Clip: Johnny Bush writes his memoirs
Bush remembers honky-tonk days, but he's not nostalgic
By Jim Beal Jr
San Antonio Express-News
Published March 14, 2007
SAN ANTONIO -- It was early afternoon. In a back booth at Casbeers,
Johnny Bush drank water, passed on ordering food and said, "I just ate
Though he just celebrated his 72nd birthday, Bush is still a
honky-tonk musician through-and-through.
He has made some concessions to age: He no longer eats hamburgers, and
he walks at least 2 miles a day.
But he still works the road hard, still sleeps as late as he can and
still eats breakfast around noon.
Johnny Bush also still celebrates. Recently he has had two reasons to party.
His autobiography, "Whiskey River (Take My Mind): The True Story of
Texas Honky-Tonk," written with Rick Mitchell, is being published by
University of Texas Press.
A new CD, "Kashmere Gardens Mud: A Tribute to Houston's Country Soul,"
is being released by Ice House Music.
Bush wanted the book published for several reasons.
"I wanted people to know the real story of how it was," he said.
"Honky-tonk originated before I was born, but after World War II it
really got popular. I wanted to explain to people what a honky-tonk
was. A honky-tonk wasn't a respectable place. It was on the outskirts
of town, and you didn't want people to see you there. Men went there
to forget somebody or to find somebody.
"And I want people to know what it's like to deal with this
debilitating voice problem [spasmodic dysphonia, which hit Bush on
April 17, 1972]. It's a neurological disorder that affects the basal
ganglia area of the brain. There's no cure for it, but you can control
"Whiskey River" doesn't skirt many, if any, issues.
It's full of stories, some funny, some not, about Bush; his peers,
including Willie Nelson; his old boss, Ray Price; musicians galore;
record-label honchos and others. It also includes words about things
such as Bush's womanizing and his battle to regain his voice.
"It's too late now to have second thoughts about the book," he said.
``But it's the truth. I tried to be honest, and I didn't sugarcoat a
Still, Bush is a bit nervous about how some people will react to the book.
"My grandkids are going to read it, but hopefully they'll learn some
lessons about what not to do. I made a lot of bad mistakes and hurt a
lot of people. God has forgiven me, and I hope the people who I hurt
have forgiven me," he said. "Some of the things still haunt me. I was
selfish and controlling. My biggest regret was being promiscuous and
being an adulterer. I could have copped out by saying that in our
business that was accepted and encouraged, but when you start falling
in love with the road women and leave your wife, it becomes a
behavioral problem. I'm sorry I didn't take those marriage vows
Since 1988, when he married his fourth wife, Lynda, Bush has paid
close attention to those vows.
"In my songs, I always tried to put myself in the position of the guy
who was drinking and running around. I didn't know at the time I was
that guy,"he said. "I feel I'm the luckiest guy in the world to have
the family I have. I'm thankful to God that, so far, it's turned out
What Bush can never leave behind is ribbing from Nelson. Bush and the
redheaded country music icon go back decades. Nelson has recorded
Bush's "Whiskey River" dozens of times, Bush played drums in Nelson's
band, Nelson produced Bush's first record and Nelson wrote the
foreword to the book.
"I have no idea what I said in the foreword," Nelson said. "But I
think the book will be interesting. If anybody were going to tell the
true story of honky-tonks in Texas, it would be Johnny."
Nelson doesn't seem to be too worried about everything in Bush's book
being the truth.
"He's kinda like Ray Price," Nelson said.
"You can always tell when he's lying: His lips are moving."