Johnny Bush, ‘Whiskey River’ Songwriter, Dead at 85

by Evan Reier

The writer of one of Willie Nelson‘s greatest songs, Johnny Bush, as well as songwriter for many more country artists, is gone.

Johnny Bush passed away at the age of 85 this week, with the long-time songwriter’s manager confirming the news to Rolling Stone.

Bush is most known for ‘Whiskey River,’ one of Willie Nelson‘s biggest successes and iconic show-opening song. Bush first recorded the track in 1972. Nelson put his version on his 1973 album Shotgun Willie and the rest is history.

Even now (or at least whenever Nelson does a live show next,) Nelson opens his concert with the Bush-written hit. The mutual friendship between the two has an interesting background besides the hit single: Nelson funded Bush’s debut single.

Nelson Gets Johnny Bush Started

In 1967, Bush recorded “Sounds of a Heartache,” but the song may not have ever gotten off the ground without Nelson dropping the cash. Further, Nelson put an endorsement on the follow-up album of the same name.

“Johnny Bush is a great singing talent,” Nelson said. “As you will discover after hearing his first album Sound of a Heartache.”

Further, Nelson and Bush’s friendship remained consistent for the entirety of their careers and Bush’s life. Nelson’s words from 1968 might best express that.

“It seemed that one day I had never heard of Johnny Bush and then on the next day I had always known him. We’re that good of friends.”

That being said, Bush’s career spans decades and includes an array of musical successes. With Nelson, he earned another hit with “What a Way to Live.” He also earned a personal Top 40 hit for his release of “There Stands the Glass.” It was his only personally recorded song to crack into the Top 40.

Bush passed away in his home state of Texas. He spent most of his life in the Lone Star State after being born in Houston in 1935.