Music

'Whiskey River' Songwriter and Texas Music Legend Johnny Bush Dead at 85

Screengrab via YouTube

Johnny Bush, the 85-year-old Texas music legend best known as the songwriter of Willie Nelson hit "Whiskey River," passed away on Friday, Oct. 16.

"It is with heavy heart that I make this post," began a statement on Bush's official Facebook page. "Texas Country Music Hall of Fame (member), Country Music legend, nicknamed the Country Caruso, a friend to everyone in the music business, a friend to all of his fans, Johnny Bush passed away this afternoon surrounded by his family and some of his closest friends. Please keep the Bush family in your heart and prayers. A jewel of a man we have lost."

Born John Bush Shinn III on Feb. 17, 1935, the Houston native grew up on a steady diet of Bob Wills' Western swing and Lefty Frizzell's honky tonk music. After breaking in as a performer in the San Antonio music scene, Bush caught his first big break when he joined Ray Price's backing band the Cherokee Cowboys, which featured a young bass player named Willie Nelson.

Bush went on to play in Nelson's band The Record Men before landing his own recording deal with Pete Drake's Nashville-based Stop Records.

As a Stop recording artist, Bush cut an amazing 1969 version of "You Gave Me a Mountain" that cracked the Top 10. Other highlights from Bush's time with Stop include the songs "Undo the Right", "What A Way To Live" and "I'll Be There." Stop also issued his first album, The Sound of a Heartache.

By 1973, Bush made it to the RCA Records roster. However, as his Chet Atkins-produced version of "Whiskey River" climbed the charts, Bush began losing his vocal range. What Bush feared was God's punishment for reckless living turned out to be a rare neurological disorder called spasmodic dysphonia. Although this diagnosis did not prevent him from recording, Bush's career took a downturn.

Bush's limited time with RCA brought the singles "Whiskey River/ There Stands the Glass," "Here Comes the World Again" and "Texas Dance Hall Girl."

By the mid-'80s, vocal lessons and Botox treatments changed Bush's fortune and helped him regain some of his vocal range. The first fruits of Bush's comeback include Hot Texas Country, a collaborative 1986 album featuring fellow Lonestar state product Darrell McCall.

Read More: Jimmy Capps, Legendary Country Guitarist, Dies at Age 81

Touring with Nelson and others followed, as did chances to collaborate with the likes of Dale Watson, Reckless Kelly and Mike & the Moonpies.

Since 2000, Bush had released the albums Lost Highway Saloon, Sings Bob Wills, Green Snakes, Honkytonic, Texas State of Mind, Devil's Disciple, Texas on a Saturday Night, Heart of Texas, Kashmere Gardens Mud and The Absolute Johnny Bush.

The country legend shared his life story with 2007's Whiskey River (Take My Mind): The True Story of Texas Honky-Tonk, a University of Texas release with a forward by Nelson.

Now Watch: Singer-Songwriter John Prine's Best Songs Though the Years

recommended for you

'Whiskey River' Songwriter and Texas Music Legend Johnny Bush Dead at 85