NASHVILLE-There is only one Sam Bush, a son of Kentucky who found a light of inspiration from Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys and caught fire from Bob Marley and The Wailers. A self-described progressive hippie, Bush’s full story, Revival: The Sam Bush Story, just released digitally via Amazon, chronicles the life and career of the newgrass-creator, a musical iconoclast. Since its debut at the Nashville Film Festival in 2015, where it won the award for Best Music Documentary, the production continues to earn more awards.
The film opens with a poignant interview with Chris Thile commenting on the early pressure by bluegrass traditionalists who looked at him as the next Bill Monroe which Bush had the courage to say “No, I’m going to be the first Sam Bush.” In the film, noted musicians – from Alison Krauss to John Oates, from the Avett Brothers to Thile – say many of today’s biggest acts in bluegrass, newgrass, Americana and the jam-band scene owe huge a debt of gratitude to Bush.
A Bowling Green, Kentucky native, Bush began as a teen fiddler, a three-time national champion in the junior division of the National Oldtime Fiddler's Contest. In the spring of 1970 Bush attended the Fiddlers Convention and was introduced to rock-inspired progressive bluegrass, a game changer for him.
Bush recalls when Roy Acuff offered him a spot in his band, he politely turned it down. He had discovered electrified alternatives to tradition in the Osborne Brothers and manifest destiny in The Dillards.
Bush became well-known as a member of New Grass Revival playing bluegrass fests slotted in late-night sets for the “long-hairs and hippies.” The group garnered the attention of Leon Russell who hired New Grass as his supporting act on a massive tour that put the band in front of tens of thousands. The group issued five albums in their first seven years, and in 1979 became Russell’s backing band.
A three-record contract with Capitol Records and a conscious turn to the country market took the Revival to new commercial heights. Bush survived a life-threatening bout with cancer, while their celebrated chart-climbing singles earned Grammy nominations. At their zenith, the group called it quits.
Bush worked with Emmylou Harris’ Nash Ramblers followed by a stint with Lyle Lovett earning multiple awards. In 1995 he united with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, reigniting his penchant for improvisation. After a quarter-century of making music with New Grass Revival and collaborating with other bands, Sam Bush went solo.
“I am free to try anything,” says Bush. “Looking back at the last 50 years of playing newgrass, with the elements of jazz improvisation and rock-&-roll, jamming, playing with New Grass Revival, Leon, and Emmylou; it’s a culmination of all of that.”
The film is indeed a culmination of “all of that.”
Revival: The Sam Bush Story can be rented or purchased digitally via Amazon, with more networks to add the film in the coming year.