DIAMONDS IN THE SHADE (Johnny Bush Up)

“Daddy Lived In Houston”
Johnny Bush  (1972)
Not released as a single
Recommended source: Bush Country (Vinyl Only)

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Country music is in one of its periodic funks these days. So my ears tell me.

This funk will last. So my common sense tells me.

Traditional music forms need traditional cultures to survive. When there’s nothing to affirm there’s nothing to rebel against either. And vice versa. Take away the limits tradition imposes and pretty soon you are pushing air.

Pretty soon after that you are sucking oxygen in a Brave New World.

In human terms, this might not be entirely lamentable. No one could envy the narrator of Johnny Bush’s “Daddy Lived In Houston,” as he describes, in gimlet-eyed detail, his father’s abandonment of his rural family to chase money (and, doubtless, women as well) in Houston’s war-time shipbuilding yards.

That is, no one could envy his material circumstance. This is a song nearly any good country singer of Bush’s generation, or any generation that preceded it, could have sung with conviction. No singer of the current generation could sing it without taking a leap of the imagination. Even in the previous generation (the one that succeeded Bush’s), it’s hard to identify anyone but Patty Loveless who ever felt anything like the pinch of real poverty, which might be why Loveless’s voice predicted Appalachia’s current epidemic of meth-fueled White Death by a generation even as her New Nashville lyrics espoused conventional aspiration.

Surely that’s a good thing, though. No one wants anyone to starve. No one wants any child to have to clear rabbit traps every morning just so his family can eat.

Of course, you have to be careful what you wish for. A world without pain or want has ended up being mostly a world where people imagine new forms of victimhood. That’s what all the angst you hear on the modern radio–including modern country radio–is about. Look at me. Or, if you like, Listen to me. Isn’t my pain real? Here, if you think it’s not, I’ll take another deep breath and add twenty more rounds of melisma just to prove you’re WRONG!

“Daddy Lived in Houston” is a great record not least because its lyric does not preclude the notion that Bush’s narrator has grown up to be just like his daddy. Call it a blues. Half talking, half opera. Muted pain and guilt, then, and a thousand times more powerful than anything you’ll hear on the radio today, when pain can only be faked and guilt isn’t even a concept.

Bush, a good candidate for the most under-sung great country singer ever, had hits through the late sixties and the seventies, a long if mostly modest run, including a definitive “You Gave Me a Mountain,” and records as monumental as “You Ought to Hear Me Cry” and “Undo the Right.” This, never released as a single and, so far as I can tell, unavailable on CD, was his masterpiece. A sigh of relief that we don’t have to go there anymore….and a reminder that all of nature–including the human part–abhors a vacuum.

3 thoughts on “DIAMONDS IN THE SHADE (Johnny Bush Up)

  1. One, take the lyrics out and you’ve got a beautiful melody. Otherwise, I hear that rare, magnificent voice that overshadows the point you elude to in the song. That unique voice, and even so after overcoming spasmodic dysphonia, mixed with superb craftsmanship, sky high emotional intelligence is what sells the songs that he delivers with power and authority. He has the purest honky tonk voice I’ve known of to come out of Texas, as he spins a web of smoothness that’s keeps you drawn to him. I believe his uniqueness is a one of a kind and we won’t see another in our lifetime. Having been around many years, I’ve not witnessed this rare talent in anyone else and don’t expect to. Not everyone shares these thoughts with me as they have their own favorite artists who they’re loyal to and that’s fine. Somehow I’ll be surprised if their artists will have the staying power. And they don’t have the understanding or see/hear what I do. It’s nothing special…focus, close, intense paying attention.

    • Hi Sharon. Thanks so much for sharing. Your relationship to Johnny sounds pretty special to me. He’s one of a kind. i wish he’d been able to record more and that more of his work was available on CD. He’s one of the few singers who, so far as I know, has never cut a mediocre side.

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