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Sam Bush: A King of Acoustic Music

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Sam Bush

Sam Bush

Senor McGuire

Used with permission of CMA Closeup News Service
By Rob Patterson

"It's often been said, if you can play bluegrass, you can pretty much play anything because your musicianship in that style of music can apply to other styles of music," said Sam Bush.

And that's just what Bush has done.

Ever since he made his Grand Ole Opry debut in 1969, the in-demand mandolin player - as well as hot fiddler and guitar player - has pushed the envelope for acoustic music in any number of directions. There was his nearly two decades in New Grass Revival, alongside John Cowan, Bela Fleck, Pat Flynn and others. He followed that with five years as a member of Emmylou Harris' Nash Ramblers.

And then there are the tours with Lyle Lovett and Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, and the album sessions for Country Music superstars including Garth Brooks and Alabama. Add to that his affection for playing everything from jazz to reggae to rock 'n' roll, as well as combinations thereof, and it's clear that Bush has taken the mandolin where no man has gone before.

On his fifth and most recent album leading his own band, King of My World, on Sugar Hill Records, Bush continues to explore the many permutations of acoustic music. So many, in fact, that the CD might better be titled King of Many Worlds. It features everything from fiddle tunes ("Puppies 'N' Knapsacks") to acoustic Afro-Beat ("Spirit Is The Journey" by South Africa's Johnny Clegg) to strains of the music of India ("The Mahavishnu Mountain Boys") to a Grandpa Jones song ("Eight More Miles To Louisville"), all done with Bush's trademark wit and virtuosity.

The three-time GRAMMY award winner grew up in the Bluegrass State of Kentucky, on a farm near Bowling Green.

"My father, Charlie Bush, is the farmer who plays the fiddle and loves fiddle music," explained Bush.

At age 11, Bush started playing fiddle and mandolin, but the latter was what attracted him most.

"My father would buy records by Tommy Jackson, the great fiddle player on the Grand Ole Opry for many years," Bush said. "And there would be a mandolin player [Hank Garland] on there playing with the fiddle. For some reason, the mandolin playing attracted me. I loved the sound of the fiddle too, obviously," said Bush, who won the national junior fiddle champion honors three times during his teen years.

And, all roads on the mandolin lead to Bill Monroe.

"I first saw him at the Ryman Auditorium in 1964. I was 12. At that point I would have dreamt, gee, maybe I could get to be his guitar player or fiddle player someday. That never did all happen to work out," said Bush with a good-natured smile in his voice.

When his family drove to see Monroe at the Brown County Jamboree in Bean Blossom, Ind., Bush recalled, "Bill had me go out and play the fiddle a couple of times with the Bluegrass Boys during their warm-up segment. But I never actually played on stage with Bill back then."

In 1992, when Harris recorded her album At the Ryman, Bush finally got to pick with the master.

"They were changing reels in the recording truck, and someone said, 'Why don't you play with Bill?' (who was there to dance with Harris on his song 'Scotland'). We did a tune he wrote called 'Southern Flavor.' As I was standing there on the stage with him, I realized that something I had dreamt about, getting to play with him on that stage, was coming true right at that moment. But it wasn't on the tape!"

Luckily, a crew from The Nashville Network covering the event caught the moment on video and gave Bush a copy.

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