Among the second generation of bluegrass players, few are as respected and beloved as mandolinist Sam Bush. Born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in 1952, Sam gained prominence for his teen-age performances at national fiddle competitions. In 1970 he joined the Bluegrass Alliance, where his driving right-hand technique and wide-ranging musical tastes provided the platform for developing the band’s signature sound as well as the emergence of an approach that came to be known as Newgrass.
He soon became the founding member of New Grass Revival, a band based in Louisville, Kentucky. It was during this time that Sam met Denver Folklore Center founder, Harry Tuft, when Harry filled in for Jerry Mills at KLAK radio. The NGR was characterized by the virtuosic and groundbreaking playing of such young luminaries as Bela Fleck as well as its inclusion of pop and rock tunes in its repertoire.
The band expanded the audience for its unique approach to bluegrass by touring with blues-rock legend Leon Russel.
Sam went on to join the Nash Ramblers, the touring and recording band for Emmylou Harris. Continuing to forge new musical territory, the Ramblers helped drive the emergence of the genre now known as alt-country. Sam has gone on to both front his own band and continue playing in numerous ensembles composed of the world’s best and most innovative players.
Although Sam is best known for his work on mandolin he is also a talented fiddler and plays exceptional guitar, both acoustic and electric. With a performance repertoire that spans bluegrass, blues, rockabilly and straight-ahead rock and roll, he is one of the most versatile players in the business. He is also affectionately known as the King of Telluride, having appeared at the legendary Colorado Bluegrass Festival for 45 consecutive years.
Bush’s performances have lost none of the drive and power that made him a standout as a young player; audiences respond with whole heart to his thousand-watt smile and boundless enthusiasm. During the pandemic lockdown he has issued weekly Facebook videos in which he answers fans’ questions as well as weekly episodes of “Jammin’ with Sam” which consist of duets recorded simply in his living room and featuring such legends as Tim O’Brien and Billy Strings.
Sam is known for his nurturing and mentorship of young musicians, perhaps best illustrated by historical YouTube videos of Sam collaborating with the brilliant young player and singer Sierra Hull. These date back to Hull’s first appearance with Sam when she was ten years old. Hull recently posted a birthday tweet to Sam telling him that “we all can only dream of being as cool as you”. For Sam’s many dedicated fans, that just about sums it up.