In “The Pop Culture Addict's Guide To Life”, there have been very few instances in which I have had to change the topic of discussion at the very last minute. For today's edition of the Sunday Jukebox, I initially had a topic chosen for today, and prior to Wednesday, March 6, 2013, I was in the planning stages of doing any necessary research needed to supplement the chosen topic.
But then came the news that shocked Canadians coast to coast from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland and Labrador.
On March 6, 2013, Canadian music legend “Stompin'” Tom Connors passed away at his home. He was 77 years old.
So, in tribute to Stompin' Tom, I decided to dedicate today's post on his life, career, and some of the reasons why he has been declared as Canadian as the beaver tail, the poutine, and maple syrup.
Born Thomas John Connors in Saint John, New Brunswick on February 9, 1936, Connors grew up under tremendous hardships. He grew up poor, with a mostly absentee father, a mother who resorted to stealing from restaurants in order to support them both, and a step-father who spent almost all the family income on alcohol. Not exactly the greatest way for a child to grow up.
Tom was eventually taken from his mother's care after she found herself inside a low security women's penitentiary and was adopted by Cora and Russell Aylward from Prince Edward Island. At fifteen, Tom set out on his own, spending the next thirteen years hitchhiking across Canada. He took on odd jobs throughout his journey, hitched rides on boxcars, played on his guitar in order to make enough money for food, and sometimes even got himself arrested on charges of vagrancy on purpose so that he could have a warm place to sleep that night. Whatever it took to survive one more day, he did it.
I'm not exactly sure whether it was fate, or a lack of money that saw Tom end his journey across Canada in Timmins, Ontario. Maybe it was a combination of both. Whatever the case, when Tom arrived in Timmins, he was craving a beer. The problem was that he was five cents short of being able to pay for it at Timmins' Maple Leaf Hotel. The bartender on duty at the time decided that if Tom played his guitar for the patrons, he would give him a beer on the house. Tom obliged, the crowd went wild, and long story short, he ended up getting an exclusive gig at the hotel for the next year!
TRIVIA: Have you ever wondered why Tom ended up with the nickname of “Stompin' Tom Connors”? The origin dates back to the date in which Canada celebrated its 100th birthday. On the first of July, 1967, when Connors was playing a gig in Peterborough, Ontario at the King George Tavern, waiter Boyd MacDonald announced him as “Stompin' Tom” before he took to the stage. The audience reacted with such enthusiasm towards the name that he decided to get the name officially registered in Ontario within the week! The reason why the word “Stompin'” was used? During his performances, Tom would always stomp his left foot along with the beat of the song so that he could keep the rhythm going smoothly. He also began using a piece of plywood as a “stomping board” after club and bar owners complained that his constant stomping was damaging their floors!
Over the next forty-five years, Tom would amass a number of albums, singles, and accolades. He released twenty-seven albums in Canada between 1967 and 2012, and had twenty-two singles charting on the Canadian Country Charts between 1969 and 1997. Three of those singles, (“Big Joe Mufferaw”, “Ketchup Song”, and “Moon-Man Newfie”) hit the top spot on the Canadian Country Charts. In 1993, he received an honourary Doctor of Laws degree from St. Thomas University, made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1996, earned a Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award for Popular Music from the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards in 2000, and in 2009 was given two distinct honours. He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement SOCAN award...
...and he was honoured with his very own postage stamp on July 2, 2009! What I wouldn't do to have my image on a postage stamp someday!
TRIVIA: Of course, not all of his accolades were well-received. He was supposed to have been inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993, but he declined the offer. And, although he ended up winning eight Juno Awards for his music in the early 1970s, he actually returned every single one in 1978, as he disagreed with the idea of Canadian-born artists who recorded and promoted their singles and albums in the United States being nominated for and winning Juno Awards. The letter he sent to the Juno Award board of directors is available to read online, and I will state that he does not mince words. However, I do admire him for standing up for Canadian artists, and making sure that Canadians who chose to promote themselves on Canadian soil had a voice. You can't fault him for standing up for what he believed in.
And, of course, we can't not have a blog entry on Stompin' Tom Connors without presenting some of his music that helped cement his status as a Canadian icon. Many of his songs were written about Canadian hobbies, and there were several compositions that were about historical Canadian events. In the case of one of his songs, it was turned into a children's picture book!
So, sit back, and we'll take a listen at some of Stompin' Tom Connors' finest. For Canadian readers, it'll feel like home. For those readers in America and overseas...consider this your introduction!
“BUD THE SPUD” (1969)
This single was the first one to chart for Stompin' Tom, and it peaked at #26 on the Canadian Country Charts the week beginning February 28, 1970. The song is basically about a trucker who is carrying a load of fresh Prince Edward Island potatoes across the country. This song ended up being turned into a children's book of the same name twenty-five years after it was released apparently! I myself have not read the book version of the song, but I almost want to seek it out so that I can have the chance to read it!
“SUDBURY SATURDAY NIGHT” (1967)
This song appeared on Stompin' Tom's debut album, and although the song never charted, many fans of Stompin' Tom will immediately recognize the song based on its rather catchy chorus. The song is all about the social lives of the hard rock miners who lived and worked around Sudbury, Ontario (where Connors visited during his thirteen year tour across Canada). As you can tell from the lyrics of the song, the miners certainly knew how to party!
“THE HOCKEY SONG” (1973)
I don't even think that there is a Canadian alive who doesn't know at least part of this classic Stompin' Tom Connors song, if not the whole thing. What was unique about this single is the fact that it took nineteen years for the song to become a Canadian pop culture treasure. It was initially released in 1973, but much like “Sudbury Saturday Night” failed to chart. It wasn't until the Ottawa Senators began playing the song during the hockey games they played during the 1992/1993 season that the song began to take off. The same year that the song was being played at Ottawa Senators games, the then-coach of rival hockey team, the Toronto Maple Leafs insisted that they be allowed to play the song at their games as well. By the time the 1990s wrapped up, the song was frequently played at both Canadian and American hockey games, making this song one of the very few Stompin' Tom songs to be heard stateside.
And, as I mentioned before, Stompin' Tom released songs that were all about Canadian history, as well as songs that were linked to personal experiences he had throughout his life. I won't post the videos here, but if you click some of the song titles below, you can have a listen to the songs as you read a brief description of what the song is about.
REESOR CROSSING TRAGEDY (1969) – Written about the murders of a trio of union workers during the Reesor Siding Strike of 1963.
TILLSONBURG (1971) – Tillsonburg is a small town located in the province of Ontario, which happens to be the setting of this song. It's based off of Connors' own experiences there working in the tobacco fields.
THE BRIDGE CAME TUMBLIN' DOWN (1972) – Certainly not all of the subjects of Stompin' Tom's compositions were happy ones, as in the case of this song. It was written in tribute to the nineteen men who were killed in the collapse of the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing in 1958.
BIG JOE MUFFERAW (1970) – The first of three #1 hits for Stompin' Tom in Canada, this song was more or less a musical autobiography of French-Canadian logging legend Joseph Montferrand.
FIRE IN THE MINE (1972) – Since Timmins, Ontario was such an important place in the life and times of Stompin' Tom, it's only natural that he would choose to write a song about an event that happened there. Unfortunately, that event was one of sorrow, as the song was written about a real life fire at a mine in Timmins that killed several men.
Stompin' Tom Connors was a real Canadian legend. I don't think that there's too many Canadians who don't know who he is. I remember at an early age my parents would always be playing his albums and singing along to his music, and when I was a kid, I would be so embarrassed by it that I would grab my own boom box and try to drown out their radio with my Dance Mix compilations! As I grew older, I learned to appreciate Stompin' Tom Connors a lot more. He truly was the very embodiment of what I would call a true Canadian. He never let hardships stand in his way of doing what he wanted to do. He was incredibly patriotic and loved his country from the very beginning all the way down to his final breath. And, he also didn't flaunt his stardom in anybody's face either. He was incredibly humble about his success, and as long as he was recording music, I believe that he was content with that. I think that there are some current recording artists out there who could definitely take lessons from Stompin' Tom...particularly one Canadian-born artist in general who just turned the age of legality here in Canada...
...not naming names, of course.
At any rate, Stompin' Tom Connors was one of the greatest representations of what true Canadian spirit was...and his death on Wednesday affected a lot of people.
I think that a little part of every Canadian died that day...
Stompin' Tom Connors