I have often fallen in love with people through their music. They can be total strangers but after a few songs it’s like a switch has been flipped. Listening to someone’s songs is the quickest window into their soul.
That’s how it happened with me and “Mike busbee” after someone put his CD in my hands over 10 years ago. I slipped it into the slot in my car (when cars still had slots) and pressed play. His voice was honest, uncomplicated, earnest…the songs were pop-perfection, effortless and inspired. I couldn’t stop playing that record.
busbee was new on the songwriting scene. Not many people knew his name. I started spreading the word but as it turned out the word didn’t need any help spreading. It spread like wildfire all by itself.
Soon everyone knew his name.
To me busbee was always an artist. I mean, I think of all songwriters as artists but he really had what it takes to be front and center...to stand in the spotlight and sing his own songs. But he was a simple guy and I believe his desire to meet someone and have a family trumped the desire to be in the spotlight. He was relationship and father material if there ever was. Ultimately busbee chose to be a shining force behind other forces — Maren Morris, P!nk, Keith Urban, Blake Shelton. His Wiki scroll is endless.
But before that, we became friends. We co-wrote some. We discovered we were both foodies and took long drives to those Outstanding In The Field dinners. Remember them? They were all the rage — gatherings of food lovers in spectacular wide open spaces. We bonded over cheese and soufflé and laughed all the way home.
One day busbee told me he met a girl. She was the one! She worked at Aroma in Toluca Lake. I was thrilled for him. Curious. Who is this girl who filled up the room in his heart? I stopped by to meet her. But soon enough she wasn’t employed there any longer because they got married. And had a daughter. And then another daughter and another. It happened swiftly. They were so happy.
I can’t speak about busbee as his best friend. I wasn’t even close to that. The fire had spread so far and wide we all had to share him. He was going back and forth between LA and Nashville. Producing hits, raising girls, making deals. I was doing my thing…writing my book. Understandably, we weren’t as connected as we were when we first met. And full disclosure somewhere along the line we had a brief falling out over something pretty silly. We never even talked about it and for some reason we just as quickly fell back in like nothing had ever happened. But we never said “we’re all good now.” We just moved on. It was all good though.
When busbee saw me he always had a smile. A hug. Always changed the subject from whatever was happening with him, to my accomplishments — reminding me and anyone else in the conversation of how special I was. He was humble. Maybe that’s why he didn’t Cap the ‘b’ in front of his name.
At a party not too long ago he told me he was tired. I didn’t think anything of it. I had a daughter and I was pretty tired. She was at college and I was still tired. But he had 3 little ones. So that’s what I attributed it to. Obviously it was more than that.
I just got off the phone with my producer/friend Eve Nelson. She said, “Life is just one big Russian Roulette, isn’t it?” Yes it is.
busbee was beloved. He gave much more than music to his community. Even toward the end when he must have been feeling pretty shitty he continued his #MusicArmy activism and stepped up with SONA to fight for the rights of Songwriters. He even tried to make it to our SUMMIT a few weeks ago. That’s why we all thought he was gonna be oK.
I kept meaning to text him a purple heart and when he got stronger my plan was to reach out and say, “I’m glad we got good again.” I was waiting my turn…waiting for closer friends to say what they had to say. And then I would join the chorus.
I waited too long. And I never got to send him the purple heart.
I’ve heard it said that right after a person leaves the earth their soul still lingers and they can still see you…hear you. So if you can hear me busbee...I’m so sorry I didn’t send it sooner.
A piece in USA today kept referring to the death of Michael James Ryan — What a Kingly name. It felt strange. Not just because it’s so unbelievable that he’s gone but also because to us, he was and will always be simply…busbee (no Cap).
Rest peacefully, friend. You were one of us and you will live on in our hearts and in your music.