The Double Threat

Pamela Littky

Steve Martin

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

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