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Johnny Bush, songwriter who wrote Willie Nelson’s Whiskey River, Dead at 85



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

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

The cause of death was not announced by his manager, but the Houston Chronicle reports that the artist died of pneumonia.

Bush, who was a good friend of Nelson’s, was popular in his hometown of Houston, where the honky tone often performed for crowds. His website states that his next show is scheduled to take place at Lone Star State on November 8, but has been rescheduled for March 2021

due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Born Johnny Bush Shin III on February 17, 1935 in Houston, the singer was known to his audience as Johnny Bush because of the wave of the television speaker when he was 17, according to his website.

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

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

The entertainer started in the music industry thanks to Nelson, who helped him find 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 described him at the time as a “great singing talent.”

Bush wrote “Whiskey River” in 1972, which became a worldwide hit after its release by Nelson a year later on “Shotgun Willie”.

The singer, who played guitar, violin and drums, was also known for his national hits “Undo the Right” and “You Give Me a Mountain”. It is reported that the latter brought him the nickname “Country Caruso”.

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Bush’s singing career had been cut short by vocal problems that were identified as the result of a neurological disorder. This led him to receive vocal and speech therapy, according to Rolling Stone, and thanks to Botox injections in 2002, his thin-toned voice was restored.

In 2001, the National Council on Communication Disorders and the American Speech Association heard Bush with their Annie Glenn Award. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2003 with Chris Christopherson and Lefty Fritzel. Two years later, Broadcast Music, Inc. also awarded him the Million-Air Award for “Whiskey River”, reaching 1 million spins. Most recently, he was the first winner of the 2014 Founder of the Year Award.

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

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In 1968, Nelson discussed his relationship with Bush.

“I never seemed to hear of Johnny Bush one day, and the next day I always knew him,” Nelson wrote in 1968. “We are such good friends.”


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