Sam Bush: Discography as Storytelling

Sam Bush: Discography as Storytelling

It might seem like Sam Bush thinks his mandolin is a guitar and that he’s something of a late model Jimmy Page. Both of those things don’t matter, though, if one takes the time to figure out that Bush is basically responsible for updating bluegrass. And while that might sound like a foolish sentiment to relate, it’s true.

Taking the genre’s bucolic instrumentation and coupling it with lyrics focusing on modern concerns, Bush along with his cohort in the New Grass Revival, fused then current rock tropes with auld tyme bluegrass. If the Revival Band were Bush’s only recorded artifact, it’d still be a startling legacy. But over time, the Kentucky native has contributed to a litany of superlative bluegrass albums. What’s represented below are the ones I’ve been able to track down over time. Somehow, Bush was able to recall each rather clearly and grant a few insights from each date.

Tut Taylor - Friar Tut (Rounder, 1972)

I met both Tut and Norman Blake, who plays on the record, through their playing in John Harford’s Aereo-Plain Band. We all met at Bean Blossom [a bluegrass festival curated by Bill Monroe] in 1971. I was living in Tennessee for a while, but I wound up jamming with Tut and Norman a lot. I remember Tut telling me, “Whatever you play, as long as it’s in time and in tune, it’s right.” Sometimes, all the fast notes in the world aren’t as good as the ones played with good timing.


New Grass Revival – S/T (Starday, 1972)

“Lonesome Fiddle Blues” was one of the first songs we ever played with the original four members of the Revival. Our bass player, Ebo, just started playing a riff. We started soloing over it - that was the first time we ever did that. One thing I do really remember about that record was how great it was to get in the studio. Back then, we were a bar band and would play five or six nights a week. We got so tight that when we went into the studio it was easy and we had a blast. It was as much of joyful noise as anything I’ve gotten to play on.

Blake, Taylor, Bush, Robins, Clements, Holland & Burns – S/T (Flying Fish Records, 1975)

A show was produced in Philadelphia, which was supposed to be Dave Holland on bass, John Hartford, Vassar Clements and Norman and Tut brought me along too. The show went so well, the promoter said that we should go to Nashville and fish a record outta it. One Saturday, we all just got in the studio and cut this jam session. To this day, it’s still an enjoyable experience to listen to.


Sam Bush & Alan Munde - Together Again for the First Time (Ridge Runner, 1977)

Alan and I first recorded together in the late ‘60s, which was my first album, called Poor Richards’ Almanac. After that Alan played with Jimmy Martin and joined the Country Gazette. In the meantime, I was in the New Grass Revival. We always kept in touch, but Alan can play fiddle tunes on the banjo better than anybody. Our love of playing that music got us together for that one album.


The Tony Rice Unit – Manzanita (Rounder, 1979)

Although, I knew them both, that was the first time I got to record with Ricky Scaggs and Jerry Douglas. Tony and I had played in a group called the Bluegrass Alliance when he was 19 and I was 18 years old. He went on to play with J.D. Crowe and moved out to California to play in David Grisman’s band, which was an instrumental band. Manzanita, for the most part, is a vocal record. One of the interesting things about it is you don’t really notice there’s no banjo. One of the reasons it succeeds is because Douglas is so great at playing dobro. Once again, our timing was an important part of that.

Sam Bush. 9 p.m. Friday, June 4th. The Kent Stage, 174 East Main St. 330.677.5005. Tix: $25.