By Kathy Foster-Patton
As Sam Bush awaited the release of his latest
album, Laps In Seven, he took the
time to talk about his mandolin named "Hoss," the many musicians who
have influenced him over the years, his new record and how it compares to some of his earlier music.
"It was time to try something different," Bush explained. "I tend to get really locked into the way the band sounds,
and I love the sound of our band. That's really about the most joyful experience I ever have is just playing with this
group. They are so good, but sonically, we were looking for a different thing. Even the subject matter of sounds —
my last record, every song was sort of a positive, kind of a rosy song. But this time, there were things going on — I
was part of writing some of these songs, and I just wanted to simply try for some different things that actually
brought us some joyful experiences in the studio."
Fans need not listen any further than the first song on Bush's new album to hear the type of sonic joy the famed
mandolinist had hoped for.
"For years, I've wanted to do a duet with my old boss, Emmylou Harris. Hey! There's a new thought — do a duet with Emmylou! At any rate, the
result was this one song we both really like a lot by Buddy and Julie Miller called 'The River's Gonna Run.'"
Another milestone for Bush on the new album was getting the opportunity to record with legendary violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, a
collaboration initiated at the Telluride
Bluegrass Festival last year.
"One of the big thrills for me on this record was to do 'New Country' with Jean-Luc Ponty and for him to
play on it with us," Bush said. "He's my jazz, rock, and violin hero of all time, and we played together last year in
Telluride. That led to the possibility of getting this tune recorded, and he was very gracious in his time to work it in
somehow. We actually did that song in a way that I've never been part of — we recorded the track here in Nashville
and then we sent the information to Jean-Luc in Paris. He put his track on it in his own studio and basically e-
mailed it back to us. It was a pretty amazing process to go through."
Bush's regular touring band - bassist Byron House, drummer Chris Brown, Scott Vestal
on banjo, and Keith Sewell on lead guitar - plays on nearly all of Laps In Seven, save for a few
tracks where Bush's multi-instrumentalist leanings found him handling guitar duties himself.
"I didn't really play any of the bluegrass lead guitar — that was done by Keith Sewell," Bush said. "I tried Buddy Miller on a song, but then I ended up just
playing it myself on four or five tunes. I knew exactly what I wanted. I played the guitar on 'Ballad for a Soldier,'
'The Dolphin Dance,' and 'Laps of Seven' — and 'White Bird.' I've always loved that song — loved it since the 60's.
Andrea Zonn and I sang it as a duet and she played violin and viola and I played the fiddle. Because we
did our fiddle playing at the same time, it threw me into a little bit different area — really more like a violin player
than I had ever done before. We wanted to do the vocals pretty close to the original — we both studied up on it. It
was a joy. It was so fun to us, getting to record a new version of that old tune."
Bush almost jumps out of his chair when asked about the biggest influences upon his music. "You got a long list!
You know for different things, I'm influenced by a lot of great musicians. For instance, on the mandolin, I'm
influenced mostly, of course, by Bill Monroe, and then the other greatest influence would have been
Jethro Burns. Jethro was half of the comedy team from the 40's, 50's, and 60's called 'Homer and Jethro.'
Jethro was this incredible mandolin player, and of course Homer and Jethro were a comedy team and so a lot of
people didn't know they could actually play their instruments because they'd mess up on purpose as part of their
comedy. Jethro was just an incredible jazz-style mandolin player. So both Lynn (Bush's wife) and I got to know him
real well. He died back in the late 80's. On the album cover, you'll see that I'm holding this pretty red, round-hole
mandolin. That was actually Jethro's mandolin, and I played it a little bit on this record. I'm proud to own it, and it's
really a unique instrument."
Bill Monroe By Bill Smith