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Johnny Bush, songwriter who wrote Willie Nelson’s ‘Whiskey River’, died at age 85



Johnny Bush, the country singer and songwriter best known for writing Willie Nelson’s hit “Whiskey River,” is dead. He was 85.

Bush’s manager confirmed his death to Rolling Stone, and his date of death was listed as Oct. 16 on his website.

One cause of death was unannounced by his manager, but the Houston Chronicle reported that the entertainer died of pneumonia.

Bush, who was a good friend of Nelson, was popular in his hometown of Houston, where the honky-tonk performer often performed for crowds. His website says his next show was scheduled to take place in Lone Star State on November 8, but had been rescheduled for March 2021

due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Born Johnny Bush Shinn III on February 17, 1935 in Houston, the artist was known to his audience as Johnny Bush due to a TV advertiser’s flub when he was 17, his website states.

Singer-songwriter Johnny Bush performs on stage during the 46th annual Willie Nelson July 4th Picnic at the Austin360 Amphitheater on July 4th, 2019 in Austin, Texas.  He died at the age of 85 on October 16, 2020.

Singer-songwriter Johnny Bush performs on stage during the 46th annual Willie Nelson July 4th Picnic at the Austin360 Amphitheater on July 4th, 2019 in Austin, Texas. He died at the age of 85 on October 16, 2020.
(Rick Kern / WireImage for Shock Ink)

The entertainer got his start in the music business thanks to Nelson, who helped him get a job as a drummer in Ray Price’s band. His debut single, “Sound of a Heartache”, was released in 1967 and received praise from Nelson, who at the time described him as a “great singing talent.”

Bush wrote “Whiskey River” in 1972, which became a global hit after Nelson’s release of it a year later on “Shotgun Willie.”

The performer, who played guitar, violin and drums, was also known for his national hits “Undo the Right” and “You Gave Me a Mountain.” The latter was allegedly nicknamed “Country Caruso”.

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Bush’s singing career was briefly stunted by vocal problems determined to be the result of a neurological disorder. This prompted him to receive vocal and speech therapy, according to Rolling Stone, and thanks to Botox injections in 2002, his signature honky-tonk voice was restored.

In 2001, the National Council of Communicative Disorders and the American Speech-Language-Hearing honored the Associated Bush with their Annie Glenn Award. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2003 with Kris Kristofferson and Lefty Frizzell. Two years later, Broadcast Music, Inc. awarded him also the Million-Air Award for “Whiskey River”, which reached 1 million spins. Most recently, he was the first recipient of the Ameripolitan Founder of the Year Award in 2014.

Tanya Tucker once called Bush one of Texas’ “best honky-tonk heroes” and had the opportunity to perform with Bush in her teens. The two performed “Big Big Love” together in honor of his 60th year in the business in Fort Worth, she said.

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In 1968, Nelson discussed his bond with Bush.

“It seemed like one day I had never heard of Johnny Bush, and then the next day I had always known him,” Nelson wrote in 1968. “We are such good friends.”


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