Striking a chord
It’s good to be king.
Sam Bush – singer, songwriter and mandolin/fiddle legend – knows how good it is. He returns to the valley with his band for a second performance at the Vilar Center Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
“Everyone should be king or queen of their world,” said the musician, laughing.
At the very least, he’s the one wearing the crown on his latest album, “King of My World.” The record is an 11-track adventure through Bush’s realm, which might be why its release date, Apr. 13, coincides with his birthday. From fiddle tunes to bluesy moods to countrified sprees, Bush and his well tuned band dish out a taste of everything while still making it a cohesive journey.
“We had worked some of these tunes up on the road,” he said. “The goal was to have the fun cutting them come through. It was a joy, everything fell together really easily, and we just wanted the fun to shine through.”
There’s nothing morose or somber about the album, though at times the fiddle can raise the hair on the back of your neck. Every song is an invitation.
Bush became enamored with the mandolin as a kid, listening to his father’s fiddling records in Bowling Green, Kent.
“It’s a totally unique sound,” he explained. “Excuse the pun, but it struck a chord in me.”
By age 11, he’d managed to become proficient on both the mandolin and the fiddle. As the type of live music experience he was seeking was limited in Bowling Green, he began venturing across state lines.
He and bandmate Byron House, a fellow Bowling Green native, have been together for years. A few years apart in school, they both played the same upright bass in their high school’s band. House now plays electric and acoustic bass for the Sam Bush Band, while Brad Davis tears it up on his guitar. Chris Brown keeps the beat on the drums – and creates a few, too.
“Brad came to us when John Randall left,” said Bush. “We couldn’t have found a better person. And Chris Brown and his drums of renown – everybody said I had to meet this guy. So I did.”
Watching the whirling dervish that is Bush on stage, it’s easy to see he still loves what he does. He can make his guitar sound mountain-timey, or like an electric guitar. He’s influenced as much by the pick-centric mandolin of Bill Monroe as the rhythmic guitar of Bob Marley.
Colorado embraced him early on, when his touring band, New Grass Revival, became the first national act featured at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Back in the day, newgrass was about as controversial as it got. He was soon known as a rebel.
“When we first got going, bluegrass traditionalists would say, ‘That ain’t bluegrass,’ and we’d say, ‘We know.’ At first we ruffled a few feathers, just trying to make our own way.”
But the wide-open musical format that Telluride offers meant anyone staying true to their sound, if not a particular genre, would be asked back again and again.
“I never dreamed that newgrass would become a term for a whole style,” said the musician. “We had that in our band name, but there were other bands that really helped define what that was, too.”
Bush has gone on to play the festival for the past 26 years – not a bad record for a 27-year-old event.
“They make that festival look really easy from an audience standpoint,” said Bush about Planet Bluegrass, Telluride’s producers. “People don’t realize how much work goes into that thing.”
Though terminology can become a bit of a sticking point, Bush doesn’t mind the descriptions – newgrass, bluegrass, rock.
“All you can say is whether you like that music or not,” he said. “But on the other hand, it helps music stores know where to put your record.”
“Come on out because this band is full of positive energy,” promised the musician.