SPOTLIGHT: Towering Memories Inspire Sam Bush’s Version of John Hartford’s ‘In Tall Buildings’ [VIDEO]
The Sam Bush Band (photo by Jeff Fasano)
EDITOR’S NOTE: Sam Bush is No Depression’s Spotlight artist for November 2022. Learn more about him and his new album, Radio John: Songs of John Hartford, in our Spotlight interview.
When Sam Bush set about selecting songs for his tribute to his friend John Hartford, he went mostly by feel, choosing songs that had moved him in some way through the years.
“In Tall Buildings,” Hartford’s beautiful but heartbreaking ode to all that’s lost as childhood gives way to adulthood and the responsibilities and expectations that come with it, reminds Bush of his own youth. Back then, tall buildings signaled that the family car was getting close to bigger cities they’d occasionally visit.
“I grew up on the farm outside Bowling Green, Kentucky,” Bush explains. “Bowling Green’s a small college town, so we’d come down to Nashville. I remember when you would come down, south from Kentucky, the first time you came in view of Nashville, the tall buildings. Or driving up to Louisville, Kentucky … same way, the tall buildings.”
Later in life, tall buildings were places Bush had to visit to sign contracts or take meetings — but they were only a small part of his career, not the prison for the bulk of it that Hartford depicts in the song. But Bush can understand the power of “In Tall Buildings” to people wondering what they’ve lost even as they gain things that society deems important.
“I think for many people, the song ‘In Tall Buildings’ just conjures up feelings for you. And that’s kind of how I feel about all these songs, is that they all make me feel something,” Bush says.
Bush handled most of the vocals and instruments on Radio John: Songs of John Hartford himself, including on the album recording of “In Tall Buildings.” But recently he convened the rest of the Sam Bush Band for a video of the song, bringing it to full power and full circle too: Bush played mandolin on a version of the song Hartford re-recorded for his 1976 Nobody Knows What You Do album on Flying Fish Records.
Sam Bush’s Radio John: Songs of John Hartford is out now via Smithsonian Folkways.