Born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Bush was exposed to country and bluegrass music at an early age through his father Charlie's record collection, and later by the Flatt & Scruggs television show. Buying his first mandolin at the age of 11, his musical interest was further piqued when he attended the inaugural Roanoke, VA Bluegrass Festival in 1965. As a teen Bush took first place three times in the junior division of the National Oldtime Fiddler's Contest in Weiser, ID. He joined guitarist Wayne Stewart, his mentor and music teacher during Sam's teen years, and banjoist Alan Munde (later of Country Gazette) and the three recorded an instrumental album, Poor Richard's Almanac, in 1969. In the spring of 1970, Bush attended the Fiddlers Convention at Union Grove, NC, and was inspired by the rock-flavored progressive bluegrass of the New Deal String Band. Later that year, he moved to Louisville and joined the Bluegrass Alliance. In the fall of 1971, the band dissolved and reformed as the New Grass Revival.
The New Grass Revival went through numerous personnel changes, with Bush remaining as the sole original member. Bassist and vocalist John Cowan joined in 1974, with banjo ace Béla Fleck and acoustic guitarist Pat Flynn being enlisted in 1981. From 1979 through 1981, the group toured with Leon Russell, opening the shows and backing Russell during his headlining set.
Beginning in 1980, Bush and Cowan periodically jammed with the Nashville-based Duckbutter Blues Band, whose other members were blues guitarist Kenny Lee, drummer Jeff Jones, and bassist Byron House. Bush recorded his debut solo album, Late as Usual, four years later. In 1989, Bush and Fleck joined Mark O'Connor, Jerry Douglas, and Edgar Meyer in an all-star bluegrass band, Strength in Numbers, at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado. When the New Grass Revival dissolved in 1989, Bush joined Emmylou Harris' Nash Ramblers, touring and recording with Harris for the next five years.
In 1995, Bush worked as a sideman with Lyle Lovett and Bela Fleck's Flecktones. He formed his own band, featuring Cowan and ex-Nash Ramblers Jon Randall and Larry Atamanuick, shortly before recording his second solo album, Glamour & Grits, in 1996. He released his next album, Howlin' at the Moon, in 1998, with many of the same players and special guests, including Harris, Fleck and J. D. Crowe.
In the winter of 1997, Bush and the New Grass Revival reunited for an appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien as the backup band for Garth Brooks. On March 28, 1998, Bush's hometown of Bowling Green, KY, honored him with a special "Sam Bush Day" celebration.
Following Howlin' at the Moon in 1998, he released Ice Caps: Peaks of Telluride in 2000, which was a live recording. In 2004, Randall left Bush's band and Brad Davis (musician) took over harmony vocals and guitar duties.
In 2006, Bush released Laps in Seven. The release was significant because it marked the return of the banjo to Bush's recordings, played by Scott Vestal. The guitarist, Keith Sewell, performed on the recording, but shortly after took a job with the Dixie Chicks. Bush sought a new guitarist for his recordings and road band and found Stephen Mougin.
In 2007, Bush released his first live concert DVD, titled On The Road. 2007 also marked the first time he had been chosen to host the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards.
Bush contributed to two bluegrass tribute albums to the British Progressive Rock band The Moody Blues - 2004's Moody Bluegrass: A Nashville Tribute to the Moody Blues, and 2011's Moody Bluegrass TWO...Much Love. Bush provided the lead vocal for the Ray Thomas song "Nice To Be Here" on the latter album. Sam Bush hosted the 22nd annual International Bluegrass Music Association Awards September 29, 2011 held at Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium. He also hosted the 2007 IBMA Awards, held at the Grand Ole Opry House.
The Americana Music Association (AMA) presented Sam Bush with the Lifetime Achievement for Instrumentalist award at the 8th Annual Americana Honors & Awards ceremony, presented by the Gibson Foundation at Ryman Auditorium September 17, 2009.
The International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) has named Sam Bush Mandolin Player of the Year four times, in 1990, 1991, 1992, and 2007.
Sam Bush has been awarded a Grammy for . .
Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal with Emmylou Harris & Nash Ramblers on Emmylou Harris & the Nash Ramblers in 1992.
Best Pop Instrumental Performance with Béla Fleck & The Flecktones on The Sinister Minister in 1996.
Album of the Year with various artists such as Alison Krauss & Union Station, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Ralph Stanley, and Tim Blake Nelson for O Brother, Where Art Thou in 2001.
He was nominated in 2006 for Best Country Instrumental Performance with Jerry Douglas and Béla Fleck for Who's Your Uncle.
In March 2010, Legislation passed in Kentucky that officially named Bowling Green the "Birthplace of Newgrass" and Sam Bush the "Father of Newgrass." The Resolution, sponsored by Representative Jim DeCesare, passed the Kentucky Senate 37-0 on March 25. It passed the House on March 3, 99–0.
Sam Bush was the subject of the 2015 documentary Revival: The Sam Bush Story , which features commentary from Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Bela Fleck, David Grisman, Ricky Skaggs, and The Avett Brothers, among others. Directed by Wayne Franklin and Kris Wheeler, the film was shown at various independent film festivals throughout 2015.
As well as being an accomplished bluegrass vocalist, Bush also is an accomplished instrumentalist on mandolin and fiddle winning title of National Fiddle champion at fifteen years of age. He was a founding member of the New Grass Revival and has been called a modern day Bill Monroe, or as Sam would tell . .
Sam, affectionately "Sammy", or "Mr. Entertainment", also recalls meeting Mr. Monroe as a young teen. After demonstrating his mandolin technique Monroe offered the advice: "stick to the fiddle".
Sam is one of the main attractions at the annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Telluride, Colorado and plays the eight p.m. set on Saturday night as well as many guest appearances throughout the weekend. He is affectionately known as "The King of Telluride" for his perennial appearances there (and Emmylou Harris the "Queen of Telluride"). Sam did tour with Harris' band, The Nash Ramblers. Additional collaborations include recording and live performances with many virtuoso musicians and artists such as Doc Watson, Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, Ann Savoy, Tony Rice, Peter Rowan, Russ Barenberg, David Grisman, Mark O Connor, Edgar Meyer, and importantly; "Strength in Numbers", a band consisting of Bela Fleck, Tony Rice, Mark O Connor, Edgar Meyer, Jerry Douglas, and Sam Bush.
Strength in Numbers was a collaboration born from jam sessions at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. The music on their CD release entitled "The Telluride Sessions" was all instrumental and recorded live, showcasing the individual talent of each player and their ability to improvise. During recent years (2000–2008) there have been many variations of the Strength in Numbers band, also known as "Bluegrass Sessions", always including Jerry Douglas, (Dobro), and usually bassist Byron House, also from Bowling Green, KY. Other musicians include Gabe Witcher (fiddle), Brian Sutton (guitar), Tim O'Brien (fiddle, mandolin, guitar, vocals) and Darol Anger, (fiddle).
Sam Bush Band tours extensively, appearing at many small venues and large festivals such as the Strawberry Music Festival (Memorial Day and Labor Day), Rockygrass (late July), and every spring at the Americana Festival, Merlefest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Sam Bush is known as one of the liveliest performers at these festivals, and makes many guest appearances with the other artists.On the Road (2007) Sugar Hill ASIN: B000RHRG5S
Drive – Béla Fleck – Rounder Records 1988
The Telluride Sessions by supergroup Strength in Numbers – MCA 1989
Short Trip Home – Sony Classical 1999
(Edgar Meyer & Joshua Bell with Sam Bush and Mike Marshall)
Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza – Acoustic Disc 1999
(w/ David Grisman, Ronnie McCoury, Jesse McReynolds, Ricky Skaggs, others)
The Bluegrass Sessions – Béla Fleck – Warner Bros. 1999
Soulgrass – Bluegrass and Jazz Fusion 2005
Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino 2007, performing "Rising Sun" with Marc Broussard
New Grass Revival (1972) Hollywood
Fly Through the Country (1975) Flying Fish
When the Storm Is Over (1977) Flying Fish
Too Late to Turn Back Now (1977) Flying Fish ASIN: B000000ME2
Barren County (1979) Flying Fish ASIN: B000000MEL
Leon Russell & New Grass Revival (1981) Paradise
Commonwealth (1981) Flying Fish ASIN: B000000MGE
On the Boulevard (1984) Sugar Hill ASIN: B000000EZL
Live in Toulouse (1984) Sugar Hill ASIN: B000000F0O
New Grass Revival (1986) Capitol
Hold to a Dream (1988) Capitol
Friday Night in America (1989) Capitol
When the Storm Is Over/Fly Through the Country (1992) Flying Fish ASIN: B000000MDQ
Best of New Grass Revival (1994) Capitol ASIN: B000002TNY
Grass Roots: The Best of the New Grass Revival (2005) Capitol ASIN: B0009ML1RK