Johnny Bush (February 17, 1935 – October 16, 2020) was a country music singer, songwriter, and drummer. Bush, nicknamed the “Country Caruso“, is best known for his distinctive voice and as the writer of “Whiskey River”, a top-10 hit for himself and Willie Nelson‘s signature song. He is still popular in his native Texas.
Biography and early career
Born John Bush Shinn III in the blue-collar neighborhood of Kashmere Gardens in Houston, Texas, Bush listened to the western swing music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys and the honky-tonk sounds of artists such as Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell, and Hank Thompson. Thanks to a disc jockey uncle, Bush got a taste for performance. In 1952, he moved to San Antonio, Texas, where he began solo career in area honky-tonks such as the Texas Star Inn, before switching to drums. During this period, he earned his stage name, when an announcer mistakenly introduced him as “Johnny Bush”. As a drummer, he worked for bands such as the Mission City Playboys, the Texas Plainsmen, and the Texas Top Hands.
In 1963, Bush joined Ray Price’s band, the Cherokee Cowboys, along with a young Willie Nelson and Darrell McCall. His association with Price led Bush to Nashville and a contract to sing for record demonstrations. He also played in Nelson’s band, the Record Men. With Nelson’s financial backing, Bush recorded his first album in 1967, The Sound of a Heartache.
Stardom and vocal problems
A series of regional hits on the Stop label, including “You Gave Me a Mountain” (penned by Marty Robbins), “Undo the Right”, “What A Way To Live”, and “I’ll Be There” soon followed. Rock critic Robert Christgau said that Bush’s version of “You Gave Me A Mountain” “brings a catch to the throat and a tear to the eye.” These songs did well in Bush’s native Texas, and reached the national top 20. In 1972, he was signed to RCA Records, whose Nashville division was headed by legendary guitarist Chet Atkins. His first RCA single, “Whiskey River”, was climbing the charts with airplay on countless radio stations when his voice began faltering. Bush even felt he was being punished by God for his sins. Bush has since said: “I thought because of my promiscuous behavior and bad choices and being raised as a Baptist, that it was a punishment from God.”
Bush lost half of his vocal range and was sometimes unable to talk. RCA dropped him in 1974 after three albums, he developed a drug habit, and was often stricken with performance anxiety when he was able to perform at all. After several misdiagnoses, doctors diagnosed the cause in 1978, when they discovered he had a rare neurological disorder called spasmodic dysphonia. Although this did not prevent him from recording, Bush’s career began to take a downturn. He worked with a vocal coach in 1985, and was able to regain 70% of his original voice.
Renaissance in Texas
In 1986, Bush teamed with Darrell McCall, recording a successful honky-tonk album Hot Texas Country, and began assembling a large country band (as did Willie Nelson), performing around South Texas. In 1994, the band released Time Changes Everything, the same year that RCA released a greatest-hits album. A major tour soon followed. In recent years, Bush has continued to tour regularly, often performing with Nelson.
Several albums on local Texas labels soon followed. His renewed visibility made him a mentor figure to younger Texas musicians who revered the honky-tonk/hardcore country sound that Bush has done so much to keep in the public eye. Austin musicians such as Dale Watson and Cornell Hurd sought him out to play on their albums. In 2003, he was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame with his lifelong friend Willie Nelson on hand to induct him. In 2007, he released his autobiography, with the aid of Rick Mitchell: Whiskey River (Take My Mind): The True Story of Texas Honky-Tonk, published by University of Texas Press. A new album, Kashmere Garden Mud: A Tribute to Houston’s Country Soul, was released on the Icehouse label at the same time.
With the success of his recent Botox treatments for his vocal condition, and his successful career revival, Bush was a spokesman for people afflicted with vocal disorders. In 2002, he was honored with the Annie Glenn Award, named for the wife of the John Glenn, by the National Council of Communicative Disorders for his work in bringing attention to the condition of spasmodic dysphonia.
In June 2017, Bush self-released The Absolute Johnny Bush, a full-length album of new recordings, including collaborations with Dale Watson and Reckless Kelly.
Bush died on October 16, 2020.
|1968||The Sound of a Heartache||38||Stop|
|Undo the Right||22|
|1969||You Gave Me a Mountain||29|
|The Best of Johnny Bush||35||Million|
|Here’s Johnny Bush||—||Starday|
|1973||Whiskey River/There Stands the Glass||38||RCA|
|Here Comes the World Again||—|
|Texas Dance Hall Girl||—|
|1979||Johnny Bush and the Bandoleros
Live at Dance Town, U.S.A.
|1982||Live from Texas||—||Delta|
|1994||Time Changes Everything||—||TCE|
|1998||Talk to My Heart||—||Watermelon|
|2000||Lost Highway Saloon||—||Texas Music|
|Sings Bob Wills||—|
|2006||Texas State of Mind||—|
|2007||Texas on a Saturday Night||—||Heart of Texas|
|Kashmere Gardens Mud||—||Icehouse|
|2017||The Absolute Johnny Bush||—||[Self-released]|
|US Country||CAN Country|
|1967||“You Oughta Hear Me Cry”||69||—||Sound of a Heartache|
|1968||“What a Way to Live“||29||—||Undo the Right|
|“Undo the Right”||10||—|
|1969||“Each Time”||16||—||You Gave Me a Mountain|
|“You Gave Me a Mountain“||7||—|
|“My Cup Runneth Over”||26||—||Bush Country|
|1970||“Jim, Jack, and Rose”||56||—|
|“I’ll Go to a Stranger”||flip||—|
|“Warmth of the Wine”||25||42||The Best|
|1972||“I’ll Be There”||17||—|
|“Whiskey River“||14||7||Whiskey River/There Stands the Glass|
|1973||“There Stands the Glass“||34||60|
|“Here Comes the World Again”||38||53||Here Comes the World|
|“Green Snakes on the Ceiling”||53||—|
|1974||“We’re Back in Love Again”||37||83||Greatest Hits|
|“From Tennessee to Texas”||flip||—|
|1977||“You’ll Never Leave Me Completely”||78||—||N/A|
|1978||“Put Me Out of My Memory”||99||—||Whiskey River|
|“She Just Made Me Love You More”||89||—||N/A|
|1979||“When My Conscience Hurts the Most”||83||—||Whiskey River|
|1981||“Whiskey River” (re-release)||92||—|
- ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g Shelburne, Craig. “Thanks to Botox, Johnny Bush Sings Again: Texas Artist Had a Hit With “Whiskey River,” Then Lost His Voice”. CMT News. Retrieved February 20, 2008.
- ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g “Johnny Bush: Biography”. Retrieved February 20, 2008.
- ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f Bogdanov, Vladimir; Chris Woodstra; Stephen Thomas Erlewine (2003). All Music Guide to Country: The Definitive Guide to Country Music. San Francisco: Backbeat Books. pp. 104–105. ISBN 0-87930-760-9.
- ^ Malone, Bill (2002). Country Music, U.S.A. Austin: University of Texas Press. pp. 290. ISBN 0-292-75262-8.
- ^ Jump up to:a b c d e Wolff, Kurt; Orla Duane (2000). Country Music: The Rough Guide. London: Rough Guides. pp. 346–347. ISBN 1-85828-534-8.
- ^ Christgau, Robert (1990). Rock Albums of the ’70s: A Critical Guide. New York: Da Capo Press. p. 68. ISBN 0-306-80409-3.
- ^ Johnny Bush, ‘Whiskey River’ Songwriter and Texas Country Singer, Dead at 85
- Bogdanov, Vladimir; Chris Woodstra; Stephen Thomas Erlewine (2003). All Music Guide to Country: The Definitive Guide to Country Music. San Francisco: Backbeat Books. pp. 104–105. ISBN 0-87930-760-9.
- Bush, Johnny; Rick Mitchell (2007). Whiskey River (Take My Mind): The True Story of Texas Honky-Tonk. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-79531-9.
- Christgau, Robert (1990). Rock Albums of the ’70s: A Critical Guide. New York: Da Capo Press. p. 68. ISBN 0-306-80409-3.
- Shelburne, Craig. “Thanks to Botox, Johnny Bush Sings Again: Texas Artist Had a Hit With “Whiskey River,” Then Lost His Voice”. CMT News. Retrieved February 20, 2008.
- Wolff, Kurt; Orla Duane (2000). Country Music: The Rough Guide. London: Rough Guides. pp. 346–347. ISBN 1-85828-534-8.
- “Johnny Bush: Biography”. Retrieved February 20, 2008.
- “Johnny Bush: Biography”. Lone Star Music. Retrieved February 23, 2008.
- “Johnny Bush”. CMT.com. Retrieved February 23, 2008.
- “Johnny Bush”. Allmusic. Retrieved February 23, 2008.