After my mother died my four grown children were having fun going through the old papers that she left behind. In those papers were my elementary report cards, including even my kindergarten report. They all got a big chuckle from the comment by my teacher: "David seems to like music....alot!!" They of course knew this and were not really surprised that I had shown this tendency early on....
Anyhoo----being such a music-lovin' nut all my life, I have seen and heard lots of musicians all these years. I do remember Elvis in his early days, and the pop radio music of the late 50s/early sixties, but really started listening intently when the Beatles came around! I bought my first album ("Introducing the Beatles") at the A&P food store just down the block; I think the cost was $1.99, which of course took awhile for me to save up.
And what I'm getting at is simple: of all of those musicians I can pick out one that stands above the rest for me, and he is Sam Bush.
I started listening intently to the bluegrass genre when the Mole Lake Bluegrass Festival started near home here in northern Wisconsin in 1976. I had quite the musical awakening...being introduced to Bill Monroe, Doc and Merle Watson, John Hartford, Benny Martin, Jim and Jesse, Ralph Stanley, and many other of the first generation bluegrass giants. I fell in love with the music, and came to the conclusion that these cats were the best musicians I had ever seen!
Then, in about 1983 there was a group on stage that I hadn't seen or even heard of, and they were blowing me away! The New Grass Revival had played Mole Lake earlier, back in the late 70s, but I must have simply missed them, for I had never been so taken by one band. It seemed as if they had taken all of the best of the genres that I had listened to up to that point, mixed them all up, and delivered the result with the most energy and verve and musical skill that I had ever witnessed! For example: the banjo player was doin' licks on the 5-string that I had never heard before, the guitar player was fast and fluid and tasteful, and the bass player/vocalist was amazing! Bela Fleck and Pat Flynn and John Cowan were becoming instant favorites of mine.....and then there was that fellow up there who was wailing on the mandolin and the fiddle!
Through the buying of bluegrass and related music I had come across the name "Sam Bush" on many albums; and by pouring over the "Flying Fish" and "Rounder" record catalogues, this name seemed to be on at least every other collection! I guess I figured that this Sam fellow was an old Nashville studio musician...and a good one from what I heard. >g<
So---when the leader of this new band was introduced I was finally introduced to Mr. Sammy... I bought "On the Boulevard" right after the set, along with a New Grass Revival t-shirt; but mainly I wanted to see these fellows up close...to see if they were really human. >g<
I started buying all the New Grass music that I could afford at a time, and of course also discovered Curtis Burch and Courtney Johnson through these albums. And, I had found the best damned music that I had ever heard!
In 1986 I was advised by T. Michael Coleman, who was playing bass with Doc Watson at the time and who I had met at Mole Lake, that I should check out the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. I took his advice the next year, making my first trip to the San Juan mountains of Colorado for what turned out to be an annual musical pilgrimage for a dozen years. And who was dubbed the King of Telluride by Emmylou Harris?
And I had known for a long time that I should visit Nashville! I finally got that opportunity in 1996, when I had some extra time on my hands while on the way to Merlefest and I realized that I could alter my route just a little and end up there. I met some friends who were headed down to New Orleans for the Jazzfest, and we spent a couple of days exploring the Music City. It was a blast!
I had heard of the Station Inn in Nashville, so this was one spot that had to be checked out. We went there on Friday night, and upon entering the building I noticed a small, hand-written note on a torn off piece of paper, announcing that on April 21 Sam Bush would be playing! (wow...the timing was right, seeing as how I was reading this on the 20th.) That first show I saw at the Station Inn was Butch Balassardi's "Nashville Mandolin Ensemble"; eight mandolins, one guitar and one bass...it was amazing!
The next day we were driving around Nashville, thinking of getting something to eat, when I realized that we were near the Station Inn. Just for giggles, I mentioned that we ought to stop to see if Sam was rehearsing...>g< We actually did stop, noticing that the padlock was unlocked and just hanging on the door. (the Station Inn was and is a very low-tech musical venue...that produces very high-quality music!) My friend Sandra jumped out of the car, rushed into the place, came back out, and motioned for us to join her. Sure enough, Sam and his buddies were about to start to rehearse! I asked Sam (we didn't know each other at this point) if I could hang around and he graciously said: "Sure, make yourself at home...we're breaking in a new guitar player, a fellow named Darrell Scott, and he's a dandy."
Brian and Sandra were still hungry so they took off, but I somehow lost my appetite...so I stayed! It was a GAS listening and watching Sam and John Cowan teaching Darrell some songs...so much fun. Larry Atamaniuk was drummin' up a storm, and I hung around all afternoon; I was the only person in the place, other than the band and two sound men. At one point Sam pointed out the fact that there was beer in the coolers behind the bar, so I was in what really could be described as a heaven! (I do have some photos from that day, and should someday try to figure out how to post them on this blog...)
And that night they rocked the joint! After the show I ran into Sam and he tossed me a "Bush in '96" button that I sure have had fun with over the years. The button was a promotional deal for the release of his cd, "Glamour and Grits", by Sugar Hill. There were very few of them made up, which surprised me, but when asked both at Merlefest and Telluride that year: "WHERE did you get THAT?!", I always had a fun story to retell. >g< (I got pretty burned out with the telling of that story during Telluride that year, so as we were leaving town after the festival I took the button off so I didn't have to tell the story one more time. Lynn and I stopped at the grocery store and who did I run into to?...of course, Sammy! I did have on that original New Grass t-shirt that I had purchased many years before, and he was wearing a "new" shirt from the original New Grass Revival that a fan had just presented him...we had a chuckle about that, and it was fun to know that he had recognized me.)
Whew...I need to take a break, blog-wise. I will have to do a Part 2 and maybe even a Part 3 to this tribute to my buddy Sam; there are more stories!