Flexible co-vocalist with the Joe Loss band, and the father of Elvis Costello
Published 04/12/2011 | 05:00
Ross MacManus, who has died aged 84, was a popular singer and trumpet player and in later years became well known as the father of Elvis Costello; his choice of career as a band singer, although affording him security and a measure of recognition, precluded him from developing his talent fully, as his son has observed publicly on several occasions.
Ronald Patrick Ross MacManus was born at Birkenhead on October 20, 1927, and began singing at the age of nine, as a chorister at St Thomas's Catholic Church, Birkenhead. He later said, "Plainsong requires a very flexible voice and this has helped me a lot."
On his release from national Service with the RAF in 1950 he formed his own band, Ross MacManus and his New Era Music. His intention was to make his mark as a trumpeter, but he found his sing-ing was the band's main attraction when it came to securing bookings.
In 1955 MacManus joined Joe Loss and his Orchestra as trumpeter and featured vocalist. From that moment, MacManus claimed, Loss insisted that the performing name "Ross MacManus" belonged to him: "He would say, 'If you want to be a star, go off to a record company and be a star. If you want to work every night and get weekly wages for as long as you want, stay with me -- but don't complain.'" The pay was indeed good, and with a young, growing family to support, he didn't complain.
Under Joe Loss's management, MacManus did record once using his own name, for Decca. The song was I Can't Take My Eyes Off You, later a huge hit for Andy Williams, but MacManus's version flopped.
He did, however, pursue a kind of shadow career, recording cover versions of hit records under a variety of pseudonyms. In 1973 he wrote and recorded the theme song of The Secret Lemonade Drinker, an award-winning series of television commercials. His son, Declan, then a teenager, played drums and sang backing vocals on the recording. MacManus also wrote and recorded songs for the soundtrack of the 1975 film Secrets of a Superstud.
For its weekly radio show, the Joe Loss band performed the latest hits live, work entailing enormous flexibility of style and a constantly changing repertoire. MacManus would practise the songs at home, with Declan taking it all in, even before he could talk.
When Declan metamorphosed into Elvis Costello, his approach to being a performer was, he said, far from starry-eyed: "I saw that it wasn't actually glamorous, that it was sort of a job. So that by the time I was a teenager, I wasn't all that convinced I would do music for a living, much as I loved it."
His father, however, came to regard his son's achievements with undisguised awe: "I often say to people, 'The fairies stole my little boy, Declan, and brought me this genius, Elvis, in his place.'"
Ross MacManus is survived by five sons. His wife predeceased him.