Kashmere Gardens Mud: A Tribute to Houston’s Country Soul
Ice House Music
Johnny Bush & Justin Trevino
Texas On A Saturday Night
Heart of Texas HOTR-121
Along with luminaries like Ray Price and Willie Nelson, Johnny Bush can be considered one of the deans of Texas country & western music. Go back to 1975 and Bush was riding high on the saddle. Twenty years into a career as singer, songwriter and musician who had already conquered the charts with a song he wrote and performed called “Whiskey River”, Bush would observe his former bandmate and Texas compadre Willie Nelson work his own hit-making magic with the tune taking it to the top of the charts. To this day it remains a staple in Nelson’s performing arsenal. A native of the blue collar Kashmere Gardens neighborhood of Houston, Bush would hone his chops from the early 1950s through the early 1960s with a number of the top bands on the Texas dancehall circuit. It paid dividends in 1963 when he joined Ray Price’s Cherokee Cowboys band whose ranks included a young Nelson. While relatively short-lived, Bush was able to parlay the Price stint into job as a Nashville demo singer before embarking, with the help of Nelson, on his own solo career. A half a dozen charting singles for the independent Stop Records label landed him a deal with major player RCA in 1972. Dubbed the “Country Caruso,” his first single for the label was “Whiskey River” which a few years later Nelson would take into the stratosphere. On the cusp of greatness, Bush’s voice all of a sudden took a turn for the worse. So bad were things that RCA dropped him two years later. It wasn’t until 1978 that doctors were finally able to diagnose his problem tracing it to a rare neurological disease affecting his vocals chords. Credit Bush for not hanging it all up. He’d continue to plug away with vocal exercises his singing savior. By the early 1990s, Bush was back in the recording swing releasing some fine albums of Texas swing and honky tonk. The real cure finally came in 2003, something as simple as a dose of Botox applied directly to the muscle of his vocal chords. The results were amazing. Now 72 years of age, Bush has released arguably the finest record of his career, a salute to the varied sounds of his native Houston called Kashmere Gardens Mud. Stylistically speaking, Kashmere Gardens Mud represents a significant departure from the straight-up C&W that has defined him. Recorded mostly at the legendary Sugar Hill Studios in Houston, the influences run from jump blues to Cajun to Tex-Mex to Western Swing. The songs themselves hearken back to Houston’s rich musical heritage spanning Moon Mullican’s “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone” to Eddie Noack’s “These Hands” to Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho & Lefty” to Ted Daffan’s “Born to Lose” and “Free Soul” each of which feature accompaniment from the Calvin Owens Blues Orchestra, to Harry Choates’ “Jole Blon” which was first recorded at Sugar Hill. It doesn’t end there as Bush salutes a few of his fellow Lone Star honky tonkers covering the likes of Nelson (“Family Bible”, “Bloody Mary Morning”), the late Floyd Tillman (“They Took the Stars Out of Heaven”), and contemporary Dale Watson (“Tequila and Teardrops”). All of it top notch, the centerpieces of the album are the Bush originals, that being the autobiographical title track which bookends the album and a gospel number called ” I Want a Drink of That Water” on which he’s joined by his brother, the Reverend Gene Shinn. Even with the varied fare, Bush comes up aces across the board on Kashmere Gardens Mud.
Speaking of the “straight-up C&W that defined him,” that is exactly what you’ll encounter on the other new Johnny Bush release called Texas On a Saturday Night. The album teams him with the great Central Texas country tenor Justin Trevino for 15 tracks heavy on the classic covers, each dripping with fiddle and pedal steel. This one has long necks, neon, and sawdust on the dance floor written all over it. In other words, perfect for jumpstarting your own honky tonk on a Saturday night. (Ice House Music, 952 Echo Lane, Suite 380, Houston, TX 77024, or www.icehousemusic.com; Heart of Texas Records, 1701 South Bridge Street, Brady, TX 76825, or www.heartoftexascountry.com)
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at [email protected].)