Interview and Photos by Scott Preston
Taft Theatre (Ballroom), 317 E 5th St, Cincinnati, OH
7:30pm doors, 8:30pm show, $25 adv, $30 dos, Buy Tickets
Grammy Award winning multi-instrumentalist Sam Bush doesn’t seem old enough to be a musical legend. And he’s not. But he is.
Alternately known as the King of Telluride and the King of Newgrass, Bush has been honored by the Americana Music Association and the International Bluegrass Music Association.
“It’s overwhelming and humbling,” Bush says of his lifetime achievement award from the AMA. “It goes along with the title cut of my new album, Circles Around Me, which basically says, how in the hell did we get this far? In my brain I’m still 17, but I look in the mirror and I’m 57.”
But honors are not what drive him. “I didn’t get into music to win awards,” he says. “I’m just now starting to get somewhere. I love to play and the older I get the more I love it. And I love new things.”
Among those new things are the growing group of mandolin players that identify Bush as their musical role model in much the same way he idolized Bill Monroe and Jethro Burns.
“If I’ve been cited as an influence, then I’m really flattered because I still have my influences that I look up to,” Bush says. “I’m glad that I’m in there somewhere.”
He’s being humble, of course. Bush has helped to expand the horizons of bluegrass music, fusing it with jazz, rock, blues, funk and other styles. He’s the co-founder of the genre-bending New Grass Revival and an in-demand musician who has played with everyone from Emmylou Harris and Bela Fleck to Charlie Haden, Lyle Lovett and Garth Brooks. (from sambush.com)
Cincy Groove: I saw that you performed with Yonder Mountain String Band recently, did you have fun?
Sam Bush: Absolutely, I have played with them many times over the years. I will also be playing them 5-6 more times this year.
Cincy Groove: Are you working on a new record?
Sam Bush: I am, I have been collecting songs over the last 2-3 from collaborations. I have more than enough songs for a record. I have played some of them live but I want to try and put some of them on the new album that haven’t been heard too much. Just trying to figure out where I will record it and how to present the finished work to the fans. I think I will be back in the studio sometime this month.
Cincy Groove: How do you go about putting together your setlist?
Sam Bush: One thing we look at is what did we play the last time we were in a particular town. We don’t want to play too many of the same songs and I want to try to work in some of the newer ones that will be on the new record.
Cincy Groove: I see that you will be celebrating your 40th year performing at Telluride, anything special planned?
Sam Bush: Right now I am looking at who will be there and what our jamming capabilities will be. A lot of the jams at Telluride are spur of the moment occurrences. Right before you go on you’ll run into an old buddy and invite him up on the stage. This year I will get to meet a couple of my heroes for the first time and hopefully jam with them. One of them is Steve Winwood, he is just a few years older than me, but I have been listening to him since high school. We actually just had a rehearsal for what is being called the house band for Telluride. My band plays on Saturday night and then on Sunday its Jerry Douglas, Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck, Stuart Duncan, Brian Sutton and myself. Alison Krauss and Del McCoury are going to sit in with us this year as well.
Cincy Groove: Do you have a favorite mandolin? I ‘m sure you own quite a few.
Sam Bush: I do own quite a few and I do have a favorite one. He is with me right now, its a 1938 Gibson F5 that a friend of mine a while back named Hoss. People will call and ask how I’m doing then ask how Hoss is doing. I have had this mandolin since 1953 and before that it had belonged to Norman Blake when he was playing with John Hartford. There is a great John Hartford record called “Morning Bugle” that Norman played this mandolin on and John even played it a little also. Hoss was on my favorite record and I was lucky enough to get him after that. I have other mandolins of course, so sometimes I don’t take the old boy out into the mountains during the winter time. He just falls into disrepair from the cold. The wood on the old mandolins move more in the cold. One of my best friends Harry Sparks lives over in Rabbit Hash and he has been keeping Hoss up and running for about 40 years now. Other people have worked on Hoss but they can’t do what Harry does. I don’t know what he does but he works his magic. In fact I haven’t seen him for a few years and I need him now to make Hoss better again.
Cincy Groove: I understand you are very much into baseball, who is your team?
Sam Bush: Oh now we are going to get into trouble (laughing). I have been a St Louis Cardinals fan my whole life. But when I was 10 one of my greatest memories was coming up to Crosley Field from Bowling Green, KY to see a double header between the Cubs and Reds. I remember Billy Williams hit 3 home runs that day. My wife and I happened to be in the stands when Aroldis Chapman played his first minor league rehab game with the Triple A Louisville Cardinals. He didn’t do too well but man he was throwing 104 mph. If I was there standing with a bat in my hand it would be terrifying to see the ball coming in that fast.
Cincy Groove: Has there been something you worked on that maybe would surprise your fans?
Sam Bush: One day I get a call out of nowhere from Taylor Swifts manager. She wants to do an acoustic version of one of her songs on the CMA’s and she would like you to play guitar. The band ended up being Edgar Meyer on bass, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss and myself. So we all backed up young Taylor on her song Red on the country music awards. I have to tell you it was really a positive experience. Most of the comments on social media were positive (laughing). A few people were snarky but overall very positive.
Cincy Groove: Your music seems to have a timeless quality that crosses the generations, is that something you pay attention to?
Sam Bush: I really do. I am the age of the some of the grandparents that are bringing their young grandchildren to hear the music. I have been fortunate enough to see multiple generations of families come see my shows. Its pretty amazing.