Back in 2005, banjo sensei Pete Wernick's friendship with actor/comedian/longtime-banjo-plucker Steve Martin landed him on Late Night with David Letterman as part of a banjo supergroup accurately dubbed Men With Banjos. Now, Wernick reveals that he's joined Martin in the recording studio with an eye toward making an album -- a wild-and-crazy notion the latter has nursed for a long, long time.
"Steve's composed a slew of good banjo tunes, in a wide variety of styles both three-finger and clawhammer, and finally decided it was time to do a record," Wernick writes in his regular newsletter. "He called me in as part of the production team, led by John McEuen [of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band fame], with Tony Trischka helping out as well. I got to play on a couple of tunes, including one I co-wrote with Steve. The musicians included Russ Barenberg, Matt Flinner, David Amram and Brittany Haas, with the recording done at Bennett Studios in NJ, engineered by Tony Bennett's son Dae. No title or label or release date yet, but it will be a very interesting and tuneful record."
In the meantime, Wernick is getting some national pub for the bluegrass jam camps he runs under his tongue-in-cheek pseudonym, Dr. Banjo. The August edition of Reader's Digest features a first-person piece by author David Hochman about hopping up his mandolin playing with Wernick's assistance. The result is a valentine to the Good Doctor, whose approach is described like so:
Wernick's philosophy is that private music instruction often fails, which is why most instruments in America haven't seen daylight for decades. "The only way to learn to play and keep playing is by playing with other people," he tells us.
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Wernick practices what he preaches -- and lately, he's been keeping some pretty select company. -- Michael Roberts