Sam Bush is a mandolin master whose unbridled spirit helped to create the progressive acoustic music that is often referred to as “Newgrass.” In 1971, he formed the influential band New Grass Revival, and since then he has worked with notables including Garth Brooks, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Lyle Lovett, Bill Monroe, Dolly Parton, Taylor Swift, and many others. Today, he leads the Sam Bush Band and records much-lauded solo albums. In this two-episode edition of Voices in the Hall, he talks about the places he’s been, the legends he’s known, and the lessons he’s learned.
Peter on Episode 17: Sam Bush – Part 1
Sam Bush is a baseball guy.
Well, he’s known as a music guy. But he’s a baseball fanatic who practices mandolin at home while watching St. Louis Cardinals games with the sound off, providing spectacular soundtracks that we’ll never hear unless we creep near the window of the Nashville home he shares with his wife, Lynn. (Ed. note: Trespassing is against the law.)
In baseball, there’s a statistic called WAR, which sounds violent but actually stands for “Wins Above Replacement.” It’s a measure of how many wins a particular player is worth versus an average-skilled replacement player at his same position. Babe Ruth is the all-time major league leader in WAR, worthy of 184 career wins for his team (Red Sox first, then Yankees) above a reasonably talented substitute.
No statistic has yet been established for SAR, which sounds silly but ostensibly (to be clear, I’m making this up on the spot) stands for “Smiles Above Replacement.” That would be a measure of how many smiles a particular person inspires, versus an average-tempered replacement person. Once the number-crunchers get to SAR, I’m betting that Sam Bush tops the all-time list, just above Redd Foxx and Soupy Sales.
You can’t be sad around Sam, unless laughter saddens you. (Ed. note: if laughter saddens you, you have some serious problems to work through.) He’s the golden retriever puppy of musical geniuses. His engagement is full and present and enthusiastic, whether onstage or at a party or composing instant mandolin symphonies to Cardinals games. He’s the embodiment of Country Music Hall of Fame member Cowboy Jack Clement’s mandate: “We’re in the fun business . . . if we’re not having fun, we’re not doing our job.”
Of course, none of this is what makes Sam Bush important. It’s just what makes Sam Bush a wonderful person to know. I hope this episode of Voices in the Hall allows those who know him to know him better, and affords an introduction to the unfamiliar. Sam lives an incredible musical life. He uncovers possibilities and discovers trails to blaze. He teaches lessons to legends and inspires acolytes at every turn.
A couple of days after recording Voices in the Hall, Sam received a Doctorate of Fine Arts from Western Kentucky University. Then he had laparoscopic surgery, which is something none of us want to have, especially as an emergency surprise. He made it through all that, the same way he has made it through multiple cancer bouts and a bunch of touring troubles. He made it through the same way he’s made it through some troublesome Cardinals seasons.
Anyway, he made it through, with good humor and admirable humanity and an SAR calculation that amazes and astounds.
Please enjoy these episodes of Voices in the Hall, with the one and only Sam Bush.
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