Steep Canyon Rangers Interview



What a rare treat (Rare Bird Alert Treat) my daughter Tara and I had in Iowa last Saturday night!  The Steep Canyon Rangers and Steve Martin were performing at the Des Moines Civic Center on June 26th, so I bought tickets to the show a couple of months ago.  I found out through my good friend and radio DJ, Billy Dunbar, how to get in touch with Steep Canyon Rangers media folks so I could interview them and it just got better from there!  Tara and I were invited on the Steep Canyon Rangers tour bus so I could do a short interview to share with ya’ll!  So here goes:

We arrived at the bus promptly at 3:00pm Saturday afternoon and were greeted by Woody Platt, Graham Sharp and Mike Guggino.  We settled in and started telling each other about how we got started in bluegrass music.  I’m also a musician, so I got to talk about when I started playing music & singing (at age 5yrs) with my Mom, my family band, Mom’s old radio days, my love of bluegrass music and all those wonderful stories that go along with it all.   The guys told us that only one of them had been playing since he was 5 yrs old and that was Nicky Sanders, their fiddle player.

Our conversation grew into questions that Tara and I thought of before we met them and here are the responses to those questions:

  1. Where did the name Steep Canyon Rangers come fromHow did you come up with that name for the band?  Woody told us that he was in college with Charles and Graham.  During those college days a popular beer that was on tap was called Steep Canyon Stout.  The name became Steep Canyon Rangers and has stuck with them. 
  2. How did it all start?  When did you all start playing music together?  Again, Woody explained they were in college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill together.  Woody became interested in guitar and bluegrass music while he was there.  The three of them started playing an instrument while in college and started jamming together, hence the band was formed!
  3. How did you meet Steve Martin? Woody told us this was a fun story. He likes to fish and was a fly fishing guide in North Carolina.  He had taken Steve’s soon to be wife, Ann, and her family on a fishing trip.  The group became friends with her and she invited them to New York to visit.  After she married Steve, the group met him at a party she invited them to. 
  4. What’s it like working with Steve Martin, the comedian?  They all agreed that at times it’s hard to keep a straight face.  But, it’s a lot of hard work & practice to learn new songs he’s written as well as their own music.  Steve makes sure they rehearse the entire show completely before they go on stage.
  5. What is your favorite part of the music business?  Again, they all agreed that seeing new places & making new friends, meeting and greeting people is a great reward.  And they get paid for what they love to do!  The Bluegrass world is like a big happy family, everyone knows everyone, musicians and fans alike.
  6. What do you do in your free time when you’re not on the road?  Woody & Graham said that life on the road and in the bus is always busy. They spend the time on the bus rehearsing new songs, writing new music and to practice before they get to their concert venues.  So when they do go home, they can spend time with their families and concentrate on other interests.  And not have to be burdened with the music business side of things until they are back on the bus.
  7. What advice would you give to younger musicians?  To play on a regular basis and with other musicians as often as possible.  Also take advantage of all the resources available to them.  You can obtain so much now from the internet and learn new styles and techniques.
  8. Who writes most of the Steep Canyon Rangers songs?  It’s an effort by everyone, but Graham said he writes then brings the group in for co-writing and to help “tweek” some of the songs he writes.  Woody is also an accomplished songwriter, too.   Steve Martin writes his own music. But consults with the group for inspiration and ideas.
  9. 9.     During their performances they do a mix of Steep Canyon songs and Steve Martin songs.

The show at the Civic Center was very entertaining and as the group put it after the show when we visited “very high energy!”  Steve Martin inserted some of his comedy between songs and breaks.  For example, he pointed out that he had “walked away with a grammy for album of the year.  He then commented, “I guess it was a good thing we actually won it!”  Steve also plays a style of banjo called Clawhammer banjo, a more mellow sound of banjo playing.  He says it’s perfect to play on a summer night.  “One evening he said I was sitting in my backyard, when my neighbors came over and asked if I would play the banjo for them.  And I said, what’s wrong, you don’t like the way I’m playing the air horn?!”

Then leaving the band alone for a couple of numbers so they could have the spotlight, Martin took a break backstage.  He returned with an observation.  Said he was taken aback by a sign in the men’s room that read, “Employees must wash hands…Glad I’m not an employee he said!”

Some other notes of interest is that on September 29th, 2011, Martin and the Rangers jointly won the Entertainers of the Year Award at the IBMA Awards.

The Steep Canyon Rangers are just Bluegrass perfection and with the addition of Steve Martin they make for a “Super Union” of a bluegrass & comedy blend.  I’m already counting down the days until I’ll be able to attend another one of their shows!


@Written by Brenda Smith & Tara Diemer  6-27-12






2 responses

  1. jon weber

    I hear you ‘s mentioned on kwmt radio. Know absolutely nothing about your org. I have a close friend who is lighting up the boards with the bluegrass sound. Michael Martin Murphey. Is there a venue and a budget of any sorts that could attract him in. He gets through Iowa more than you would suspect.

    July 3, 2013 at 5:57 pm

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