Reflections on the Letterman Show
featuring "Men With Banjos - Who Know How to Use Them"
A follow-up report by Dr. Banjo (Pete Wernick)
Our TV appearance got all sorts of interesting reactions in the month after we were on. In emails and at the IBMA conference in particular, so many folks said they stayed up late the night of the show, to see us and root us on. We even had reports of people cheering in front of their TV sets (!) and lots of compliments on the playing, especially Earl's tone!
Sad to say, the day Earl and his wife Louise headed home, Louise injured her back seriously. She was hospitalized not long after that, in Nashville, and she's also had complications also involving her chronic breathing difficulties. She will remain hospitalized for a good while. Naturally, Earl is spending most of his time with her there. Joan and I extend our concern and very best wishes to these two very fine people who have done so much for our music.
A few more comments on the show:
Many folks have said they wished we had had more time to play, talk with Dave, etc. I should mention that the way our band was treated was the same as with any band that plays the show: They are saved for the last spot, and Dave greets the group after they play, while the credits roll. Our appearance was given that standard treatment. Of course, a fair number thought this situation was special, but I'll tell you, it's quite special just being on television at all! Led by Earl, our music got a very powerful exposure for those 3.5 minutes.
Steve, whose vision made this whole thing happen, was really pleased with the results of the two New York City appearances. I spoke with him recently, and along with sharing our concern for Louise, we both savored our times picking with Earl and the others, picking together, and getting deep into banjos. A fun activity for me lately has been working out a twin part for one of Steve's new tunes.
Steve is a remarkable person. He has so much creative drive and talent, and right along with that he has a pleasant persona marked by an unusual awareness of other people. He is one of the most considerate and thoughtful people ever. Most folks would agree that movie stars are hardly expected to be considerate of others, so this trait actually surprised me when I first met him.
As an example, on the TV show, right after the super-concentration involved in playing Foggy Mt. Breakdown at top speed, he made sure to call off the names of the other players at the very end. Tony, Charles, and my names weren't otherwise mentioned on the show. (I noticed a few weeks later, our names weren't given on the Late Show web site either, just Steve and Earl and the group name. So I made a call to someone at the Late Show, and now all five names are there.)
Another note: A fair number of people seemed to think Paul Shaffer somehow horned in on our band. In fact, Paul was invited by Earl upon our arrival at the Late Show studios. Paul had played on Earl's recent Grammy-winning cut of the same song, and showed some great speed-hand technique during the rehearsals and the taping.
A fair number of people have asked me what's next for Steve's involvement in banjo and bluegrass. The easy answer is Who knows? For the several months ahead, he has his hands more than full with a band new movie (Shopgirl) and two more coming out. Not a few folks have quizzed me about the chance of his being an IBMA Awards Show host. The time commitment is forbidding. Note that he doesn't even agree to host the Oscars! I've let him know that as he's ready to take in some bluegrass, I'll be happy to help.
Here is a sampling of some of the wonderful words of encouragement and congratulations we received from you fine people. It's hard to say how much your support meant. We felt we were riding a wave of good wishes, and it truly made everything easier for us.
(Note: the postscripts following some names identify them by what jam camp they attended)
Dear Dr. Banjo,
You should know that, since you first announced this, I've been on a mission, alerting my friends and coworkers and whipping them into an unprecedented frenzy. This truly is very exciting. I wish my mother were alive to see it. Being a bit of a renegade, she knew Steve Martin was a banjo player first and comedian second.
Have a wonderful time and THANK YOU for spreading the word to pop culture idiots like me who otherwise never might have known. Best regards to you and Joan; I continue to love Windy Mountain and having just bought a new guitar for my son and me hope that we can get a few songs under our belts before spring.
Onward banjo soldiers,"
--Jennie in Twinsburg
"WHAT GREAT NEWS! All my banjo students have the Dave Lettermen Show as their homework - even the 9 yr. olds!!! I can't wait to see you tonight - (actually I can't wait to see anything!!)
Your blind banjo-pickin' friend,"
"We are so psyched for you. Our digital recording gear is at the ready.
Pick and roll on, Buddy."
--Gail Denton and Dan Downs
"Congrats, Pete. Go get em!"
"It doesn't matter what name they call you Pete, Nondi, Will and friends You're "Hot Rize" and "The Live Five" etc...to us forever. It's how well you play that matters. Yes, you'll play as fast as Earl Scruggs; just try to relax and think you're in the Grange Hall in front of us. You'll do it!" "What makes you think an old codger like me can stay up that late!
Seriously, I'll tape it...wouldn't want to miss it! Don't watch late night TV, try to avoid the "one eyed monster" anyway. So much garbage! Best regards to you and Joan,"
"I want to wish you the best of luck on your first ever TV appearance! I got your e-mail on this and it is going around Indianapolis, IN in our music circles. I will have to work hard to stay awake that late, as I am an early riser. Looking forward to seeing bluegrass style being promoted!! Who would have ever thought??!!"
"Congratulation what an honor to be in that group. You will do great and we wish you the very best.
Remember Earl is human like the rest of us, well maybe not when it comes to the 5 string. good luck"
"Good luck , Pete!!! you will be great!!!!!! I will tape the show...I cannot stay up that late on a school nite!!!!! Break a leg (but not a finger!!!)"
"Pete, I'm really excited for you and, of course, I wish you the very best of luck. I'm looking forward to seeing it...just think about all us jamcampers out there watching and cheering for you!! Love,"
"Pete, First, congratulations to you, your wife and your son. Everyone played...hard for words...Stupendously! I have watched the video (I have it TIVO'd) at least a dozen times. I have also spun it to CD for my collection. I want to credit you with something I think some of the others missed. You were noticeably more animate and personable when you were playing and when others played. (I read in your notes that you had to tell yourself to smile.) I can only imagine playing with the other 'names' onstage and in front of national TV' that the concentration must have been boggling. I think the smiles that you gave Steve when he played showed your professionalism. I also enjoyed the 'One more time' you sent Earls way. At first I thought that you were enjoying yourselves so much you were going to take it around one more time, then realized what was afoot. I am sure you are getting E-mails from around the country. Well deserved. Oh, I'll throw this in. I used to be in the TV and video industry for years before I retired to raise horses and ...finally take up the banjo. You are an inspiration Pete. Thanx"
"Congratulations Pete, Joan and Will! I had a big smile on my face for three and a half minutes Wednesday night. Pete, you did us proud! Great solo and great stage presence. Everyone else was so focused on his own thing, they didn't even look up. But as always, you were looking out for the group. Well done! All the best!"
Mr Wernick, You don't know who I am, but I was among the fortunate ones that got to see "Men With Banjos (Who Know How To Use Them), on Dave Letterman. I couldn't believe I was actually yelling at the television set....yes, yes, yes. And then with tears in my eyes, I had to ask myself why I was so intense. I guess it's because of the incredible 'pride' I felt at seeing America's great musical heritage break through to the so-called 'big-time.' The commercial music business has so maligned, disfigured, marred, and abandoned our very sensitive, fragile, and sensible old-time country music, seeing you perform was a highlight of the year for me. Considerable congratulations on an extremely well done job. We'll be hoping for more in the future."
--Bob Everhart, President
National Traditional Country Music Association
"Loved your performance of FMB on Letterman. What a workout you guys gave that tune! What an honor to be on the stage with Earl Scruggs. Got to be one of the highlights of your career. I have downloaded the video and watched it 10 or 15 times and have tried to copy some of the new licks. It was a really impressive display.
There probably will be a whole new generation of pickers who will say "I really got interested in banjo when I saw this performance on Letterman....." I just had to send you an email and tell you how much I enjoyed the show."
I cannot say enough about the Foggy Mtn. Breakdown performance on the David Letterman show last night. I was greatly anticipating seeing such a mix of EXCELLENT talent since I am not only a Steve Martin fan, but a Earl Scruggs fan and Pete (Dr. Banjo) fan as well. I was happier than heck in seeing the performance and the TV volume was about as high as I could get it without waking up my neighbors. You all did just excellent and I know of no other word to express how awesome it was. Just EXCELLENT!
The part that I was disappointed in was the time that Letterman allowed you all to have to give credit as to who you all were. Steve Martin grabbed a mike at the completion and in a millisecond he quickly said what he could in mentioning names and my wife asked, "Who's Steve Wernick?". That should give you an idea of how little of time that Steve Martin was given. Letterman should have walked over to the stage and spoke with ALL of you and given credit where credit was due. Pete, you and the gang did enough so it'll be with me forever as just a listener to such fine talent from a select group of people."
"I am sooo excited for you. I will be tuned in and will try to figure out how to tape you on my vcr. I have digital cable so it gets complicated for this blonde. I will be watching/listening and cheering, so listen, I am sure you will hear me over the banjos/mandolin and guitar. Take care and see you in Nashville.
Love to you both,"