The Double Threat
When it comes to the banjo, Martin takes pride in his 47 years of practice. "I'm way, way better now," says the San Francisco street musician-turned-comedian-turned-movie star, who in 1965 would play for eight hours a day then hit the clubs. In fact, banjo was a crucial part of his early stand-up act. "What I was doing in comedy was so abstract, I thought it was good to have something in the show that looked hard," says Martin, 66, who won back-to-back Grammys for best comedy album in the late '70s. The instrument's lonesomeness drew him in: "I'm still enchanted with the sound. I find it a very moody, melancholy instrument." The music industry appreciated the pairing, too, nominating Martin's Rare Bird Alert with Steep Canyon Rangers -- whom he met by chance at a party in North Carolina -- for a best bluegrass album Grammy. Included on the collection: a bluegrass version of his 1978 SNL classic "King Tut." Says Martin: "When most actors turn to music, it's for some other reason -- to be like a rock 'n' roll star. I wanted audiences to know that we're actually doing a show. A funny show with serious music." So does he feel guilty sharing the Grammy limelight with lifelong musicians such as Alison Krauss and Ralph Stanley? "Uh … no," he says. "I've worked hard, too."
Photographed by Pamela Littky on Jan. 30 at the S. Mark Taper Foundation Amphitheatre at TreePeople's headquarters in Coldwater Canyon Park