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)

bushcountry2

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.

20 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.

  2. Came across your article again and have to say Johnny’s voice gets better with age. Also since this article Johnny and I have become good friends and have seen him perform at several shows. Watching him is so intense and magnetizing, I can’t move, as I’m standing down close to the stage. The dance floor is always packed. He is such a unique artist in so many ways, it will be impossible to see another of his caliber.

  3. I’ll have to do more checking, but here are next two.

    Feb. 9 Lantex Theater
    Llano, Tx
    2:30 & 7:30 shows
    His birthday bash
    (birthday is 2-17)
    Mar. 22 Brady Civic Center
    Brady, Tx
    8:00

  4. Don’t know why I didn’t think of this in the first place!! Go to his website….johnnybush.com and under tour dates it shows his schedule. It doesn’t show the last one, December 30, at Brady. Yep, I saw where you hang your hat in sunny Florida!! That is a “fer” piece from Texas. I’ve got a good FB friend in Florida, she’s loves to honky tonk, too, and has made a couple of trips with a friend to Texas in the past couple of years. Her “heartthrob” is Dale Watson…,,mostly plays in Austin. Last time I think they hit most of the major joints.

  5. Forgot to mention, that March 22 date is also an annual golf tournament at Heart of Texas Music…..same place as dance that night. It’s put on by Darrell McCall. For $xxxx you can team up with one of the HOT artists and play in the tournament. I’m not a golfer.

    • Hey Sharon, I deleted the parts you requested…But thanks for sharing them with me. This is the place if you take your music seriously!

      I do hope I’ll get to see John some day before too long (we ain’t gettin’ any younger!) Any chance he’ll play Nashville again? I’ve got relatives there and I’m closer to them than I am to Miami!

  6. Oh, gee, thanks, for that time keeps rolling on and seems to be rolling faster all the time reminder!! I try not to think much about my age other than it’s just a number. I don’t feel like I’m this old…..in my head!!! I can still do a mean two step!! Love to waltz. Music is very important to me just about anywhere!! It’s the closest thing I’ve got to a passion. I’d be lost without it. My iPhone is loaded down. I’ve been involved in some sort of music since about the 5th grade. I like a few different genres but typically it’s hard core traditional country music. And it goes back several decades.

    As far as John ever going to Nashville, I’d say that’s highly doubtful. He’s of the same opinion of that place as I am. Nothing from there anymore is real country music. I think way back when the corporations took over, it sounded like they were doing all they could to wipe out the real country music sound, not to mention some of the real country artists. Come to Texas and walk in any beer joint or dance hall, if it’s not on the juke box, there will be band with a fiddle and a steel guitar and a singer singing some great tear jerker. I mentioned Dale Watson earlier. He has a song about CMA, only it stands for “Country My Ass!” hahaha!!!! No one I know of that loves traditional country music turns on a radio. When I’m in my car, which has Bluetooth, I can play my iPhone music using its Bluetooth through the radio. I’ve got about 10-12 hours worth of music on it.

    About not getting any younger and hoping you can see John some day, my thoughts on these sort of situations are you only live once and if you’re waiting for the right opportunity, it usually doesn’t come along and you’ll think about a next time and before you know it, no more opportunities. You’re left with “what if’s.” I know money is an issue, it always is with me but if I can somehow scrounge up a tank of gas, I’m gone. The rest I’ll figure out later. I actually haven’t been faced with that in a long time and I was much younger!!!!!! I do fly by the seat of my pants though…..rarely make plans. Oh, BTW, thanks for the deleting.

    • I’m not surprised to hear he isn’t likely to travel to Nashville. They just closed down the last bar on music row. No more open mic nights for songwriters….which means the quality of the songs will likely get even worse if that’s possible. As far as dancing, when I had the legs I didn’t have the desire…now I have the desire and no legs (thanks neuropathy!).

      Hey, let me know if there are singers you’d like me to write about. I don’t write enough about country but an audience of one is all it takes to get me going…

      jwr

  7. Okee-dokee!! I’ll start with my #2 favorite who was my #1 until I rediscovered John’s music (before I discovered him). I was blown away listening to that voice. I vaguely remembered hearing him back in early 70s so checked iTunes to see if he had anything there….started loading up!!! Now I can’t talk about his music without mentioning what I think is the icing on his cake. I’ve read about his brilliance in putting his music together that makes his song come together so well. In my opinion “Farewell Party” is the bestest example. He had two favorite steel players, Jimmy Day and Buddy Emmons. Buddy was a genius with that instrument but I think Jimmy was best for his playing mostly the old country songs. And together they nailed this song…..I says they owned it. John’s amazing voice goes without saying but Jimmy’s break will blow your socks off. It’s on “The Sound of A Heartache” album. In my opinion it should have jumped off and become a #1 big time. Don’t guess it even got a Big Whoopee!! What got my hackles up was around 10 years later Gene Watson records it, plain and simple, and it’s a hit. Makes no sense. John was recording in Nashville and was about to make it really big when his voice went south around ‘72, lost half of his vocal range, sometimes unable to talk. Wasn’t until ‘78 it was diagnosed spasmodic dysphonia. Career went down for awhile, gradually started back up, and with help of a vocal coach regained 70% of original voice. Released his autobiography in 2007…..great book. In early 2000s doctors started treating vocal chords with minute amounts of Botox about every 6 months, which gave him back his voice, although it’s not as high as it used to be…..I like it better, too. Didn’t intend to go into all that, was just gonna mention the above song!!!!! I’m a talker!!!

    Okay, back to my #2 favorite. Drum Roll________it is Ed Bruce. I’m a sucker for those lower voices!! I was a big fan before I knew he could sing when he was on TV, I think maybe a lawman named Maverick. Did you know he wrote Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys? Actually I preferred him singing it.

    Does it matter if the artist is dead or alive? Probably 5-6 years ago I discovered this guy because John had done a duet with him. I’m thinking, I really like this guy and start checking him out. First I wondered how on earth did I miss this one??? His name is Dugg Collins. His voice is similar to John’s. He was also a DJ, I’m thinking maybe somewhere up in the Texas Pandhandle, maybe Oklahoma. Well, crap!! I find a good’ern only to find out he died awhile back. It’s been awhile back since I was looking so I don’t remember the details.
    The duet.

    https://youtu.be/kChZmL5ohuA

    More to come~~~~

  8. Oh, BTW, earlier I mentioned having a FB friend living in Florida. Her FB page says Tangerine, Florida. I was thinking it was Mount something.

  9. Don’t know what happens to my replies that don’t show up. Hmmmmm…….. I had sent one with more info about John, then mentioned a couple of singers, one being my #2 favorite. I was sure that I saw that it was sent. Gremlins?????

    • Probably. I had to put a firewall around my blog to keep out hackers about nine months ago and it took me several months to work out the access issues that resulted for my regular commenters (just heard from one who STILL can’t get in)….If you send me your IP address, I can add you to my white list. That has worked for most people.

      (IP address is available by typing What is my IP address in your search window on whatever computer you are using. It should pop up near the top of your screen.)

      Let me know if you get this!

    • Hey Sharon. I should have included my email address in case you want to send me your IP address. It’s

      jwr1960@gmail.com

      All I do is add it to my GoDaddy white list of accounts who are approved for access to the site and then delete your email.

      In any case, I hope you’ll send me your #2 either here or there!

      JWR

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