INTERVIEW WITH STEPHEN MOUGIN FROM THE SAM BUSH BAND
INTERVIEW WITH STEPHEN MOUGIN FROM THE SAM BUSH BAND
by Sandi Millar
Enjoy this interview with Stephen Mougin from the Sam Bush Band! Thanks for reading.
SANDI: Are you a full time musician?
STEPHEN: Yes, as well as an Educator, Producer, Engineer, Label Owner, etc.
SANDI: What is the one thing or series of events that lead you to playing bluegrass full time?
STEPHEN: Networking and being prepared and adventurous when opportunities arose.
SANDI: How did you get started?
STEPHEN: At about 5 years old, when my Dad took an interest in guitar and started playing. I wanted to be just like him!
SANDI: Who was your Inspiration?
STEPHEN: Early on I was blessed to have some amazing mentors. I’m from a small town in Western Mass, where there wasn’t much Bluegrass to be had. In some neighboring hill towns were some great pickers and singers. Wayne Higgins was my first real Bluegrass guitar teacher at about 6 years old. Along with his mentor, banjoist Will Challet, they guided me down the rabbit holes of Bluegrass history and tunes. The Bear Bridge Band would always get me up on stage when they were playing gigs in the area and were tremendously supportive (even driving me to distant jam sessions).
SANDI: Who were your musical heroes?
STEPHEN: My first heroes were my mentors: Will Challet, Wayne Higgins, Dave Shaw, Robert and Lillian Fraker, and Tex Orlomoski. They turned me on to Flatt and Scruggs, Jimmy Martin, Doc Watson, The Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe, and then to more modern ensembles/players like Tony Rice, Sam Bush, Lonesome River Band, etc. I ate it all up and couldn’t get enough. There was a time that I could name players to every major band on the circuit, including bands they formerly played for… just like sports enthusiasts, I suppose.
I was incredibly fortunate to be able to see a TON of amazing Bluegrass artists as they trekked to the Northeast each summer.
SANDI: Other bands you played with?
STEPHEN: Thunder Mountain Bluegrass, Valerie Smith, Melonie Cannon, Randy Kohrs, Audie Blaylock, Jim Lauderdale, Nedski and Mojo, and (since 2006) Sam Bush.
SANDI: If you could have done anything but music what would you have done?
STEPHEN: I’m not sure. At one time, I thought I might be a Veterinarian. I ended up going to school for Vocal Music Education and began teaching as a public school choir director before I moved to Nashville in 2002.
SANDI: If you could play any stage that you haven’t played yet, What stage? Why?
STEPHEN: That’s tough. I guess Carnegie Hall because Lester and Earl (and Buck Owens) did! There are so many fantastic stages across the globe.
SANDI: Favorite stage you have played? Why?
STEPHEN: Telluride. The setting is magical. You can’t believe the scenery until you’ve been there. During my first T-ride in 2006, I’m certain that I didn’t even notice the audience for a couple of songs because I couldn’t stop looking at the mountains. Also, since this weekend is my 12th Telluride, it’s fun to catch up with pals, colleagues, and hear amazing performances by friends and heroes.
SANDI: What instruments, picks, strings, pickups, etc do you use?
STEPHEN: I’m nuts about Collings guitars. I have a CJ35SB and a D2HA-Varnish that I tour with, both equipped with Fishman Aura Ellipse pickups and strung with D’Addario Nickel Bronze (medium). For picks I prefer the Blue Chip Tad 60, tuning duties are handled with a Peterson Strobe Stomp Classic or the D’Addario/Planet Waves Micro Soundhole Tuner
SANDI: Favorite hobbies besides music?
STEPHEN: When I have any “free” time: Fishing, Photography, Cycling
SANDI: Any mentoring workshops, instructional camps, etc that you give and/or do you teach private or group lessons?
STEPHEN: I teach at camps around the country, depending on the year (Rockygrass Academy, Alabama Folk School, etc). I also do quite a bit of Band Coaching, where I meet with a group and work on all aspects of band interaction from rehearsal techniques, sound issues, material selection, songwriting, singing, harmony, stage plot, and anything else you can think of! It’s really fun and bands come away with a bunch of concepts to build on and tools to keep growing.
SANDI: Do you have any causes that you support?
STEPHEN: I’m a board member of the International Bluegrass Music Association and a big believer in the cause. From the Trust Fund to educational opportunities, there’s a lot of service to the Bluegrass community.
SANDI: What would you say to someone just starting their music career?
STEPHEN: Be yourself. Work harder than any of your peers. Take time to have conversations with folks in the industry (peers, heroes, beginners). Find a mentor (not too hard in Bluegrass, it’s a pretty helpful bunch of folks!). Be prepared for financial sacrifices (forget fancy cars, big houses, etc for a while). Try to find multiple revenue streams within or related to your particular talent. Be yourself. Work hard. REALLY hard.
Photo Credit Shelly Swanger
SANDI: Favorite thing about the Blue Ox Festival?
STEPHEN: Blue Ox is FUN! The crowd is very enthusiastic and lots of our pals are playing the fest as well… what’s not to like!?
SANDI: If you could change anything at Blue Ox what would it be?
Stephen: I think someone needs to make sure there are Cheese Curds available onsite!
SANDI: How long have you been with Sam Bush?
STEPHEN: Since March of 2006, so this is my 12th festival season with the band.
SANDI: How is it working with Sam?
STEPHEN: Well, I get to ride around with, co-write, record, and perform with one of my childhood heroes. It’s amazing. He is such a great person, it’s been fun to watch how he handles his bandleader duties. There’s no micro-managing or scolding for wrong notes or mis-played parts. He really trusts us to self-correct and play as a unit as well as offering us a LONG leash when it comes to soloing. The band is unbelievable tight at this point!
SANDI: Have you ever been interested in fronting a band?
STEPHEN: I’ve done it some with pickup gigs and such, and I’m half of the Nedski and Mojo duo. At this point in my life, I’m having so much fun playing with Sam and the band, I can’t see trying to do my own thing. It’s always a possibility for the future, though.
SANDI: Favorite thing about being on the road?
STEPHEN: Seeing new places/scenery and trying different kinds of food. Well, and pickin’!
SANDI: Least favorite thing about being on the road?
STEPHEN: Lots of time wasted on waiting for stuff to happen. Even though there’s a lot of downtime, it’s not easy to make good use of the available hours.
SANDI: What is your favorite thing about being a musician?
STEPHEN: The moments when the entire band is hyper-listening to each other and feeding ideas back and forth, creating something that none of us would have played without the others. Once you’ve experienced that, it’s quite addictive.
I also get a lot of joy out of “people watching” from stage. It’s a magical thing to see stresses and troubles wash away from their faces as they take part in the musical experience. We are lucky to get to do what we do, and I never take that for granted.
SANDI: What are your future plans as a musician?
STEPHEN: Try to keep getting better. Continue mentoring others, as many did for me. Seek new and musically scary opportunities during my off time!
For more information on Stephen Mougin visit:
For more information on The Sam Bush Band visit:
Interview Date: July 2017
Special thanks to Stephen Mougin from the Sam Bush Band for taking the time to do this interview. Hope to see you at Blue Ox again next year or “On the Road”!– Sandi Millar
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