by Grant Britt
It doesn’t seem that long ago the Sam Bush was the rebel in bluegrass. Now, at the age of 55, Bush is considered one of the genre’s elder statesmen, a fact which amuses him greatly.To hear him tell it, his contribution consisted of the idea of bringing rock and roll in the genre.
But as anyone knows who has ever heard him play mandolin, Bush is steeped in traditional music as well. His fooling around with the dynamics (jamming) and content (rock, jazz, blues) of the genre is now accepted and expected from most contemporary performers and many of the older ones have stretched out as well.
On the day before Merlefest, we caught up with Bush at his home in Nashville as he was packing up to leave for the festival.
Merlefest is more than just a gig for Bush. He was friends with Merle and says that all the attention directed toward him might have been a bit much for him.
“Merle was a pretty private sort of person. He never asked for that. ” Bush says he was always content to let Doc stand out, and wanted Doc to stand out more. “I think he might be a little embarrassed; in another way, he was bound to be flattered by the love that’s come out for him."
“When we first got it going, it was really just friends of Doc’s and Merle’s and we all gathered together on the flatbed truck twenty years ago now,” Bush remembers. “I think it’s a great time when you think bout how well Nickel Creek had done, and what Alison Krauss has established.”
Doc Watson and Ralph Stanley still represent the old school crowd proudly, their voices and performances still strong.
“I think it’s a wonderful time in music when you still have Doc Watson in his 80s, still sounding wonderful, totally on his game, and his voice sounds beautiful.”
He cites the Duhks and the Green Cards as strong representatives of the style he helped initiate.
“The overview is that it's healthy in that they’re so many and there’s room for us old guys and for the new fun kids too,” he says, laughing.