Sam Bush

Radio John: Songs Of John Hartford

One of the greatest bluegrass musicians, singer and multi-instrumentalist Sam Bush – playing mandolin, fiddle, acoustic guitar, electric bass, and banjo here – pushed the genre’s boundaries in the ’70s with the aptly dubbed New Grass Revival. The 71-year-old has played on countless sessions (from Leon Russell to Doc Watson to Heart), released a dozen solo albums, toured with Emmylou Harris and Lyle Lovett, and continually defied expectations of bluegrass and country music.

His longtime hero, friend, and collaborator, the late John Hartford, is a worthy subject for this heartfelt tribute, now available in a classy vinyl package. Best known for writing “Gentle On My Mind” and playing banjo on the The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, Hartford was also a steamboat captain, clog dancer (while playing fiddle), ’60s radio deejay as “Radio John,” and composer of offbeat, humorous ditties such as “Granny Wontcha Smoke Some Marijuana,” which Bush reprises here. The repertoire ranges from it to the poignant “I’m Still Here” to “John McLaughlin,” inspired by the guitarist’s Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Handling all instruments on nearly every song as one supports or weaves in and around another, Bush’s uncanny self-interplay is something to behold.

This article originally appeared in VG’s August 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.