For decades, Willie Nelson has played Johnny Bush’s “Whiskey River” as a set opener, and he has even been known to perform this downhearted drinking song several times in the same concert. Do a YouTube search for live versions and you’ll find that, testament to his gifts as a song interpreter, he has discovered many new wrinkles in the tune.

The arrangement here is based on Nelson’s recording of “Whiskey River” from his 1973 album, Shotgun Willie. The song has a fairly simple structure, with two main repeating sections, a chorus and a verse, and instrumental solos played over the chorus progression.


The text above is excerpted from Adam Perlmutter’s analysis of  “Whiskey River,” which originally appeared in Acoustic Guitar’s July 2018 issue. For the full text of the article, performance notes, and music notation and tab, head to the Acoustic Guitar Store and pick up a copy.

This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.