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Johnny Bush

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Johnny Bush
Bush at the 2007 Texas Book Festival
Bush at the 2007 Texas Book Festival
Background information
Birth nameJohn Bush Shinn III
Also known asThe Country Caruso
Born(1935-02-17)February 17, 1935
Houston, Texas, U.S.
DiedOctober 16, 2020(2020-10-16) (aged 85)
San Antonio, Texas, U.S.
GenresCountry, honky-tonk, western swing
Occupation(s)Musician, songwriter
Instrument(s)Guitar, drums, fiddle
Years active1952–2020

John Bush Shinn III (February 17, 1935 – October 16, 2020) was an American country music singer, songwriter, and musician. Nicknamed the "Country Caruso", Bush was best known for his distinctive voice and for writing the song "Whiskey River", a top 10 hit for himself which also became the signature song of fellow country artist Willie Nelson. He was especially popular in his native Texas.[1]

Early life[edit]

Bush was born John Bush Shinn III in the Kashmere Gardens neighborhood of Houston.[2] He 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.[3] His uncle, the host of a local radio program on KTHT, urged Bush and his brother to play on air, giving Bush his first experience of performing in public.[2] Bush subsequently moved to San Antonio in 1952, beginning a 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.[3]


Early years[edit]

Bush joined Ray Price's band, the Cherokee Cowboys, in 1963 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.[1][3][4][5]

Stardom and vocal problems[edit]

A series of regional hits on the Stop label, including "You Gave Me a Mountain" (penned by Marty Robbins), "Undo the Right" (penned by Willie Nelson and Hank Cochran), "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."[1][3][4][6][7]

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.[1][3][4][6]

Later years[edit]

Bush teamed with Darrell McCall in 1986, 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.[1][3][4][6]

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.[1][3][4][6]

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 from the National Council of Communicative Disorders for Bush's work in bringing attention to the condition of spasmodic dysphonia.[1][3][4][6] Bush self-released The Absolute Johnny Bush, a full-length album of new recordings, in June 2017. It included collaborations with Dale Watson and Reckless Kelly.[8]

Bush died at a hospital in San Antonio on October 16, 2020.[9][10] He was 85, and suffered from pneumonia in the time leading up to his death.[11]



Year Album US Country[12] Label
1968 The Sound of a Heartache 38 Stop
Undo the Right 22
1969 You Gave Me a Mountain 29
1970 Johnny Bush
1972 Bush Country
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.
Whiskey River
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
2001 Green Snakes
2004 Honkytonic BGM
2006 Texas State of Mind
Devil's Disciple
2007 Texas on a Saturday Night Heart of Texas
Kashmere Gardens Mud Icehouse
2013 Reflections Heart of Texas
2017 The Absolute Johnny Bush [Self-released]

Source: AllMusic[13]


Year Single Chart Positions Album
US Country[14] CAN Country[15]
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
"My Joy" 44
1971 "City Lights" 53
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"[16] 38 53 Here Comes the World
"Green Snakes on the Ceiling" 53
1974 "We're Back in Love Again"[17] 37 83 Greatest Hits
"Toy Telephone"[18] 48
"From Tennessee to Texas"[18] flip
1977 "You'll Never Leave Me Completely" 78
1978 "Put Me Out of My Memory" 99 Whiskey River
"She Just Made Me Love You More" 89
1979 "When My Conscience Hurts the Most" 83 Whiskey River
1981 "Whiskey River" (re-release) 92

Source: AllMusic,[19] unless otherwise stated.


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ a b "Texas Country Music Hall of Fame member Johnny Bush dead at 85". KTRK-TV. October 17, 2020. Retrieved October 17, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Johnny Bush: Biography". Retrieved February 20, 2008.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Malone, Bill (2002). Country Music, U.S.A. Austin: University of Texas Press. pp. 290. ISBN 0-292-75262-8.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Christgau, Robert (1990). Rock Albums of the '70s: A Critical Guide. New York: Da Capo Press. p. 68. ISBN 0-306-80409-3.
  8. ^ Hoover, Carl (November 14, 2018). "Johnny Bush finds enduring interest in traditional country". Waco Tribune-Herald. Retrieved October 17, 2020.
  9. ^ Hudak, Joseph (October 16, 2020). "Johnny Bush, 'Whiskey River' Songwriter and Texas Country Singer, Dead at 85". Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 17, 2020.
  10. ^ Harrison Smith (October 18, 2020). "Johnny Bush, country singer whose 'Whiskey River' became a Willie Nelson staple, dies at 85". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 7, 2021.
  11. ^ Dansby, Andrew (October 16, 2020). "Country legend and 'Whiskey River' writer Johnny Bush dies". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved October 17, 2020.
  12. ^ "Top Country Albums". Billboard. January 2, 2013. Retrieved October 17, 2020.
  13. ^ "Johnny Bush – Album Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved October 17, 2020.
  14. ^ "Hot Country Songs". Billboard. January 2, 2013. Retrieved October 17, 2020.
  15. ^ "Results: RPM Weekly – Johnny Bush". Library and Archives Canada. Government of Canada. Retrieved October 17, 2020.
  16. ^ Albert & Hoffmann 1984, p. 472.
  17. ^ Albert & Hoffmann 1984, p. 557.
  18. ^ a b Whitburn 2002, p. 51.
  19. ^ "Johnny Bush – Song Highlights". AllMusic. Retrieved October 17, 2020.



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