorable reviews. The group also went on a 31-city summer tour, which will end this Friday, Aug. 26 at the Majestic Theater in San Antonio, Texas.
During an interview with the Current, Platt, who shares the stage with full-time Rangers Graham Sharp, Mike Guggino, Charles Humphrey III, and Nicky Sanders, talked about his experience performing with Martin across the U.S. and what the future holds for the Steep Canyon Rangers now that the tour has come to an end.
To purchase tickets for the Steep Canyon Rangers' performance Aug. 26 visit the Majestic Empire website.
San Antonio is the last stop of your summer tour. How would you say it went?
It’s been really spectacular. We’ve gone international a couple of times, but never had a tour like this. It was more than we could’ve asked for. We feel really privileged to have had the opportunity to do something like this.
Is part of the whole experience getting bluegrass out to people who might not be familiar with the genre?
Yeah, but I don’t think that was the original mission. I think the original idea was for Steve [Martin] to play the banjo and tour and exhibit that side of his talent that a lot of people aren’t necessarily aware of. I think this tour and what Steve is doing and his ability to take the banjo to bigger stages has been a really good boost for the awareness of bluegrass music.
When did you become aware of Steve’s talent on the banjo and what was your first impression when you heard him play?
I kind of always knew he was a banjo player. The first time we played together I was really surprised at his skill. I really liked his style. That’s always important in music – to have your own style. It’s what separates you from the pack.
I know Steve came to the Steep Canyon Rangers initially because his wife was a friend of the band, but out of all the bluegrass groups it still must’ve felt pretty good that he chose you. I mean, he could’ve jammed with anyone, really.
Yeah, that was definitely flattering for us. Steve could’ve hired anybody to go out on the road with him. Musicians are for hire. Being a band that has been together for 10 years, we had an ability to communicate very well and surround him and his music. It was a natural fit. It was natural for us to embrace him.
How much of bringing Steve into the band was for his banjo skills and how much was it for his name?
Well, we probably would’ve taken the gig either way. (Laughs) It’s really great to have a gig like this that is musically rewarding. That’s the best part about it. It’s not just us out there riding on his reputation. We’re doing a really quality show with a lot of wonderful and creative songs. The Steep Canyon Rangers are at a really high level right now. We’re refining our show and always working on new material.
Now that the tour is over on Friday, what is going to happen to Steve? Was this just a one-time thing or can you see your relationship continuing in the future?
I don’t know. We really haven’t thought about that yet. I think Steve probably has to go back to being a movie star at some point. I think he probably has some movies he wants to do and other interests. But I also think that we have put in a lot of work into this show and it has proven to be a really successful and fun collaboration. So, I see it resurfacing over the next few years. When the opportunity is there, I see us playing together again here and there. I can’ t say that we’ll make another record, but it wouldn’t shock me if we did.
Along with playing with Steve Martin on Rare Bird Alert, you also got a chance to play with a Beatle. What was the experience like working with Paul McCartney on the song “Best Love?”
Honestly, we weren’t in the studio with Paul McCartney. We recorded the track and basically left a hole for the lead vocals. We weren’t lucky enough to perform with him. So, there’s not a big story there, but it was exciting to have his voice included on the record.
That's too bad. What about guest musicians on the new record you’ll be recording in October? Any ideas who you might ask to join you for a recording session?
It’s still in the works, so I don’t really know much about guests. We’d love Steve to be involved and play, but it depends on what he’s interested in doing. We do want to put this next record out as a Steep Canyon Rangers record so we can maintain our trajectory and identity as a band that also tours alone. We’re excited to do that because music by the Steep Canyon Rangers is a lot different than our collaboration with Steve.
Whose idea was it to include a cover of “King Tut” from Steve’s “Saturday Night Live” days?
We all decided to include that in the show and then decided to put it in the record. Part of the reason we put it on the record was so people could get a taste of what the live show was like. That song really captures the energy of the show.
My personal favorite track on Rare Bird Alert is “Jubilation Day,” but if you go to iTunes you can see the most popular one is “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs.” Why do you think that song is the most downloaded from the entire album?
It’s embraced by all types of people. You can interpret that song any way you want. It’s quite humorous. I think the atheists like it and the non-atheists like it. It’s a song people like to talk about. It’s intellectual and funny and neutral all at the same time. I think it just struck a chord with a lot of people.
What kind of rare bird is your head attached to on the cover of the album? It looks sort of like a turkey-peacock hybrid.
(Laughs) Yeah, I don’t know. I have to agree with you. It’s just a unique, exotic turkey. I don’t think I sport the most handsome or stunning bird on the artwork, but it truly is a rare bird.