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Sam Bush Takes Bluegrass in New Directions - 2004-05-24

Multi-instrumentalist Sam Bush has been taking his music beyond the boundaries of traditional bluegrass for almost 35 years. As a founding member of the "New Grass Revival," Sam pioneered a whole new direction for bluegrass. Since setting off on a solo career, he's broadened his approach to music by incorporating elements of jazz, folk, country and rock into his songs. VOA's Katherine Cole recently spoke with Sam Bush about his new CD, King of My World, a recording that continues down that genre-bending path.

Sam Bush is known for making eclectic records. So you shouldn't be shocked to hear Sam singing both an old "Grandpa Jones" country hit and South African musician Johnny Clegg's "Spirit is the Journey" on the same recording.

Sam Bush was something of a prodigy, taking up mandolin and fiddle at the age of 11. By the time he graduated from high school, Sam had already won some national music competitions. In 1969, he made his debut on The Grand Ole Opry and that same year recorded his first album. A year later, Sam joined a group called The Bluegrass Alliance, which evolved into the New Grass Revival. This band added electric instruments and drums to the traditional sound and set the standard for modern bluegrass. That kind of eclectic fusion angered fans of traditional bluegrass, and led to a confrontation that Sam still remembers.

??The New Grass Revival? had played a festival somewhere and we liked complicated [musical] arrangements. So, we played some of those and after the set some old boy comes up to me and says, 'Wow, who do you all think you are? The Mahavishnu Mountain Boys' or something??? he recalled.

That long-ago confrontation and a recent album from one of Sam's favorite bands spawned this cut on King of My World.

"There was a long lost Mahavishnu Orchestra Record that came out called The Trident Sessions and I got re-turned on to the Mahavishnu Orchestra with Jerry Goodman on the fiddle and John McLaughlin on the guitar,? he said. ?So, I was listening a lot to the Mahavishnu Orchestra again and put this tune together. I realized there was a section that was kind of like what Kenny Baker or Byron Berline would play on the fiddle, making the jazz-rock melody into a fiddle tune later. So it really is a 'bluegrass-Mahavishnu Orchestra-fusion,' and it seemed to fit that tune, but it was actually a nickname someone said about the 'New Grass Revival' once."

King of My World ends with a track Sam Bush wrote in tribute to his favorite baseball player, onetime Saint Louis Cardinals' great Ozzie Smith. Sam and co-writer John Pennell both did their homework before tackling this one.

"We sat with a stat [statistics] sheet and looked at old videos that I have, the video of him hitting the home run to beat the Dodgers,? he recalled. ?It was the most fun I ever had writing a song. Writing isn't always fun for me. Not as much fun as playing."