Johnny Roadhouse 1921-2009

Photograph taken by Fred Richardson April 2009


15th April 2009 - 

Johnny Roadhouse died on Saturday 11th April 2009, peacefully in his sleep at his home in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, after contracting pneumonia.. He was eighty-eight. John was born in Sheffield, but the family moved to Manchester when he was still a boy. Many local musicians will be very sad to know that Johnny Roadhouse has left us. He ran many big-bands, sold hundreds of musical instruments to most Jazzers in Manchester, as well as giving them music lessons and providing recording facilities, from his little shop in All Saints - since around the 1950s. 

The shop is still going, of course, run by one of his sons, and his business partner - Ann. The Roadhouse family owned a bakery on the other side of Oxford Road for a number of years in the 50s, until John, his brother Bill and sister Mary, set up the ever-thriving instrument business that still faces All Saints Square today. You can't miss it, it has a lot of instruments hanging outside, from the top of the multi-story shop-front. 

Johnny Roadhouse has been a living legend, an iconic figure on the local music scene for decades, largely in in Jazz-based dancebands such as the Northern Radio Orchestra and the Northern Dance Orchestra, besides many of the little Jazz and dance-music combos he set up. He was always friendly and supportive to young musicians and accommodating when we couldn't afford top-of-the-range instruments. He was a mine of information about the general Music scene, and about local musicians, in the area. A great many will miss seeing him around and having interesting chats with him. 

There are one or two moving obituaries out on the Internet, and Johnny published his autobiography quite recently, which is a very interesting read. The early Smoky City Stompers of the 1940s recorded at his Studios on the present premises, in 1946 when he was running the DECIBEL label. His influence on the local Jazz scene - without setting out to be a Jazzer yet his playing was always that way inclined - was a great asset to all emerging Jazz musicians and bands. This, apart from the fact that he tended to charge less for instruments than most of the other musical instrument outlets in town, helped to boost his popularity among the young, and made the shop (Johnny Roadhouse Music) a sort of unofficial "labour exchange" for musicians to feel at home in, and possibly net the odd gig. The shop was always a place where you felt a warm welcome when you walked in, and it was always very sincere. 

I notice that the obituaries to Johnny lay a great deal of emphasis on the 'celebrities' that went to his shop for instruments, mouthpieces, accessories, PA gear, etc. But let it not be forgotten that for one celebrity who once in a blue moon shopped there, there were at least one thousand of us local Jazzers and others, who frequented that bright little emporium. Johnny was great to talk to; he was like the Oracle of local Jazz and Dance Band music. He knew everybody! He helped me a lot for my book and the Rolls. I'll certainly miss him. Although he didn't believe in God, I do hope The Lord will forgive him for that and allow him to rest in the peace of His Heavenly Band of Angels, he certainly deserved his "wings".

Joe Silmon

14th April 2009

Hi , Fred, have just spotted your page .John was born January 1921. I was born October 1924. I started during the second world war at Cadmans School of Dancing in Stretford. After six months I saved up and bought an Alto. Learned to play and read dance music.

I played drums with the Roadhouse Quintet for two weekend shows Called Sing Song on BBC Radio. This would be about 1945 /46. A couple of weeks ago I had a feeling to visit him in his shop. I am an amateur photographer and took a few pictures of Johnny in the shop. 

Cheers - Fred Richardson

15th April 2009 - John Roadhouse - a true story.

Back in the 1980's, there was a lot of work with Les Howard's NDO and very many Cabaret "Augments" -whereby existing house bands were augmented to back "name" acts. John and I (together with two other, sadly departed, great northern musicians, Ernie Watson and Ernie Waites) used to share cars to get to these distant gigs.

One afternoon, John parked his car at my house, as it was my turn to drive. He came in for a cup of tea, and asked Carol, my wife, if it would be O. K. for him to leave his brother at our house until we got back. It seemed a little strange, as we were expecting not to get back home until about 3 am, but, nevertheless, Carol agreed, and told John to bring him in then.

Seconds later, with a mischievous glint in his eye, John returned with a wooden box, which he placed on the mantelpiece. It turned out that the box contained his brother's ashes, which John had just picked up from the Crematorium. His brother, apparently, was quite happy on the mantelpiece; well he didn't complain, anyway!

Another story about John, although possibly NOT true, was that, whilst eating his dinner from a tray, and engrossed in watching the TV, he accidentally (thinking it was a brussel sprout) stabbed his green Budgie, which flew around freely, and was perched on his plate.

John and Harry Burgess (another very good trombone player who has now left us) were always trying to "flog" items - anything new, old, second hand or whatever.

They were affectionately known as "partners in grime".

R. I. P. John - a lovely man.

Frank Slater

17th April 2009

You know Fred, I feel that a great legend has left us now that Johnny Roadhouse has passed away.

He was a superb saxophone player, of that there is no doubt and I was somewhat in awe of him when I played some sessions down at the 'Playhouse' with the BBC Northern Radio Orchestra. John was the consummate professional musician. I think it was Fred Kelly, who was lead trumpet at the time with that great band who coined the phrase 'notes for notes' which meant professional players should receive suitable remuneration for their expertise. John was fully in agreement with that ethos but he treated young up and coming musicians like myself at the time with practical help and encouragement. 

Twenty five years after I met him he treated my son Tony in exactly the same way. 

I first came across him when I played in a 'Johnny Roadhouse Orchestra' as a callow youth of 23 years. John didn't arrive until twenty minutes from the end of the gig and 'due to contractual problems with the BBC' he was unable to play with the band. However he was making a personal appearance and received rapturous applause. I found out later that he had ten 'Johnny Roadhouse Orchestras' playing that night and John was doing the rounds!

That was John - a great wheeler dealer but what that man did for 'live' music in Manchester is inestimable. Jazz musicians went down to 'Roadhouses' on Oxford Road and got the best deals in the City. Rock musicians bought their gear down there and became famous because Johns stuff was top quality. 

Stories of John are legion. Bob Turner, the drummer with the NDO and NRAO once told me that John's house was the only place he wiped his feet on the way out! That story was told with affection because everyone who knew John loved the guy.

When John had dental problems, he solved the problem in the grand manner. He had a set of titanium teeth fitted! "Same stuff as they use on the space shuttle, Ian", he said. Enthusiasm undimmed he played with the John Milner Band at Wards End near Hartington, Derbyshire (The Manifold Valley Hotel) in later years. He was a 'rock' in that band especially on baritone sax though he occasionally treated us all to that glorious alto sax sound that made our hair stand on end. 

RIP John Roadhouse. You touched on the lives of many musicians and we'll never forget you.

Ian Royle

3rd May 2009 - Joe Silmon 


It would appear that the whole of Manchester's Jazz Community was present, as well as a hundred or two from other musical denominations, at the Funeral service at Manchester Cathedral on the 28th of April 2009, to hear praises sung about that great local celebrity and favourite pal of countless Jazz, Big Band, Rock, Folk and other musicians from Manchester and surrounding areas - Johnny Roadhouse.  

Such was the esteem in which Johnny was held both locally and nationally, that the ceremony celebrated was the nearest thing to a 'State Funeral' that Manchester has ever witnessed in the case of a local musician. It can certainly be regarded as a Civic Funeral. Johnny was extremely popular among musicians of all types and disciplines; therefore, all were represented at the great Cathedral. I calculate that there were between four and five-hundred or more people seated, and others standing in all the available spaces between pillars. There were several dignitaries from the BBC, some from the days of Johnny's heyday. Veteran TV and radio presenter Geoffrey Wheeler read out one of the lessons and paid homage to Johnny Roadhouse and his industrious life dedicated to music and musicians. Peter Wheeler, Geoffrey's younger brother was also present at the Cathedral. RADA-trained Peter - a very well-known presenter in his own right - is a great old favourite among the Jazzers, particularly around the 60s and 70s. He presented many BBC radio Regional and Home Service Jazz broadcasts, before Alan Stephens and John Featherstone took on that mantle. Peter was perhaps better known for his countless Granada TV appearances from the mid-60s onwards. Johnny's son, Johnny Jr, and daughter Helen bravely read lessons and provided anecdotal references to their much loved Dad. After the mourners filed out behind the coffin, flanked by two young musicans (an altoist and a tenorist), who had also played some very tasteful music from shows in which Johnny Roadhouse had been involved in earlier times in TV shows, along with dozens of those present at the Cathedral, the ceremony continued at Manchester Crematorium. Musicians I bumped into outside the Cathedral included: Johnny Sapher (ex-drummer - 60s), Paul Medina (bass/tbn), Howard Shepherd (bjo) with his lovely wife Olive, George Galway (multi-reeds), Frank Gibson (drums/vocals) my ex-colleague from the 1968-72 Randy Colville-led Old Fashioned Love Band (the Mainstream one), Jimmy Barnes (tenor sax.) and Brian Crowther (alto). These were always two of my favourite musicians, up to whom I always looked.  

After the mourners returned to the City, a reception was held at BBC Broadcasting House on Oxford Road, more or less opposite where the first Roadhouse family business - a bakery - had stood in the mid-late 1950s. At the reception in a bar area on the 2nd floor, several former colleagues of Johnny's were in attendance. Some gave their own impressions of what Johnny had represented for them during their lives as young musicians under his wing, either in Show Business or in big-band work. There was a very large plasma TV screen showing many clips and full-length versions of the TV shows in which the great JR had taken part over the decades. Comedians Eric Deveraux and singer impersonator Johnny Moore took the stand and entertained us with some excellent recollections regarding personal and show business life alongside the great JR. Stephen Garner, son of Freddy Garner (Jazz keyboard player) spoke eloquently and amusingly about Johnny and family, both at the Cathedral and the reception. Beautiful female flautist, Sue Whooley, told us how she got her job as lead flautist in the Northern Dance Orchestra. Johnny had told her "I know a good flautist when I see one!" The young lady had been left in total doubt as to whether or not it was her good looks that had got her the job, and not her obvious, tried and tested skills at the instrument. Veteran broadcaster Peter Pilbeam was also present, as well as two members of the vibrant 60s-70s Pop group, "The Bachelors" and if I am not mistaken, the whole of "Oasis". My brilliant multi-reedman pal, George Galway, who was sat sampling pints next to me, should have given us a sample of his wonderful talents, but he didn't, to our great loss. I had the long awaited honour of meeting trumpeter Dave Browning who, in his late teens, started his musical career with one of the earliest local Jazz bands of the 1940s Revival - the Smoky City Stompers - in approximately 1951, and later joined the Jazz Aces, for a while alongside his school pal and mentor, Mart Rodger, who - according to Dave - introduced him to Jazz. Well done, Mart, for your part in Dave's brilliant career! Dave then went on to work with almost all of the locally-based big-bands as lead trumpet, including the NDO, BBC Northern Radio Orchestra and others formed by Johnny Roadhouse himself. Dave, in aproximately 1962, was the man who played the trumpet lead in the original and now world-famous "Coronation Street" theme. I vividly remember it happening, so I'm giving my age away!    

There were of course dozens more people who were at Johnny's funeral ceremony, all of whose names I could not possibly recall. These were not necessarily all at the cremation, as that was was limited to close family and friends, but many were at the reception at the BBC where, or under whose direction at various outlying studios and venues, Johnny had spent most of his outstanding musical career. The enormous attendance was a fitting tribute to this great local musician and friend to hundreds of local Jazz, Rock, and other performers. His son Johnny Jr told us at the reception, that it was planned to mark this well-deserved, almost cult-like adulation for the man, with a commemorative plaque in the area around the shop, which Johnny Sr founded in the mid-1950s, and which continues very much open for business, under Johnny's and JR Sr's Partner Anne, in exactly the same family atmosphere that we have always known this marvellous, now almost institutional establishment in All Saints. The spirit of Johnny Roadhouse lives on - as large as life - throughout the store. His death doesn't mean that we have to stop shopping there, or even stop selling our instruments. Johnny Roadhouse Jr and his sister Helen are also great conversationalists - who listen as well as speak. They had a marvellous teacher. 

But although we say goodbye to Johnny Roadhouse Sr, we must recall his borrowed maxim: "THE SHOW MUST GO ON", so I'll just say 'farewell Johnny" ... see you later! 

Joe Silmon-Monerri

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