August 16

The Two Country Music Icons who Popularized “Whiskey River”

The Two Country Music Icons who Popularized "Whiskey River" 1
Johnny Bush (L), Willie Nelson (R) | Photo credit:

“Whiskey River” was a 1972 hit made famous by the legendary singer-songwriter Johnny Bush. The song became Bush’s first record after signing with RCA Victor. It was also the title track of his album of the same name. Certainly, his move to RCA label where he met its executive Jerry Bradley was a great decision. Although the singer has had achieved success with previous hits like You Gave Me a Mountain” and “My Cup Runneth Over,” his biggest single has yet to come. That’s probably what motivated the RCA executive to ask Bush to write something exceptional for the label.

And so, while on his way back from Nashville to Tennessee, Bush got the idea of the song just upon waking up in Texarkana. As soon as he arrived home, he quickly put into words what he had conceived about “Whiskey River.” Although it wasn’t detailed how Paul Stroud helped in the composition of the song, he was credited as Bush’s co-writer. Soon after his original record came out in 1972, the song became an instant hit reaching the chart’s Top 15. Its commercial success had helped Bush a lot especially when a rare vocal disorder struck him at the height of the song’s popularity. In 1981, Bush re-recorded the song and was released under Delta label.

Listen to Johnny Bush’s recording of “Whiskey River” below.

A Signature Hit for Willie Nelson

As a longtime pal of Bush, Willie Nelson has stood by his side throughout his journey. And as a show of support, Nelson recorded Bush’s hit, “Whiskey River,” more than once and considered it one of his signature songs. Nelson’s first recording appeared on his 1973 album Shotgun Willie. In 1978, he released the song as a single on his Willie and Family Live collection. That cover became a Top 20 hit peaking at No. 12 on the Hot Country Songs chart. Also, The Red Headed Stranger made the song as a concert staple. He usually puts it first on his set list. In 2002, the Always on My Mind” singer joined Trick Pony for the recording of the song. Their version was released on the group’s album On a Mission. Still, that initiative was part of Nelson’s show of care for his friend Bush.

Here is Willie Nelson’s version of  “Whiskey River.”

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Johnny Bush, whiskey river, Willie Nelson

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