Sam Bush Announces New Album ‘Radio John: Songs Of John Hartford’ & Shares Single

Listen to Sam on the Hartford classic "In Tall Buildings."

By Nate Todd Sep 20, 2022 2:10 pm PDT

Sam Bush detailed a new album, Radio John: Songs Of John Hartford, due out on November 11 via Smithsonian Folkways. Bush previewed the tribute record with the Hartford classic, “In Tall Buildings.”

Radio John: Songs Of John Hartford is Bush’s first studio album since 2016’s Storyman as well as his first with Smithsonian Folkways. Bush and Hartford were longtime friends and collaborators up until John’s death in 2001. Both bluegrass innovators, John reimagined the genre a bit earlier than Sam. Bush’s first Hartford experience came when he saw John playing three-finger banjo on The Wilburn Brothers Show on a Saturday afternoon in 1967. As a senior in high school two years later, Sam had the chance to see Hartford perform for the first time in Bush’s native Bowling Green, Kentucky, as he recounted in the liner notes for Radio John.

“I was in the high school marching band my senior year,” Bush recalled. “We did our rainy football halftime performance and I hightailed it to E.A. Diddle Arena in my muddy band uniform in time for his show.”

A few years later and Bush’s band New Grass Revival was opening for Hartford, with Sam often joining John onstage to perform songs from Hartford’s groundbreaking 1971 album Aereo-Plane and more. John and Sam continued to collaborate up until Hartford’s passing in 2001.

Decades later, Bush went on a pre-pandemic vacation to the Flordia panhandle with his wife where the idea for a tribute to his friend and mentor took shape. With an array of instruments, Sam began revisiting Hartford tunes and intended to record demos for his band, but “in true Sam style, lack of engineering skills and patience, I was having a rough time overdubbing by myself,” Bush joked.

Mentioning his struggle to his friend Donnie Sundal — co-owner of Neptone Recording Studio in Destin, Florida — Sundal showed up where Sam was vacationing with all the necessary gear. “In no time, we were laying down tracks (and he engineered),” Bush wrote. “Only then did I realize this could be a true solo endeavor of my love affair with John Hartford’s music.” Rick Wheeler also provided additional engineering.

Radio John: Songs Of John Hartford is a true solo endeavor, with Sam playing all the instruments — acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo, electric bass, fiddle — on the LP save for the lone original and album finale, “Radio John,” which features a full band. The rest of the record is all Sam on what he calls “my love letter to John Hartford’s music that I hold so dear.” That music includes “A Simple Thing as Love,” “Granny Wontcha Smoke Some Marijuana,” “John McLaughlin” and the aforementioned “In Tall Buildings.”

Listen to Sam Bush on “In Tall Buildings” below:

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Radio John: Songs Of John Hartford Tracklist:

  1. California Earthquake
  2. Down
  3. In Tall Buildings
  4. A Simple Things As Love
  5. John McLaughlin
  6. Morning Bugle
  7. No End Of Love
  8. Granny Wontcha Smoke Some Marijuana
  9. I’m Still Here
  10. Radio John
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