Johnny Bush, the country singer-songwriter best known for writing Willie Nelson’s show staple “Whiskey River,” has died. He was 85.
The news was shared through Bush’s official Facebook page last Friday (October 16). According to the statement, the country singer died of complications from pneumonia. “He was 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,” it read.
See the statement in full below:
Bush, who was born John Bush Shinn III in Houston, Texas in February 1935, originally started out as a singer. He then moved onto drumming for bands like the Mission City Playboys, the Texas Top Hands and the Texas Plainsmen. In 1972, he signed with RCA Records and wrote the song “Whiskey River” with Paul Stroud, whom Bush described as “an old rodeo cowboy friend,” per the Washington Post.
But as soon as the honky-tonk tune started climbing the charts, Bush was diagnosed with spasmodic dysphonia, a disorder that affects vocal muscles. “The high notes—which in the past had come as easily and naturally to me as breathing—became raspy and strangled,” Bush wrote in his 2007 memoir. “It was as if my throat was being choked off. What I felt was fear.”
So he turned to his friend and former Mission City Playboys bandmate Willie Nelson to help him continue singing “Whiskey River,” which became a staple at the latter’s shows. Nelson continued to support Bush over the years and they released a duets album in 1982 titled Together Again.
With the help of therapy and treatment, Bush managed to record several other hits like “Green Snakes on the Ceiling” and “Undo the Right” before retiring. In 2003, Bush was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame.
RIP, Johnny Bush. Revisit his rendition of “Whiskey River” below: