Grammy winner Sam Bush learned many lessons during 45-year career
March 29, 2016
Grammy Award-winning mandolinist Sam Bush has been performing along the Wastach Back and Wasatch Front since the 1980s, and he always looks forward to when he returns.
"It goes all the way back to Deer Valley when Newgrass Revival did some shows there," Bush told The Park Record during a phone call from his Nashville home. "Of course, I was there with Emmylou Harris and my band has been there numerous times."
On Friday, April 1, Bush will return to Summit County for a performance at the DeJoria Center.
"It’s great to have another new place to experience in the area," Bush said. "It’s interesting for us flatlanders to experience all those outlying towns."
When Bush and his band — drummer Chris Brown, banjoist Scott Vestal, guitarist and singer Stephen "Mojo" Mougin and bassist Todd Parks — take the stage, they will play a mix of classics, covers and new songs, the latter taken from an upcoming album that will be released later this year.
"I have a whole CD completed that will be out hopefully in time for Telluride [Bluegrass Festival]," Bush said. "I have a working title, but I hesitate to announce it because there’s a very good chance that it will change. Why? Because it’s the one I want."
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The new album also marks the first time that Bush co-wrote all the songs.
"It’s been five years since I put my last record out, and I got busy and wrote a lot with my friends — including Emmylou, Jeff Black, John Randall Stuart, Guy Clark and Debra Holland, who was in the band Animal Logic with Stuart Copland and Guy Clark," he said.
Bush also found an old song that he and Steven Brines wrote back in the 1970s.
"Steven and I wrote a lot of the Newgrass Revival songs, and I found this cassette after 35 years in my piles and piles of stuff," Bush said. "I carefully rewound the cassette and played it and copied to a CD burner. As soon as it went through, the tape broke."
The new recording will feature vocals by Alison Krauss.
"She has always been a fan of the old band and I asked her to sing with me on it and she did," Bush said. "All the songs seemed to fit together, which is me still believing in the concept of a whole album.
"I’m pretty excited," Bush said. "We just have to master it and let’s put it out, but in the meanwhile, we will play a couple of those songs live."
Many of the friendships and songwriting partnerships that are represented on the album were forged throughout Bush’s 45 years in the music business. And as Bush, alternately known as the King of Telluride and the King of Newgrass, tells it, he never really made a conscious effort to become a professional musician.
"The music just led me there," he said.
With every chapter that closed a new one opened and that led to more opportunities and lessons, according Bush.
"When the Newgrass boys broke up, I played with Emmylou Harris in the Nash Ramblers for five years," he said. "She was a great influence. She was a positive and encouraging bandleader. You got the feeling that you weren’t working for her, but working with her.
"She also encouraged me as a singer to sing differently than I did in Newgrass Revival, which was sing as loud as I can just to keep up with the band," Bush said with a laugh. "She helped me gain more control over my voice."
The biggest lesson Bush learned from Harris was the dynamics of performing.
"In any given show, all the songs within the body don’t have to be intense," he said. "The audience, in fact, can enjoy a breathing spot now and then. I didn’t know that much about it before."
After his five years with Harris, Bush ended up on the road with Lyle Lovett.
"Lyle’s a great bandleader and I learned how to play in a large ensemble," Bush said. "He taught us all that the larger the band is, the less you have to play. That way the music remains clear."
Bush also learned valuable lessons as a Nashville studio session player.
"Sometimes you walk away from the session realizing you learned something and played a great piece of music that you never expected," he said. "That’s what’s great about music. It’s when that wonderful sound happens."
Music also led him to his wife, Lynn.
"It was that classic bar maiden and musician working in the club scenario back when we worked five nights a week in Louisville," he said.
Bush, who has been honored by the Americana Music Association and the International Bluegrass Music Association, said all of this wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the mandolin.
"I play both mandolin and fiddle, but when I pick up the mandolin it’s like jumping in a tub of wonderfully hot water," he said. "It’s a comfortable feeling and I think I still feel the same as when I first started playing when I was 11 years old. There’s something about laying that mandolin neck in my hand and picking a chord.
"Even though I play fiddle and play guitar, when I travel somewhere and I’m not going to perform, I still have to have the mandolin with me because I just might want to play it," he said with a knowing laugh. "All musicians feel that way. You want the instrument with you because it’s just awful when you get an idea and don’t have anything to play it on."
Bush is thankful for what music has done for him.
"Playing the mandolin, fiddle and guitar has given me a life and a circle of friends," he said. "We make lifelong friends and as musicians we have the privilege to go around the world with each other. And we are coming back to Utah."
The DeJoria Center, 970 N. S.R. 32 in Kamas, will present Grammy Award-winning mandolinist Sam Bush on Friday, April 1, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $45 for general admission or $65 for reserved seating. For more information, visit http://www.dejoriacenter.com . To purchase tickets, visit http://www.smithstix.com .