Pickin’ a Fight: Sam Bush Has Something On His Mind 

In a perfect world, one can easily imagine "Stop the Violence" becoming country radio's latest summer hit. It's the catchy new single by bluegrass/newgrass phenom Sam Bush, but don't worry, Nashville: It doesn't sound like bluegrass. Sure, there's an undercurrent of banjo chugging along throughout, but this song is pure Southern Rock, a funky throwdown of stop-start riffs overlayed with Allman Brothers-perfect twin leads of electric guitar and ... mandolin?

The single's hard-driving choogle is a bit out of character, even for this most adventurous of bluegrass virtuosos. Though Bush is known as one of the founders of progressive bluegrass, beginning with his 1970s groups Bluegrass Alliance and New Grass Revival, rarely has he taken his mandolin excursions so far afield. But for Bush, the song's rock sound conveyed the sense of urgency with which he and co-writer Jeff Black composed it.

"I don't really have other electric songs that I want to do at this time," Bush says. "But I wanted to say this. It just seemed to be the right time. We've been playing it for a year or two on stage, and I didn't know if we wanted to record it. But back in November, I turned on one of the morning news shows, and they had this sickening statistic: 'This was the worst mass shooting in 12 days.' In 12 days! And I thought, 'Wow, this is where we're at? This is our norm?' This can't roll off our backs. It just can't."

click to enlarge Sam Bush
  • Sam Bush

Indeed, the insistent chorus demands more than just an end to complacency, with the lyrics at times focused squarely on gun violence. "We wallow in the cause, strapped by the mark of Cain/Living in a barrel of cold blue steel/Who's going to save us now?" A seeming refutation of the "good guy with a gun" scenario much beloved by NRA spokespeople, the song exists more as a howl of pain in the face of gun violence's aftermath, without advocating any action in particular.

"This statement is not a political statement," Bush emphasizes. "Less violence shouldn't be a political issue. It's a humanity issue. We're just trying to create more dialogue, raise a little awareness."

It's much the same attitude with which he and Bluegrass Alliance appealed to younger progressive fans in the Vietnam era. "With New Grass, we've always been open to other thoughts," Bush says. "In 1971, when we sang the song, 'One Tin Soldier,' that was somewhat of a controversial idea for bluegrass people to embrace, even though it was a radio hit at the time. Every once in a while, you just have to say something."

Bush reports that the anthem goes over well with his audiences. Which bodes well for his upcoming show at the Germantown Performing Arts Center (GPAC), where he'll be playing back-to-back sets with the Travelin' McCourys. The Travelin' McCourys, for their part, are taking their version of bluegrass to a more political territory as well. The group's latest single, a somber, rootsy remake of the the 1967 Buffalo Springfield hit "For What It's Worth," is sure to be aired at GPAC as well, along with tracks from last year's eponymous album. Built with players from the Del McCoury Band, that bluegrass legend's backing group for many years, the brother team of Rob and Ronnie McCoury are now pursuing their own style. "Since the Travelin' McCourys got Cody Kilby on guitar, they've just become their own force," Bush notes. "Now they sound like their own group. Ronnie's one of my favorite mandolin players in the world, and I love him. Hey, if the name's McCoury, I love 'em."

Bush, a longtime collaborator with the younger McCourys and their father, is hoping the double bill has legs. "We're kinda hoping we can keep this package going, and this'll be the first one we're gonna play. And of course I like to have both bands play together at the end if we can. Some of it might be planned out and some of it we just might wanna leave to chance."

Who knows? They might even start a riot or two. Sam Bush at Germantown Performing Arts Center, Thursday, April 18th, at 7:30 p.m.

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment


The Latest

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Indie Memphis 2020: You Need To Relax

News Blog

Murders and Aggravated Assaults Rise as Burglaries Fall

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Indie Memphis 2020: A Rain Delay, Laura Dern, and Shiva Baby

News Blog

Change Was in the Cards for Memphis Tarot Readers

Politics Beat Blog

AG Barr, in Memphis, Touts Operation LeGend, Is Protested

News Blog

New Virus Cases Rise by 202


More by Alex Greene

© 1996-2020

Contemporary Media
65 Union, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation