Edie Brickell woke up Christmas morning ahead of her family. Sitting in her Connecticut kitchen, she went to her computer hoping her musical partner Steve Martin sent her a present of a new banjo track—and he did. With her dogs by her feet, she turned on her iPhone and hit record believing instinctively how important it is to catch the first melody and lyrics that come to mind.
“I immediately felt like I was out in the woods and there was this deep fire burning but there was trouble,” she remembered. “I immediately heard myself singing ‘she had a child from the man by the bank.’ It was like two women were talking on the porch. I could see it all. I knew she was in big trouble.”
Brickell and Martin, along with their producer Peter Asher, were sitting inside the home studio of Buddy Miller on a recent episode of The Buddy & Jim Show on SiriusXM Outlaw Country.
“If anyone is outlaw country, it’s us,” Martin said in the same familiar deadpan that’s made him one of the greatest comics of our time. “We came over in SUV’s and we’re outlaws.”
Martin and Brickell were on the show to talk about their new album So Familiar and musical Bright Star which begins a run at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. this month. Come March, it opens on Broadway with music and book by Martin and music and lyrics by Brickell.
Six tracks from the album will be in the musical which was inspired by a news story that Brickell discovered from 1904. According to a press release, Bright Star “tells a sweeping tale of love and redemption set against the rich backdrop of the American South in the 1920s and 40s. When successful literary editor Alice Murphy meets an ambitious young soldier just home from World War II, their connection inspires Alice to confront her past. Together they discover a stunning secret with the power to transform their lives.”
“You don’t think of the banjo as an incredibly emotional and evocative instrument,” producer Peter Asher says, “but Steve wrote this stuff and it’s definitely not your galloping flashing banjo playing. One review in fact said it’s just as emotive as Edie’s vocal.”
Martin and Brickell, who lives on opposite sides of the country, have had a great working relationship although they admit it’s done at arm’s length, trading ideas back and forth electronically. “Edie is fantastic listening to a song and coming up with the drama and turning it into lyrics and melody,” Martin observed. “If I write a song I have no image in my head, maybe just a feeling.”
“He would just send me these banjo tunes that had so much possibility and emotion in them,” Brickell added. “All I had to do was pay attention and start singing to it.”
Brickell grew up in Oak Bluff, Texas and finds herself listening a lot these days to Bob Wills, especially when she’s home cooking a lot in winter in her kitchen. The music reminds her of the way her great grandparents might have spoken. Brickell thought she would one day like to write “with that color” and was given the opportunity upon working with Steve Martin.
Martin was born in Waco, Texas and remembers how amazing Wills’ “San Antonio Rose” was and how it affected him in all of its changes and its memorable melody. It gave inspiration that he could one day write a song like that. He took up the banjo when he was seventeen.
“I’m from London, Texas,” Asher chimed in. The producer of Linda Ronstadt’s seminal albums in the Seventies and Eighties, was once part of the British pop duo Peter & Gordon. Asher recalls how they were on tour and overheard the great songwriter Del Shannon pitching the Searchers on a song he had written called “I Go To Pieces.” When the Searchers turned him down, Asher asked Shannon if they could do it instead. It became one of their biggest hits.
“We wanted to sound like the English Everly Brothers,” Asher revealed. “But we failed and came up with something else.”
“The Everlys changed my life,” Martin said. “Their sound is quite country.” Martin, who moved from Texas to Orange County south of Los Angeles, remembers seeing Lester Flatt when he was a solo act. In 2003, he recorded with Flatt’s former partner Earl Scruggs in a remake of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”
When asked if the duo was going on tour, Martin said he doesn’t have the time. He’s got a new baby and now a musical. But he is doing some dates with comic Marty Short that also feature him playing with the bluegrass band Stone Canyon Rangers. “We’ve actually changed each other’s lives,” said Martin who noted that the band has a new CD and DVD set featuring their live show.
As the musical approaches its debut in Washington, Martin couldn’t hide his enthusiasm.
“We’re giggly like teenagers,” Martin offered.
“Don’t say that,” Brickell reminded him. “It’s not outlaw.”
“Even outlaws get giddy sometimes,” Lauderdale shot back.