Steve Martin Writes a Hymn for Hymn-Deprived Atheists

To under­stand the two sides of Steve Martin’s per­form­ing tal­ents, check out his one and only hit sin­gle, 1978’s King Tut. On the A‑side was the nov­el­ty funk hit about the Egypt­ian boy king. On the B‑side, two deep cuts that showed off Martin’s for­mi­da­ble Americana/banjo chops: the tra­di­tion­al “Sal­ly Good­in” (cir­ca 1860, but exist­ing on record­ings since 1922), and “Hoe­down at Alice’s” an orig­i­nal writ­ten for his then stand-up man­ag­er Bill McEuen’s wife.

It’s not what you’d expect from the “Wild and Crazy Guy,” but Martin’s ban­jo had always been a part of his act. He taught him­self at 15 years old, play­ing along very slow­ly to Earl Scrug­gs records. He told an inter­view­er:

The rea­son I played it on stage is because my act was so crazy I thought it’s prob­a­bly good to show the audi­ence I can do some­thing that looks hard, because this act looks like I’m just mak­ing it up. I real­ly was­n’t. I worked very hard on it.

Which is a long way of say­ing: When Mar­tin record­ed an album of ban­jo favorites in 2009, The Crow, won a Gram­my with­out rely­ing on a sin­gle joke, then enlist­ed the help of the North Car­olin­ian Steep Canyon Rangers to go on a tour, it should not have real­ly been a sur­prise.

When he teamed up next with The Steep Canyon Rangers and record­ed Rare Bird Alert in 2011, Mar­tin start­ed to com­bine com­e­dy and music once again, and with this above nov­el­ty song, he gets to indulge in the beau­ti­ful har­mo­ny singing that blue­grass groups like The Stan­ley Broth­ers, The Lou­vin Broth­ers, and the Osbourne Broth­ers made so pop­u­lar in the mid-cen­tu­ry. (There wasn’t just ban­jo pickin’ on those LPs, you know.) The above appear­ance on Let­ter­man is a great ren­di­tion of a con­cert favorite, “Athe­ists Don’t Have No Songs.”

So in this month of argu­ments over the Star­bucks hol­i­day cup, let Mr. Mar­tin and group add a pal­lia­tive to any hurt athe­ist feel­ings. You guys rock.

P.S. Mar­tin got a chance to play with his hero on the same late-night pro­gram.

Relat­ed Con­tent

Steve Mar­tin Teach­es His First Online Course on Com­e­dy

Steve Mar­tin & Robin Williams Riff on Math, Physics, Ein­stein & Picas­so in a Heady Com­e­dy Rou­tine (2002)

Steve Mar­tin on the Leg­endary Blue­grass Musi­cian Earl Scrug­gs

Steve Mar­tin Releas­es Blue­grass Album/Animated Video

A Blue­grass Ver­sion of Metallica’s Heavy Met­al Hit, “Enter Sand­man”

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast. King Tut was the sec­ond 45 he ever bought as a kid. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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