Steep Canyon Rangers step out
WANT TO GO?
With Steep Canyon Rangers, Vieux Farka Toure, Robbie Fulks, Mason Jennings and The Greencards.
WHERE: Culture Center Theater
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday
TICKETS: Advance $15, at the door $25
INFO: 800-594-TIXX or www.mountainstage.org
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When comedian Steve Martin went looking for a touring band to support the release of his first bluegrass record, he didn't just go out and get a bunch of hired guns. He listened to his wife, writer Anne Stringfield.
Graham Sharpe, banjo player and songwriter for the Steep Canyon Rangers, said the band and the comedian met through her.
"We knew his wife before they met," Sharpe said. "She was in New York, and we met her through our guitar player's brother. She was kind of a friend of the band."
Sharpe, who performs with his band on Sunday's "Mountain Stage," said she put in a good word for them around the time Martin's first bluegrass record, "The Crow," came out.
"He wanted to tour the record," Sharpe said. "One show became a couple of shows became a world tour became doing a couple of records together."
And there's no real sign of stopping.
This summer, the bluegrass band went out on the road with Martin and singer Edie Brickell, who co-wrote the record "Love Has Come For You" with the actor.
"We had a good time."
He said the Steep Canyon Rangers have had a remarkable few years with Martin. Playing alongside the comedian-turned-movie star-turned bluegrass sensation has led to some great moments, put them in front of crowds who aren't all bluegrass fans and given them the chance to introduce themselves to audiences all over the world.
He credited that association with helping them win a Grammy Award for their own record, "Nobody Knows You."
Name recognition has been key, though he acknowledged that for a while there, a few people were getting the band's name wrong. They called them the "Steve Canyon Rangers" -- confusion that might have been caused by their association with Martin or the similar sounding classic comic strip character, Steve Canyon.
Sharpe laughed about it.
"None of us knew who Steve Canyon was," he said. "The band name came off a bottle of beer we had at Charles' house. We were on our way to our first show and needed a name."
The North Carolina brewing company that makes Steep Canyon Pale Ale doesn't seem to mind.
Aside from recording one record with Martin and touring with him on two others, the Steep Canyon Rangers have recorded seven albums of their own, including the latest, "Tell The Ones I Love." Released in September, it was produced by Larry Campbell at Levon Helms' studio, The Barn, in Woodstock, N.Y.
"We met and played at one of Levon's rambles at the barn a couple of months before he passed away," Sharpe said. "He invited us to come up and make a record, said there'd never been a bluegrass record made at the barn."
Sharpe said they came up with a good record.
"It was a really special experience," he said. "We recorded most of the record with a big fire in the fireplace. You can probably hear it on some of the stuff."
Even though shows with Martin and Brickell are probably finished for the rest of the year, the Steep Canyon Rangers are staying busy.
"We're playing mostly clubs and theaters and staying pretty much on the East Coast for the rest of the year."
Sharpe said the band plans to go back on the road with Brickell and Martin in the spring, but beyond that, he doesn't know. Martin could go back to making movies, write another play or just throw himself into fatherhood.
The 65-year-old and his wife had their first child in December.
"Nothing would surprise me at this point," he said. "Right now, he's still loving the music and pouring a lot of attention into it.
"I think we're on to do shows with him through next year."
However that plays out would be fine, he said, and the band was already busy booking dates in 2015. Reach Bill Lynch at email@example.com or 304-348-5195.