Interview: New Grass Revival Founder Sam Bush on Interacting with Other Musicians and the Art of Jamming

by Alison Richter
Posted Jun 3, 2013 at 5:21pm

“I’m just now starting to get somewhere.”

That’s Sam Bush in reference to his seventh solo album, Circles Around Me. With so much history — co-founder of the New Grass Revival, in-demand studio and live musician, fiddle champion, Grammy winner and much more — was he really only feeling that way within the past few years?

“I tend to rejuvenate every so often,” he says. “I do different projects and move in different circles. I started out in high school playing my mandolin and being progressive that way, and I do feel comfortable as a singer and player, sure.”

GUITAR WORLD: You’ve been making music pretty much your entire life. What has changed and what has stayed same?

Hopefully, the writing is getting better. It’s hard to know, but it’s interesting to me that some people say the last one I made is the most bluegrass I’ve done, and some say it might be the most progressive. I’ve dabbled in reggae, rock and roll, South African, jazz, rock, I played with Jean-Luc Ponty on a record. If anything has helped my growth, it’s playing with my band. We gel together so well and we can now make a sound together that’s very comfortable as players onstage.

Do you still have to woodshed or are the gigs enough?

I do 80 or so shows a year, I play on sessions, but I never feel like I’m playing enough. I always like to play more. I play mandolin and sometimes practice guitar, and if I’m singing, I play guitar. I tend to work on finger exercises and callous-building with the mandolin to keep my hands ready to play.

With such a wealth of material, how do you select your set list?

I have a bank of tunes for different situations. There’s a circle of excitement between a band and an audience, and it’s up to us to start it. If we get a good connection going with the audience, they feel that too.

Have musicians lost the great art of jamming?

It still goes on, especially in this genre. Plus, when the time allotment is there, I like to end my set by getting a cluster jam onstage and getting all the musicians onstage. So really, in the acoustic world I’m in, we jam and have fun with different groups. If you pay attention, there’s something you can learn from every musician you hear, even if only a couple of licks appeal to you. When you play in different musical situations, you can only improve. It’s up to you whether you incorporate what you learn or not. The interaction with other musicians keeps things fresh.

Is there is a tendency within the industry to underestimate the tastes of the general public?

I keep aware of the fact that I need an audience with open ears. I played at the Ozarks for a very young audience and they are not concerned if it’s bluegrass or what it is. We play a good variety of music within one show, so really, I tend to give the audience a lot of credit that they are educated in a lot of different styles of music. Either it feels good to you and the audience or it does not. I have a bank of tunes, and in certain situations there’s a circle of excitement, but it’s up to us to start it. If we get a good connection going with the audience, they feel that too.

But sometimes it takes a whole different audience for music to get recognized. Bluegrass and acoustic music — it was not lost on me that a film comes along like O Brother, Where Art Thou and uses that music and makes it part of the story. Bonnie and Clyde used music by Flatt and Scruggs. Deliverance had “Dueling Banjos,” and that song was on the radar on rock and roll radio stations. Audiences like hearing the sounds when they can get exposed to them.

You credit your band as key to your musical growth. Your name is out front, but clearly they’re integral to your sound.

They are the most important part of my sound. A band is the exciting part of playing live. I have no interest in playing by myself. The joy of music is the interaction with other musicians. I play rhythm when they take solos. We’re together; they’re not a backup band. I think it starts with trusting each other musically. I respect them totally.

We all want to get up there and do our best. Some days are better than others, but I’m proud that everybody always puts their best foot forward. We urge each other on. When one of us plays a phrase they hadn’t played before, or you notice how well someone is playing, it’s joyful and it makes you want to join in.

Read more of Sam Bush’s interview right here.

— Alison Richter

Alison Richter interviews artists, producers, engineers and other music industry professionals for print and online publications. Read more of her interviews right here.

Add a Comment

Similar Guitar News

Thy Art Is Murder Discuss New Album, 'Holy War' (6/22/2015)
Australia’s Thy Art Is Murder have always pushed the boundaries, cracking the Top 40 album chart in their homeland with their 2012 album Hate (a chart first for the deathcore genre) and undertaking extensive touring with the likes of Fear Factor...
The DIY Musician: The Art of the Cigar Box Guitar — Halloween Edition (10/30/2015)
Why should the death metallers have all the fun with their pointy guitars, blood-splattered paint jobs and skull inlays? The DIY instrument community recently got their freak on, too, with a wild Halloween guitar build-off. The guys over at ci...
The DIY Musician: The Art of the Cigar Box Guitar and the Absence of Rules (10/22/2015)
Claude Monet had his “Blue Period,” and I seem to be having my “Rust Period.” Every cigar box guitar I build has rusty found objects (or ones I painted with Rustoleum dark brown textured paint). It’s a weathered look that’s akin to relic'd Str...
Something Guitarists Can Learn from Drummers: The Art of Recovery (11/16/2015)
Let's talk about the art of recovery. The standard street definition of recovery is gaining possession of something that, for one reason or another, you've lost. It can be anything: your health, money, love, etc. The idea of recovery is the old...
Shred Fest IV: Chris Broderick and Gus G on the Art of Creating Guitar Solos — Video (8/19/2015)
What's it like when two master shredders get together to exchange ideas, talk technique and more? We caught a glimpse in our first, second and third "C
Prison Art: Meet the Electric Guitar Built Inside the Slammer (7/23/2015)
Folsom Prison Blues…Mama Tried… 30 Days in the Hole… In the Jailhouse Now. Whatever your favorite prison song is, we just found the greatest electric guitar to play them. It was built by an inmate serving time at a Pennsylvania state prison. Th...
Now That's a Turn-Off: The Lost Art of the Standby Switch (11/19/2015)
I was recently invited to be a judge at a shredding contest called the Demon Rock Off alongside fellow Guitar World blogger Joe Matera. Each guitarist in the contest was to play for 60 seconds through one of three combo amps: a Marshall JCM900,...
Art Garfunkel Announces Carnegie Hall Performance and Tour (8/11/2015)
Legendary singer Art Garfunkel is excited to announce a Carnegie Hall performance in his New York City hometown. The Saturday, October 3 show dubbed "At Last" is part of his in-progress array of domestic and international "In Close-Up" concerts...
Art of Anarchy — with Scott Weiland and Bumblefoot — Premiere "‘Til the Dust Is Gone" Music Video (4/15/2015)
Today, presents the exclusive premiere of "‘Til the Dust Is Gone," the new music video by Art of Anarchy. The band—let's call it a "mega group," actually—features vocalist Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots, Velvet Revolver), gui...
Art Garfunkel Sets European, U.S., South Korea and U.K. Tour Dates (2/6/2015)
Iconic singer ART GARFUNKEL has confirmed a wide array of tour dates for 2015 including treks through South Korea, Europe, the U.S. and the U.K. The four various legs begin February 14 in S. Korea and run through September 24 in Scotland (full ...
Andy McKee “Art of Motion” Live — Exclusive Video (11/3/2014)
Recently we posted a live video of fingerstyle master Andy McKee performing his track “Mythmaker.” Today we’re excited to share another video; McKee’s “Art of Motion,” a composition from his 2009 release, Dreamcatcher. The clip was filmed backst...
Metal Mike: Just Sign Here — The Art of Protecting Yourself As a Musician (10/31/2014)
One important topic for musicians is the world of written agreements and how one’s services relate to the industry they work in. Let’s get the first thing out of the way: Most musicians hate talking about business and money. Or, should I say, th...
It Might Get Weird: Om Is Where the Art Is — Shawn Bowen’s OmCaster (9/3/2014)
The Om symbol means so much to Shawn Bowen that he has four tattooed on his body. When he decided to design a custom guitar to play with his bands Didges Christ SuperDrum and Stones of Madness, it was pretty much predetermined that he would mak...
The Recording King USA Custom Banjo Shop Creates One-of-a-Kind Art Pieces (8/7/2014)
Recording King's USA Custom Shop produces exquisitely crafted collectors' banjos handmade in the USA. The Custom Shop combines all the essential elements of classic Pre-War style banjos into one-of-a-kind instruments. Recording King's custom pr...
Exodus Reveal Cover Art for New Album, 'Blood In, Blood Out' (7/31/2014)
Legendary thrash metal band Exodus have revealed the art for their upcoming album, Blood In, Blood Out, which will be released in the fall via Nuclear Blast. The cover was illustrated by Swedish artist Par Olofsson, who also created the art for...
Art Garfunkel: the 10 records that changed my life (3/19/2014)
Read more about Art Garfunkel: the 10 records that changed my life at Recalling the