Sam Bush: Father of Newgrass

Sam Bush

Sam Bush was born in 1952 in Bowling Green, Kentucky and is noted today for his remarkable ability to play the mandolin, fiddle, banjo, and guitar. He also is renowned for his beautiful vocals. According to Fred Bartenstein’s Generations Chart, Bush is a 3rd generation bluegrass musician. The 3rd generation is noted for broad geographic regions, careers in several genres, fewer fiddles and taking bluegrass to new directions and audiences. Much like many other musicians we have studied, Bush’s family played an imperative role in early childhood musical development. Bush’s grandfather played the banjo and fiddle while his father just played the fiddle, respectively. Since there was such a great deal of music around the house, Bush started playing the mandolin at the age of 11 and called it his first love. Likewise, he began playing the fiddle around the age of 13 or 14. Hearing a record of The Dilliards pushed Bush’s interest in Texas fiddling. This instrumentation won Bush multiple contests during his youth. Relevant to the material at hand, Bush attended the inaugural Roanoke Bluegrass Festival in 1965. Looking into historical times, around this period rock n roll was becoming popular. Bush was interested in fusing bluegrass and rock n roll.

Sam Bush started gaining his fame in the late 1960s. By 1970 he had played in a couple of bands such as the New Deal String Band and Bluegrass Alliance. Although the Bluegrass Alliance broke up, a few members added a couple new members and formed the New Grass Revival. When Bartenstein mentions that the 3rd generation started taking bluegrass into new directions, New Grass Revival personified this description. Their sound, heard below, planted roots for progressive bluegrass:


Unfortunately, New Grass Revival broke up in 1989, but not before releasing three albums. Also in 1989, Bush joined Strength in Numbers, another newgrass band. Strength in Numbers produced one album and was noted for incorporating more jazz styles characteristic into their music. Since 1989, Bush has recorded some solo. He also released a DVD of a live concert. Most notably, he performed on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. Today, he is considered the “Father of Newgrass” and some even joke that he is the “Mother of Bluegrass.” This comparison of being the “Mother of Bluegrass” is an honor to Bush as idolized Bill Monroe. Throughout the years he has been awarded 3 Grammys. Below is my favorite Sam Bush song:

The Bluegrass Reader entry on Sam Bush does a great job hitting on his open mind when it comes to music. The article really shows that Bush was a free spirit who had a passion for music. This passion expanded into his life as well, he is a two-time cancer treatment survivor. Bush is still touring today, and will be performing at FloydFest 2015. He is active on Twitter and has a very informative website:


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