Well-traveled McEuen picks Aspen Saturday | AspenTimes.com

Well-traveled McEuen picks Aspen Saturday

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesJohn McEuen opens Saturday at Aspen's Wheeler Opera House, on a bill with Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen. McEuen also produced The Crow, the new CD by banjoist/comedian, Steve Martin.

ASPEN John McEuen tends to be awfully modest about his musical talents. I walk offstage and think, Ive fooled them again, said McEuen, who, despite that self-assessment, has been nominated for several Grammys; played with a list of artists that includes Johnny Cash, Earl Scruggs and the Doors; jammed with Phish; and, most famously, put in 28 years and counting with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.When it comes to another picker whose rsum on the banjo is far less extensive, however, he is effusive. McEuen was the producer of The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo, an album released last week by Steve Martin. Yes, the same Steve Martin who will be seen on big screens next week playing Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther 2. And while Clouseau will predictably bumble his way across the screen, not so with Martin in his role as banjo-picker.This guy Ive known for a long time as an actor is actually a banjo player masquerading as an actor, said McEuen of his former high school buddy. Its a guy whose playing Ive admired. And I dont think he realized that, for real, how I thought of him as a serious musician. Hes insecure about his banjo-playing: I dont know if this is good enough. But I wish I could play those licks.Fans of Martin from his stand-up days might recall that banjo was a part of his act, and that he had obvious talent on the instrument. But according to McEuen, he got rusty in recent years. He got his fingers back into shape when he was invited to appear on 2001s Earl Scruggs & Friends, on which he made an admirable contribution to the classic Foggy Mountain Breakdown.The Crow features Scruggs, Dolly Parton and Vince Gill, with McEuen appearing on seven cuts including Pitkin County Turnaround, inspired by the place where Martin spent much time in the 70s. But the album is hardly dominated by guest stars; Martin wrote all 15 tracks.He said, Maybe I should do this or that traditional song, said McEuen. I pushed for it to be all his songs. McEuen added that the tunes run from bluegrass and old-timey to Celtic and orchestral sounds.McEuen turns his attention tonight to two other musicians he admires. He appears at the Wheeler Opera House on a bill with Chris Hillman, from the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, and Herb Pedersen, who co-led the Desert Rose Band with Hillman. McEuen opens with a solo set; Hillman and Pedersen follow as a duo; and the show concludes with the three jamming together.McEuen recalls when Pedersen replaced Doug Dillard in the Dillards, a pioneering act in Southern Californias folk-rock movement. Before that, he had seen Pedersen perform at Disneyland.Herb was always known as one of these L.A. guys with the real country voice, McEuen said. And the playing is im-pick-able thats when somebody plays real clean and good.McEuen also remembers well the first time he heard Hillmans music. I was driving to college Long Beach State, in my second year, my last and [the Byrds] Turn, Turn, Turn came on, he said. I pulled over, listened to it and said, Thats the mandolin player from the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers. I knew there was a band, the Byrds, who he was playing with.I heard that and remember not going to school that day, listening to the radio, waiting for it to come on again.McEuen has kept himself occupied with a variety of activities. The Dirt Band, which he rejoined in 2001 after a 15-year absence, played 42 shows last year. He has scored three documentary films, including Howards Trail, about a 72-year-old cowboy in Montrose; and does a radio show, Acoustic Traveller, on XM satellite radio. Recently, he recorded tracks with Kenny Loggins and with Leon Russell.And if none of his playing impresses him, he is pleased with the guy doing the picking.I do know Im the best me Ive ever been, said McEuen. I work on my playing all the time.stewart@aspentimes.com

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