Saturday, October 17, 2020

"Whiskey River" Songwriter and Texas Country Music Hall of Famer Johnny Bush Passes Away at 85

K.F. Raizor, author of the website Raizor's Edge and the book We Can't Sing and We Ain't Funny: The World of Homer and Jethro is our guest writer today on That Nashville Sound. She's ever so gracious to provide wonderful tributes to honor those to whom the music we treasure just wouldn't be the same without. Thank you, K.F.

The brutality of 2020 continues.  The traditional country music world has lost a giant in Johnny Bush.

Bush, known as the "Country Caruso," died Friday (10/16) of pneumonia in a hospital in San Antonio.  He had been in and out of the hospital in recent months, battling pneumonia.  

Born John Bush Shinn III in Houston in 1935, a TV gig at age 17 got him a Musicians' Union card and his stage name: the announcer messed up his name, introducing him as "Johnny Bush," and his union card was already made out in that name. 

Bush joined Ray Price's band and made friends with the fledgling songwriting drummer, Willie Nelson.  They became lifelong friends. 

Bush's powerhouse voice made him popular in Texas (where he was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 2003), but with the changes in country music in the 60s with the "Nashville Sound" Bush found it difficult to break through on a national level. 

However, he did eventually break through, thanks to hits like "Undo the Right" and his 1972 hit "Whiskey River."  By then his pal Willie Nelson was becoming a superstar.  Nelson adopted "Whiskey River," which Bush co-wrote with Paul Stroud, as his concert theme song, opening and closing shows with it. 

In 1978 Bush's career faced a serious setback when he was diagnosed with spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological condition affecting the vocal cords.  Thanks to treatment and therapy, he regained his voice.

For most of the past five decades, his base was his home state, where he released albums on Heart of Texas Records and toured extensively.  He was given the "Founder of the Sound" award at the inaugural Ameripolitan Music Awards in 2014.

Bush was far from retired.  He had sold-out concerts scheduled well into 2021.

Farewell to the great Johnny Bush, who was 85.

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