Eddie Bush is an old-fashioned rock ’n’ roller. He came of age musically in the 1970s and 1980s. The Charleston native quickly came to admire guitarists such as Eric Johnson, Steve Morse, Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix and, most of all, Prince.
What his guitar heroes share in common is a technical wizardry so impressive it enables them to do just about anything imaginable with their instruments.
Bush also was enamored with singer-songwriters such as Glen Campbell and, of course, Paul McCartney and John Lennon. As a kid, he was writing tunes and performing in school talent shows.
By age 16, he was determined to master the guitar and make music his life. It’s not like he had much choice, he said. It’s all he thought about.
Even his day jobs involved music. Bush worked at music stores such as Purple Music on James Island, Big Al’s Record Barn and Manifest. He spent his nights at Myskyns on Market Street and the Windjammer on Isle of Palms, absorbing every sound emanating from the amplifiers.
Soon he was performing, writing incessantly, gaining command of his musical powers. Good things started to happen. He was gigging a lot. He was gaining recognition. He was improving his guitar chops. He had a manager. He had friends in the business.
He made his first record, a six-song EP, in 1988. His band was called 100 Proof. Many more would follow, under the name the Eddie Bush Group, One Flew South, Eddie Bush and The Mayhem and, simply, Eddie Bush.
Now, he is releasing his 17th record, a double-CD called “The Cage I Was In” — 24 songs, some with that big electric sound he likes, others with more intimate acoustic arrangements.
Bush will celebrate the new release with a free concert 6-9 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Charleston Music Hall. The show will put Bush just where he likes to be: behind his beloved guitar belting out original tunes with his appealing, raspy, tenor voice. One thinks of band such as Journey and Rush, but also Black Sabbath, the Allman Brothers Band and Queen.
Bush’s sound is big and bold, and his guitar playing is straight-ahead and as good as it gets.
Pushed toward country
Bush is an optimist. His passion for music — songwriting, recording, performance — is unquenchable. He is so proficient he writes and records fast. For “The Cage I Was In,” he selected tunes from a pile of about 60.
“I never let a creative moment pass me by,” he said.
He’ll interrupt a private guitar lesson to record a musical idea on his cell phone, then work up that idea later, adding hooks and riffs, harmonies, lyrics. Before you know it, he’s got another song.
Sometimes someone will ask him, “How do you start writing songs?”
“You start,” comes the reply. “And make sure you listen to The Beatles.”
In 1997, Bush got a big break. He caught the attention of Eric Johnson, who asked Bush to open for him on tour. But Johnson wanted Bush to play acoustic. In no position to refuse, Bush strapped on his signature Dillion guitar and did his thing. Johnson was a fan.
“He’s a great singer, a good songwriter,” he said of Bush. “I think he sings really well.”
The acoustic stuff certainly was rewarding to play, but it didn’t always show off Bush’s range and fantastic abilities with the electric guitar.
A hit off his 2005 Infinity Nashville CD “Eddie Bush” got things going a little faster. The tune, “Hard to Stop a Train,” became a Billboard Hot Country Single and caught the attention of industry insiders, including Grammy Award-winning songwriter Marcus Hummon, who with Bush formed the rock trio One Flew South. The new band was all about smooth vocal harmonies, and it landed a record deal with Decca.
The people at the label decided to bend Bush and his pals closer to the country category, and spent a lot of money in 2008 to make “My Kind of Beautiful” a hit. It almost worked, Bush said. The song got some traction, and the band received some good notices about its vocal harmonies and tune-making.
Then the economy tanked, the band floundered and Bush was back on his own.
For two decades, he has anchored himself in the studio as a private teacher. At first he resisted. He was busy performing and afraid he couldn’t sufficiently devote himself to teaching.
“I didn’t take it lightly,” he said. “A teacher’s a teacher. If you don’t take it seriously you can scare somebody out of ever playing the guitar again. It’s very psychological.”
But in 1993, at the urging of his wife Carolyn, Bush took on his first students, and once he was committed he was all in.
“I was scared,” he said. “I was just married, I just bought a house. The first time I went out of town I was nervous. No one’s going to come back to me now,” he thought.
At first he advertised, but after a while his reputation was enough. People sought him out, sometimes traveling some distance for private lessons. One client flew down from Connecticut for a while. Another came from Columbia, another from Myrtle Beach. He taught seven days a week.
Little by little, he gained confidence. In 1999, he came to Precision Guitar in Mount Pleasant (today it’s called Shem Creek Music Center).
Michael Carson, 58, brings his 14-year-old son Sam to the studio each week. Sam, who also plays cello, attended a summer songwriting camp, which renewed his passion for guitar.
“He’s the most motivated I’ve seen in the last few years,” Carson said.
Phil Thomas, manager of Shem Creek Music Center, said Bush is “the best guitar teacher I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” and he extolled Bush’s ability to motivate his students.
“Coming to an Eddie Bush lesson is a high point of their week,” Thomas said. “I can’t imagine anybody, of any skill level, who can’t learn something from him.”
And it’s not just guitar technique he teaches but also songwriting and the business of music, Thomas added. Bush’s approach works with even troubled kids. Thomas has witnessed transformations in behavior and attitude, he said.
“(Bush) gets into their heads, flips some switches, gets them excited about a goal,” Thomas said.
So Bush might be the most accomplished local rocker the younger generation has never heard of. With his abundance of songs, impeccable guitar playing and appealing voice, he’s something of a throwback to the days of prog rock and glam rock.
He’s performed at major events such as Farm Aid and the Newport Folk Festival, and he’s shared concert billing with the likes of Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp and Lynyrd Skynyrd. He’s been around the block. Yet he prefers to stay put in the Lowcountry, record, perform and teach.
He just turned 51, but Bush hardly feels over the hill. He is always creating new opportunities for himself, new moments to shine.
“I’m making the best music now,” he said. “Maybe I’m a foolish guy but I’m not going to stop.”
Contact Adam Parker at email@example.com or 843-937-5902.