Johnny Bush Shinn III was born on Feb. 17, 1935, in Houston. At age 17, he became known as Johnny Bush because of a television announcer’s mix-up. The next day, he went to get his musician’s union card and it was already typed up – Johnny Bush, take it or leave it. He took it and ran.
Bush’s association with [Ray] Price opened doors in Nashville, and he got a job singing demo records for a big-league song publisher. Meanwhile, he played drums in Nelson’s new band, The Record Men, and tried to land a record deal. But label executives thought he sounded too much like Price. So Nelson, primarily known as a songwriter in the 1960s with such songs as Price’s “Night Life,” funded Bush’s first single recording, “Sound of a Heartache,” the title track of his debut album in 1967.
By 1972, Bush’s career was arching up into national prominence thanks to RCA Records, whose Nashville division was headed by the legendary Chet Atkins. Bush’s amazing vocals that soared to operatic levels with a honky-tonk beat led one music critic to dub him the “Country Caruso.”
“Whiskey River,” Bush’s first RCA single, was churning up the charts with airplay across the nation. He was selling out big clubs and was looking forward to a hard-charging tour to support the single.
Finally, in 1978, a correct diagnosis was made. He had spasmodic dysphonia, a rare neurological disorder that affects the signal between the brain and the larynx that essentially shuts down the muscles surrounding the vocal cords.
While tremendously relieved to discover the cause, Bush still faced an uncertain future. There were only experimental treatments available at that time.
In 1985, with the help of innovative voice exercises developed by speech therapist Gary Catona, Bush regenerated a large part of his singing range and improved his everyday speech skills. It sparked the first steps of an incredible renaissance of his career.
In 2002, a new treatment involving Botox injections into the muscles surrounding the vocal cords allowed Bush to reclaim his speaking voice and his “Country Caruso” range.
Since the turn of the millennium, Bush has released a dozen studio albums – “Lost Highway Saloon,” “Johnny Bush Sings Bob Wills,” “Green Snakes,” “Honkytonic,” “Texas State of Mind,” “Devil’s Disciple,” “Texas on a Saturday Night,” “Kashmere Gardens Mud: A Tribute to Houston’s Country Soul,” “Lillie’s White Lies,” “Who’ll Buy My Memories,” “Texas Legends: Johnny Rodriguez & Johnny Bush” and “Reflections.”
Bush was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 2003 along with Kris Kristofferson and Lefty Frizzell, his hero. His life-long compadre Nelson did the honors.
His renewed visibility has made him a mentor to younger Texas artists who were inspired by the honky-tonk/hardcore country sound that Bush does so much to perpetuate. They regularly invite him to share the stage at their shows, presenting Bush with a new generation of fans.
Bush - “In contrast to the powers that be in Nashville, who have either boldly or subtly set out to kill the original roots of country music, in Texas it is our musical birthright and responsibility to keep these sources alive."
-- by JOHN GOODSPEED - Chairman of the Board, Texas Outdoor Writers Association, www.towa.org