Steep Canyon Rangers back Steve Martin
with Martin Short


Steve Martin (center) along with the Rangers (L-R) Graham Sharp, Barrett Smith,
Woody Platt, Mike Guggino, Nicky Sanders, and Mike Ashworth. Photo: Anna Webber

By Alan Sculley

The Steep Canyon Rangers had been a band for some nine years and had released five albums when they met Steve Martin and were selected by the comedian/banjo player to be his backing band on a tour to promote Martin’s bluegrass album, the 2009 release “The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo.”

A decade later, the collaboration is still going strong, with the Steep Canyon Rangers having done several tours with Martin and played on two more Martin albums—the latest of which is last year’s “The Long-Awaited Album.” Several members of the Rangers also played on “Love Has Come for You,” the album Martin and Edie Brickell released in 2013.

The Rangers will be backing Steve Martin and Martin Short at the Rose Music Center for “An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life” on Saturday, May 26, a night of music and comedy also featuring jazz pianist and Jimmy Kimmel Live band member Jeff Babko. (They are also doing a show May 27 at PNC Pavilion
in Cincinnati.)

Looking back, mandolin player Mike Guggino said the timing to start working with Martin was ideal for his group. The Steep Canyon Rangers–which also includes guitarist/singer Woody Platt, banjo player/singer Graham Sharp, fiddle player Nicky Sanders, drummer Mike Ashworth and new bassist Barrett Smith (replacing Charles Humphrey III)—were established enough in the bluegrass world to be seen as a viable band on their own, but still in a place where an association with a big name like Martin would help them grow their audience–and not deflect too much attention away from their own career

“I think if we had met him years later, it might not have been a good idea,” Guggino said “But I think we met him just at the right time when we were popular enough and good enough to be able to do the gig and bring something to the table, but not so popular and whatever that it would have been a bad choice to not do our stuff. And it really did help boost our career, for sure.”

And yes, the Steep Canyon Rangers continue to make albums and do their own shows between touring and recording commitments with Martin. The group has just released their 10th studio album, “Out in the Open,” and are spending this winter and spring playing a mix of their own headlining dates and shows in which they serve as backing band for Martin and fellow comedian/actor/singer Martin Short, who together bring a mix of comedy and music to the stage in these shows.

For “Out in the Open,” the group worked with a noted producer who isn’t from the bluegrass world—Joe Henry. Going into the recording, Henry proposed a recording approach rarely used these days. He wanted the Steep Canyon Rangers to record completely live—including the vocals—with no overdubbing.

It turned out to be an effective way to record the songs, capturing the energy and fire of the group’s live show.

What also helps “Out in the Open” is that the band’s songwriting is strong throughout the dozen songs. The album continues the Steep Canyon Rangers’ move toward a broader acoustic sound that, while rooted in bluegrass, draws from other genres, including pop, Americana and country.

Guggino said the group has been playing all of “Out in the Open” in their headlining concerts. But for the shows with Martin and Short, the Steep Canyon Rangers will have a somewhat limited role.

“Our role in that show is not significant as far as the time we’re on stage. We’re only on stage not even a quarter or third of the time. It’s a comedy show with those two guys doing their thing,” Guggino said. “But what we do is really impactful. I think it’s really impactful for the audience to all of a sudden see Steve up there playing the banjo, and not just playing the banjo, he’s tearing it up. And then we play a couple of tunes with him, and with Martin Short. Then they leave the stage and let us do a song just
by ourselves.”

“They give us the chance to showcase our stuff on a pretty hot little number, and that usually gets the crowd to its feet,” he said. “And Marty and Steve like to joke that it’s the only standing ovation that happens during the whole show, and they’re not on stage.”

“An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life” is May 26, 8 p.m. at the Rose Music Center, 6800 Executive Blvd. in Huber Heights. For tickets, go to www.rosemusiccenter.com or phone 800.745.3000. For more information about The Steep Canyon Rangers, visit www.steepcanyon.com

 

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Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at AlanSculley@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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