50-year stalwart of Saint John music scene dies at 81

·3 min read

For most Saint Johners, the name Johnny Stoltz wouldn't mean much.

But if you were around the city in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, you likely would know him by his stage name: Johnny Storm.

He was a fixture at two local hotels for almost three decades, performing country and rock music for diners and people looking for a nightcap at the bar.

And along the way, he even recorded some early country and rockabilly songs with his musical brothers and ended up being inducted into New Brunswick's Country Music Hall of Fame.

Johnny Stoltz died on New Year's Day at the age of 81.

Born in Kelowna, B.C., in 1939, he was brought up in a musical family of eight boys and three girls. His father played accordion and violin, and his mother was a fine singer.

As a young man, he would join three of his brothers to form Little Billy Stoltz and the Stoltz Brothers.

Discogs.com
Discogs.com

The country quartet signed a deal with Halifax-based Rodeo Records and recorded a number of 45 RPM singles in the late 1950s, including taking a stab at rockabilly with a song called Rock 'n' Roll Riot.

Billy Stoltz would go on to start his own record label in Montreal and continued to record and perform.

Johnny kept playing as a solo artist and ended up in Saint John after being offered a six-night-a-week gig at the brand new Holiday Inn that was built on Haymarket Square in 1965.

These days, a regular gig at the Holiday Inn wouldn't be considered a big deal, but in Saint John in the mid-60s, the new 130-room hotel was state-of-the-art, with a large lounge and restaurant that included a dance floor.

Only the 200-room Admiral Beatty Hotel was bigger.

Saint John Free Public Library
Saint John Free Public Library

Johnny Storm stayed there for 11 years and eventually moved up the road to the Colonial Inn, also newly constructed.

There he set up shop in the Cave, the restaurant and bar that was a popular eating and party spot throughout the '80s and '90's, and where his wife Candice tended bar.

Again, he worked six nights a week playing country, rock 'n' roll, and rockabilly for another 15 years.

Alison Cran is a Saint John musician who knew Stoltz, both through her work with the local musicians union, and through her partner Adrian Thornton, who often played behind Johnny Storm.

'Always with a smile'

"He was very much a people person," Cran said, "and that's why he was so popular."

Cran said Johnny Storm was an entertainer, always smiling and quick with a joke, and a musician who made it all about the audience.

He often took requests, and Cran said he could remember the favourite songs of people in the audience and would play them without being asked the next time they came to a show, even months later.

In his later years, when he no longer was playing a regular nightly gig, he still found ways to perform.

He would play for seniors at Loch Lomond Villa, at the local legion and for private parties, as well as perform as part of the welcoming committee for cruise ship passengers arriving in Saint John.

Cran said that if you can get cruise ship passengers to stop and listen and clap along, you have to be a showman.

She said Stoltz was also an active member of the union for more than five decades, came to meetings and had ideas for how to make the business better.

Cran said he was a consummate professional.

"He never turned a gig down, always showed up on time and always with a smile on his face."

Johnny Storm was inducted into the New Brunswick Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013.