Perfect Pair

Linda Ronstadt and Sam Bush perform together at two local concerts.

Linda Ronstadt has a reputation for wanting things perfect: Even her press bio admits it. That doesn't daunt Sam Bush, one of Nashville's finest mandolin and fiddle players.

Asked about Ronstadt's perfectionism, Bush admitted, "I've also suffered from that same kind of reputation."

"Yes, he does," Ronstadt agreed, hearing the story later. Then she laughed, "The difference between his perfectionism and mine is that his is effortless."

Ronstadt will be Sam Bush's guest for two concerts at the Berger Center, June 12 and 13. The two played here one time before, Bush backing Ronstadt at her famed Mother's Day benefit concerts in 1999. They will perform with the Sam Bush Band, including Jon Randall Stewart on guitar, Bryon House on bass and Chris White on drums.

"We're all at the age where we work with people we trust and we know they're going to produce," according to Bush. "She knows we're serious about music, but we're always going to have a good time with it. Sure, she's a perfectionist. That's one of the reasons we're going to be there."

Bush, one of the founders of the New Grass Revival, met Ronstadt through Emmylou Harris. Bush joined Harris' Nash Ramblers in the early '90s after NGR broke up.

The Tucson concerts are in preparation for performances at the 28th Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival in June. Bush, a legend at the Telluride Festival where he has performed every year except the first, will be joined this year by Ronstadt. The festival will also reunite Ronstadt and Harris for a performance, backed by Bush's band with Harris compatriots Buddy and Julie Miller.

"Buddy and Julie are just fabulous," Ronstadt enthused. "He's one of my favorite American guitar players ever, ever, ever. They just sing so beautifully with Emmy that it makes you want to weep."

Bush and company rehearsed for several days in March at Ronstadt's home in Tucson. At press time, the song lists were still under discussion.

"We may do some of the things I recorded with the Trio and maybe a Little Feat song," Ronstadt said. "One of the great things about Sam is he really understands (Little Feat founder) Lowell George. I've had rock and roll bands that just couldn't decipher him at all and for Sam it's nothing."

Bush vowed, "Whatever she wants to do, that's what we're gonna do. We're going just have fun and be as accommodating as possible. We're interested in playing some different stuff with Linda. The hardest part is what songs you're not going to do."

Ronstadt added, "I've been very irreverent about any old arrangements. We just do them however we like to do them. In years past, I've always made an effort to make sure my arrangements sounded exactly like the record, but I don't care about that anymore. Whatever song I still like to sing, I'm really happy to put it back together again with different instrumentation and see what we find in it."

Bush was set to play on Ronstadt's Trio II album with Harris and Dolly Parton, but broke his arm and was replaced for the session by his friend, David Grisman. Bush hopes to finally finish a duet album with Grisman this year. They'll also play a short set at Telluride, in what Bush calls their Sam and Dave show, "Hold On, I'm Strumming."

"I met him in 1965 at the Roanoke Bluegrass Festival," Bush recalled. "To this day, it's one of the highlights of my life. He's my big brother on the mandolin."

Their collaboration album has been in the works for more than two decades.

"It got to where we were talking about four times a year," Bush admitted. "So I went out to his place in March of last year and we had a ball. We're about three-quarters done with the album now."

For her part, performing and recording plays a reduced role in the life of Linda Ronstadt these days.

"It seems like another world sometimes. I just don't do that, so I can hardly remember what it was," she confessed. "Not that I didn't like it; I did. But it's not on my mind right now. I'm basically semi-retired, because I'm a mother full-time and I raise children and I don't want to travel anymore. I have the luxury of doing what I please. I've been doing some Mexican music and playing with another band that plays standards, Nelson Riddle stuff. Mostly, I raise children."

Their upcoming collaboration, however, has both Ronstadt and Bush talking in superlatives.

"Getting to sit just a couple of feet away when Linda is singing and hearing her acoustic voice without a PA or on a record, it's majestic," Bush said. "It's absolutely stunning. It's the voice many of us fell in love with years ago. It is a compliment when you get to play with one of your heroes. It's a treat to harmonize with her."

Ronstadt is no less enthusiastic. "I've never met a finer musician," she stated. "I've played with a handful of musicians who are as good, but there's nobody better than Sam Bush. He's just as good a musician as you're going find in the world. He's got a completely unique way of playing, but he also understands rhythms and how to lay back. It's always an adventure to play with Sam. He's like a blood infusion."