‘Whiskey River’ – Watch Willie Nelson perform this country classic live at Farm Aid in 1986

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.

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.

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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.

Adam Perlmutter
Adam Perlmutter

Adam Perlmutter holds a bachelor of music degree from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and a master's degree in Contemporary Improvisation from the New England Conservatory. He is the editor of Acoustic Guitar.

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