When Sam Bush was a fiddle-playing teenager, he had the opportunity to meet Bluegrass legend Bill Monroe. When young Bush tried to display his blossoming mandolin skills to Monroe, the icon’s advice was succinct: “Stick to the fiddle.”
Good thing Bush didn’t take that comment to heart or he might not have gone on to notch the achievements that earned him the title of “Father of Newgrass.”
Bush began his career early, picking up the mandolin at 11 and winning the junior division of the National Oldtime Fiddler’s Contest three times as a teenager. Bush’s first recording, Poor Richard’s Almanac with Wayne Stewart and Alan Munde, was released in 1969 when he was 17.
The following year, Bush was energized by seeing the Rock-tinged progressive Bluegrass of the New Deal String Band and joined the similarly grained Bluegrass Alliance. When the band broke up, Bush reassembled it as the New Grass Revival in 1971. Although the lineup fluctuated over the years, some of the biggest names in Bluegrass (John Cowan, Bela Fleck, Patt Flynn among them) did stints in NGR, elevating it and Bush to revered status among Bluegrass fans.
Bush recorded his debut solo album in 1984 and dissolved NGR in 1989, moving onto a variety of projects, including forming Strength in Numbers (with Fleck, Mark O’Connor, Edgar Meyer and Jerry Douglas), playing with Emmylou Harris’ Nash Ramblers, siding with Bela Fleck & the Flecktones and Lyle Lovett and launching the Sam Bush Band. Bush’s frequent and ecstatically received appearances at the most prestigious Bluegrass festival in the country have inspired his other title: “The King of Telluride.”
Last year, Bush released his first concert DVD, entitled On the Road, and he was tapped to host the International Bluegrass Music Awards at the Grand Ole Opry. While there, he also took home the trophy for — wait for it — 2007 Mandolinist of the Year. Somewhere Bill Monroe is having a good laugh at his own expense.
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