Page Sponsor: Jill Henry-Riley

By John Wooley (Tulsa World)

For more that a quarter of a centry, John Henry's gravely authoritative voice defined classic rock 'n' roll in Tulsa.

Moved from station to station - and, recently, from Saturday mornings to Sunday mornings - his encyclopedic knowledge of the music he'd grown up with and tenacious love of sharing both the music and the knowledge transcended whatever station he happened to be on, with legions of rock 'n' roll lovers continuing to follow him wherever he showed up on the dial.

Henry, who often referred to himself as "the world's oldest teenager," was 60.

Rockin' John, as he came to be known by his listeners and fans, began his "Saturday Bandstand" program in 1979 on former Top 40 station KELI. From the beginning, the show highlighted early rock 'n' roll, blues and R&B - always including recordings from Tulsa-linked artists - with lots of commentary. Later, Henry added live and taped interviews with figures from the '50's and '60's.

Over the years, the show moved from KELI to KGTO to KAKC to, most recently, KQLL (106.1 FM); in the mid-'80's, it began featuring regular drop-in appearances from the likes of noted Tulsa actor Gailard Sartain and local music legends Bill Davis, Jimmy Markham and David Teegarden. He continued to have guests on his show until the end, concentrating recently on veteran Tulsa rockers like Jack Dunham and Clyde Stacy.

In 1987, while Henry was doing "Saturday Bandstand" on KAKC, station manager Jim Smith - against the advice of consultants - greenlighted a blues show on KAKC's sister station KMOD (97.5 FM). That program, "Smokehouse Blues With John Henry," became a popular Sunday night feature on the station often presenting live shows from acts like Flash Terry, Glenn R. Townsend and Bugs Henderson.

He also recorded versions of the program for stations in Houston and New Orleans. At the time of his death, "Smokehouse Blues" was still running on KMOD. "Saturday Bandstand" had recently moved to Sunday mornings.

In addition to his disc jockey work, Henry was a musician, playing guitar and fronting the long-lived rock 'n' roll revival group the Bop Cats, a band that began about the time he started "Saturday Bandstand." Henry's work with that group brought him a contact with several of his rock 'n' roll era favorites; he either opened for or performed with the likes of Fabian, Del Shannon, Rick Nelson and Gary U.S. Bonds, among many others.

When Chuck Berry came to town in 1991, using some of the Bop Cats as his band, Henry made no secret of his desire to play with the rock 'n' roll icon. There was one problem: Berry's contract said that no other guitar players could be on stage with him. Henry solved that dilemma to his satisfaction by coming out during Berry's closing number and hitting drummer David Riley's cymbal with a drumstick.

In 2000, Henry - a, former account executive with the Tulsa World - was instrumental in organizing the Tulsa All-Stars jam session following the Spot Music Awards. A year later, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame for his efforts in promoting and presenting blues music.

During his 2 1/2 decades of "Saturday Bandstand," Henry had to face big odds against keeping his show on the air, as ownership became more corporate and less local, and rigid homogenized formats dictated from somewhere other than Tulsa, by people other than Tulsans, became the norm.

But in the face of all that, believing in what he was doing and still burning to communicate his love of the music, Henry persevered, adding to his legend with every program.

"The experts in the business will make these statements: 'Our research shows, our consultants say, our computer tell us...,'" he reflected in a 1986 conversation. "I'm not saying those things lie. I'm just 'saying that I think they miss the point sometimes. I hope personally that the other stations continue doing what they're doing, because that will allow me to continue what I'm doing."

"Tulsa has lost a shining star in the passing of Rockin' John Henry. I've listened to John for the last 24 years. I followed him from one radio station to another and form one time slot to another. I've always found his knowledge of old-time rock 'n' roll and blues music fascinating. I will miss hearing the oldies he played and the background information he gave on the artists. None of the other radio stations offer John's brand of entertainment. John loved music and it showed. He was a unique man and he will be missed." -A Fan

Obit: A Unique Man Was John Henry
HENRY - Johnny David (Rockin' John), 60, passed away suddenly on Tuesday, August 10, 2004 of a massive heart attack. Born April 4, 1944 in Tulsa, OK to James H. and Lola D. (Gartman) Henry. Preceded in death by his father, James H. Henry in 1971. Surviving his are his wife of 37 years, Barbara (Kroger) Henry and sons, Johnny David Henry II and James (Jimmy) Richard Henry and wife, Shannon; 3 granddaughter, Jillian, Gabrielle, and Abbey; mother, Lola; brother, Warren; sister, Jill Riley and spouses and numerous nephews and nieces; and hundreds of friends. A radio personality, musician and local entertainer, John was a local legend to many as a Rock-n-Roll Disc Jockey and often referred to himself as "Tulsa's Oldest Teenager." There wasn't anything he didn't know about music and musicians. It has been said many times that if you asked, he could even tell you the color of the record label and probably the amount of grooves a record had. John loved music and dearly loved spending time with his wife and sons, daughter-in-law and granddaughters on many, many weekends at their cabin on the Illinois River. John was a U.S. Army National Guard Veteran. Member of First Baptist Church in Sapulpa. Service was Saturday August 14, 2004 at First Baptist Church of Sapulpa with interment at Green Hill Cemetery. Family suggest contributions may be made to the American Legion, Mohawk Post 308, 11328 E. Admiral, Tulsa, OK 74116.

Posted September, 2004

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