Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bill Bush: A Shreveport Legend

Shreveport has lost a music legend.

Local legend Bill Bush died yesterday.  You can go to the very nice Shreveport Times article for the official write-up, courtesy of the talented John Andrew Prime.  In fact, I'll copy/paste some of it here because it won't be there forever:

Bush was elected to represent Council District D in 1982 and was unopposed in a re-election bid in 1986. He chose not to run for re-election for a third term in 1990, opting instead to run for Shreveport mayor in a 12-candidate field. He placed third in that primary, which wound up pitting Hazel Beard against Dr. C.O. Simpkins. He ran unsuccessfully for state Senate District 38 in 1987.
Bush’s first race was in 1978 against local attorney John B. Hussey, who praised his one-time opponent.
“We were both Democrats,” recalled Hussey, who served as mayor from 1982 to 1990. “It was kind of an open primary. There were four of us running, and Bill and I got into the runoff. I beat him in the runoff. But unlike a lot of political campaigns, we got to be friends.”


A Byrd High School and Centenary College graduate, Bush was involved with alumni associations, the Progressive Men’s Club, Local 116 of the American Federation of Musicians, Holy Cross Episcopal Church, the Shreveport Regional Arts Council, Downtown Shreveport Unlimited, Historical Preservation of Shreveport, the Louisiana Restaurant Association, the Shriners and the Elks.
He was known for his work with the Bill Bush Combo, an entity he first formed after being asked, as a football player at Byrd High School, to perform at a pep squad talent show his senior year.
“Before each Byrd game,” a Times profile of Bush in 1968 read, “the football coach warned players ‘Don’t step on Bush’s fingers,’ because he played for the post-game dances.”
He also encouraged younger musicians, taking them under his wing for stints in his combo, or hiring them for gigs at his downtown nightclub, Bill Bush’s Moulin Rouge, which he owned and operated from 1971 to 1990.

I, along with hundreds of others, called Bill a friend.  Of course we all knew Bill from his days as owner of the Moulin Rouge on Common Street in Shreveport, and his political days, and for the past few years Steve and I have been going to The Anvil restaurant on Tuesdays to hear Bill play.  I'm going to have to change my Anvil night - I don't think I can do Tuesdays anymore.

There are so many stories and reminiscences about Bill that people have shared in the past 24 hours.  Mine are trivial in comparison, I suppose.  Honestly, there was never, ever, ever a time that he didn't come sit at our table with us and visit about something.  We talked about baseball, politics, music, travel, just about every subject under the sun.

I was always amazed at Bill's memory: he could tell you who wrote nearly every song you threw at him and who recorded it and what year.  And more than likely, he could play it.  He had the kindest heart I've ever seen in a human - for both adults and children.  Many nights we saw him sing "The Wheels on the Bus" for a kid at the restaurant or he might pull a child up and hand him a cowbell or a tambourine to play along with him.

One night his mother was in town from Texas and he had her come up to the keyboard and play.  They did a couple of songs together and it was the sweetest thing I've ever seen.  And Bill's sister Becky, who worked at The Anvil, stood by smiling from ear to ear.

And Bill laughed: he had the funniest stories.  One night he told us about a trip he made to France when he was on the City Council.  He was trying to set up a "sister city" deal and was in a club one night; in visiting with the staff he told them that he lived in the US and that he was the owner of The Moulin Rouge.  Language barriers being what they are, they thought he meant the Moulin Rouge in Paris.  They questioned him and he produced his AmEx business card which said, "Bill Bush Moulin Rouge" and he said he got the best service of his life after that!

Bill loved his trips to Mexico and he had a song he always played for me; he said he wasn't sure of the name, that a friend had played it for him, but he thought it was "La Bochina."  I've never been able to find the same song recorded anywhere, but I have a recording of Bill playing it for me on my iPhone.

I listened to it last night and cried.

I can't believe I'll never hear him do that song again.

He always played Route 66 for Steve and me because he knew we loved taking that trip in the summers.

He was such fun; one night last December his friend Jeri brought him a Santa hat to wear while he did his Anvil gig and of course he wore it all night:

One night he slid into our booth, scotch in hand, and we got into a discussion about politics.  Well, you know that Bill and I were polar opposites on politics, but it just didn't matter to him.  He was so good natured about hearing differing opinions.  This was shortly after Obamacare had passed and of course Bill was all for it.  He simply couldn't understand what we all thought was bad about it and genuinely listened to our position.  And then he began to explain his position, and my jaw dropped.  I said, "You really believe that?"  and he looked at me as innocently and intelligently as anyone I've ever seen and said, "Well, yes, I do."

If ever a liberal made any sense at all to me, Bill could.  He so whole-heartedly believed what he believed but he would always, always listen to the other side without animosity or hostility.

He was as good a man as I have ever known and I will miss him every single day.  He was, by all definitions, a gentleman.

I know that Bill missed his wife Judy deeply after she died earlier this year.  He grieved for her.  When she was in the hospital he took her dinner and held her hand before coming to his gig at the restaurant.

I like to think that now they are sipping a cocktail together and he is singing love songs to her once again.

Rest in peace, my friend Bill.  I miss you.

(Top photo courtesy of The Shreveport Times)

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