Stompin’ Tom Connors

Stompin' Tom Connors

Stompin’ Tom Connors

Charles Thomas Stompin’ Tom Connors, a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and fiddler, was born on February 9th, 1936, in Saint John.

Stompin’ Tom Connors became one of the most iconic figures in Canadian music. He was a working-class, down-to-earth troubadour and arguably the most patriotic songwriter that Canada has ever produced. His traditional country songs about Canadian people and places—such as “Bud the Spud,” “Sudbury Saturday Night,” and “Big Joe Mufferaw”—were humorous, patriotic, and widely popular, reflecting his extensive travels throughout the country. He was a passionate advocate for Canadian music and culture, even returning six Juno Awards in protest of the organization’s perceived favoritism toward expatriate Canadians over those with only domestic success. Connors received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the East Coast Music Awards, the Toronto Musician’s Union, and SOCAN. He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame.

Tom Connors experienced a difficult childhood, marked by poverty, homelessness, hunger, and the challenges of the child welfare system. In his early years, he and his mother begged on the streets of New Brunswick, and when she was jailed, young Tom was incarcerated with her. Eventually, he was placed in an orphanage and foster care before being adopted by the Aylward family in Skinners Pond, Prince Edward Island.

At age 11, Connors wrote his first song, “Reversing Falls Darling.” By 15, he started playing the guitar. The country music of Wilf Carter and Hank Snow had a profound influence on him and his music. He left his adopted home at age 15 and hitchhiked across Canada, working various jobs for 13 years and occasionally spending a night in jail for vagrancy. This period, during which he saw much of the country and experienced the seamy side of life, informed his musical persona as a sincere, grassroots songwriter.

In 1964, Connors began singing professionally at the Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmins, Ontario. He initially performed for beer but stayed there for 14 months, eventually earning $35 per week. He was also heard locally on CKGB radio. Lacking amplification at the Maple Leaf and other bars where he performed in Ontario, Connors pounded the floor with his booted foot to establish the rhythm of his songs (partly sung and partly recited) above the noise of the crowd. He was first dubbed “Stompin’ Tom” when introduced before a performance at the King George Tavern in Peterborough, Ontario, on Centennial Day, July 1, 1967. To avoid damaging the stages, he would place a sheet of plywood under his boot. This “stompin’ board” became as much a part of his image as the black Stetson hat he habitually wore.

Connors sang with a piercing edge that reflected the grittiness of life on the road and his hard-won life experience. He recorded his first single, “Carolyne,” in 1965 and distributed this and other early recordings (for the Rebel label) while touring in Northern Ontario. In 1969, he moved to Toronto and began recording for Dominion. His first single, “Bud the Spud” (1969), became a Top 30 hit on the Canadian country chart.

Following the national hits “Big Joe Mufferaw” and “Ketchup Song,” which both reached No. 1 on the chart in 1970, and “Luke’s Guitar,” which peaked at No. 2, Connors continued his success. In 1971, he established the independent Boot Records label with his manager, Jury Krytiuk. He released “The Bridge Came Tumbling Down” (1971), “Moon-Man Newfie” (1972), and “The Bug Song” (1972), which reached No. 2, No. 1, and No. 9 on the Canadian Country chart, respectively. Other well-known early Connors songs include “Sudbury Saturday Night” (1967) and “To It and At It” (1974).

Starting in the early 1970s, Connors fiercely championed Canadian content. Although many in the industry saw him as a novelty act, his songs were virtually ignored by commercial radio, and his record sales were limited. His successes were primarily on country and university radio stations. However, he received the Juno Award in 1971 for best male country singer and became somewhat of a cult figure, largely due to his popularity as a live performer. He toured extensively throughout Canada, and his record-setting 25-night run at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern became legendary.

Connors toured with his heroes Wilf Carter and Hank Snow, and his increasing popularity led to two films: “This Is Stompin’ Tom” (1972) and “Across This Land with Stompin’ Tom Connors” (1973). His marriage to Lena Welsh was broadcast live on the CBC Television program “Elwood Glover’s Luncheon Date” on November 2, 1973, and from 1974–75, he starred in his own CBC TV program, “Stompin’ Tom’s Canada.” The CBC TV program “Marketplace” featured his “The Consumer” as its theme song for several seasons.

During the 1970s, Boot Records released 12 studio albums by Connors and six compilations, including the five-volume sets, “Stompin’ Tom Sings 60 Old Time Favourites” (1972) and “Stompin’ Tom Sings 60 More Old Time Favourites” (1976).

Connors won the Juno Award for best male country singer every year from 1971–75, and his LP “To It and At It” (1972) received a Juno in 1974 for Country Album of the Year. In 1978, however, he returned the awards in protest of Junos given to expatriate Canadians. He subsequently retired and launched a personal, one-year boycott of radio and other media to protest their lack of support for identifiably Canadian material.

Stoppin’ Tom Connors, in his signature hat, accepting his Best Country Male Artist honours in 1973. He would win six Junos in the seventies. Credit: Plum Communications Inc.
Stoppin’ Tom Connors, in his signature hat, accepting his Best Country Male Artist honours in 1973. He would win six Junos in the seventies. Credit: Plum Communications Inc.

In 1986, Rheostatics frontman Dave Bidini and a group of young Toronto musicians surprised Connors at his 50th birthday party in Ballinafad, Ontario, and presented him with a petition urging him to come out of retirement. Interest in Connors was somewhat rekindled when Bidini’s article recounting the experience was published in Toronto’s Nerve magazine in October 1986.

Connors did not return to performing until 1988, when he released the album Fiddle and Song. The album showcased the fiddle style he had developed during his retirement and included popular tracks like “Canada Day, Up Canada Way,” “Lady KD Lang,” and “I Am the Wind.” In 1990, Connors embarked on a triumphant 70-city tour across Canada, culminating in two concerts at Massey Hall. That year also saw the release of the greatest hits compilation, A Proud Canadian (1990), which was the first of Connors’s albums to achieve gold and eventually platinum status in Canada. Capitol Records also reissued many of Connors’s earlier albums and, in 1991, released a new recording, More of the Stompin’ Tom Phenomenon.

By the 1990s, Connors’s patriotic focus on Canada’s history, natural beauty, and unique character had become fashionable, earning him wider support. At a time when Canadian cultural values were perceived to be under increasing threat from the US, the unmistakably Canadian subjects of his songs helped to establish a nationalist song style. In a 1994 article for the Canadian Folk Music Journal, William Echard noted that Connors was “a major force in challenging the assumption that Canadian themes are less worthy than American or blandly ‘universal’ ones.”

In 1992, Connors’s “The Hockey Song” was played during an Ottawa Senators hockey game, and it quickly became an anthem for National Hockey League games.

During this period, Connors released several albums, including Believe in Your Country (1992), Dr. Stompin’ Tom…Eh? (1993), Long Gone to the Yukon (1995), Move Along with Stompin’ Tom (1999), and An Ode for the Road (2002). Many of his new songs commemorated significant Canadian events, such as “Confederation Bridge” (the construction of the PEI-mainland link), “The Blue Berets” (UN peacekeeper missions), and “Believe in Your Country” (Canada’s 125th anniversary).

In 1998, another greatest hits compilation, 25 of the Best Stompin’ Tom Souvenirs, was released and went platinum in Canada. Connors also published two best-selling autobiographies: Stompin’ Tom: Before the Fame (1995) and The Legend Continues: Stompin’ Tom and the Connors Tone (2000).

In 2005, the relationship between Connors and the CBC was strained when the broadcaster declined to air a live concert film that Connors had produced at his own expense, citing a shift away from music and variety programming. CTV stepped in and broadcast “Stompin’ Tom in Live Concert.” The DVD went on to sell over 20,000 copies.

A stage show, The Ballad of Stompin’ Tom, written by David Scott and starring Randy Hughson as Connors, premiered in 2006 at Ontario’s Blyth Festival. It was later revived in Charlottetown and Gananoque, ON. In his later years, Connors continued to record and perform in Canada, including appearances at Edmonton’s Klondike Days in 2004, Ottawa’s Scotiabank Place in 2009, and throughout Western Canada in 2010. He auctioned off many of his “stompin’ boards” over the years, donating the proceeds to charity. One board brought in $15,000 for a program that aided the homeless and mentally ill in Orillia, Ontario in 2011. His final album, Stompin’ Tom and The Roads of Life, was released in 2012.

Connors, a prolific and intensely patriotic writer, composed over 500 songs, many based on actual events and people (e.g., “Big Joe Mufferaw” refers to legendary lumberjack Jos Montferrand), and others that honored the locales where he had performed (e.g., “Tillsonburg”). In this, he continued a long folk tradition. He demonstrated a fondness for topical and novelty songs, as well as for country elements. In 2011, he told the Winnipeg Free Press that he wrote “traditional country music.”

Many of his best-known songs have been covered by notable artists, such as Corb Lund (“The Hockey Song”) and Kim Mitchell (“Sudbury Saturday Night”). SOCAN dubbed Connors the “unofficial Canadian poet laureate” and described his songs as “virtual national anthems.” The words and music for 125 of Connors’ songs were published in Stompin’ Tom: Story & Song in 1975, and in 2005, Crown-Vetch Music published a second songbook, 250 Songs by Stompin’ Tom Connors.

In 1993, Connors was slated for induction into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, but he turned down the honor. Instead, he agreed to accept the Lifetime Achievement Award from the East Coast Music Awards, provided that a new award was created to recognize individuals who had made lasting contributions to the East Coast music industry and opened doors for other East Coast artists. Consequently, the Stompin’ Tom Award was established in 1996, and in that same year, Connors was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Stompin' Tom Connors
Stompin’ Tom Connors received the Order of Canada from Governor General Adrian Clarkson.

Stompin’ Tom Connors was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a SOCAN National Achievement Award in 1999 and the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award in 2000. In 2009, he received a SOCAN Lifetime Achievement Award and was featured on a postage stamp in Canada Post’s Canadian Recording Artist series. The East Coast Music Awards recognized him multiple times, and Stompin’ Tom Road in Skinners Pond, PEI was named in his honor. In 2011, the Toronto Musicians’ Union presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and he also received honorary degrees from St. Thomas University, the University of Toronto, and the University of Prince Edward Island.

Known for his hard-drinking and heavy smoking habits, Connors passed away from kidney failure at 77 on March 6, 2013. The National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa lowered its flag to half-mast in tribute to his contributions to Canada’s artistic life. On March 7, New Democrat MPs honored Connors by performing “Bud the Spud” in the foyer of the House of Commons. A memorial service was held at the Peterborough Memorial Centre, where his nickname originated, on March 13, 2013.

Connors’ unwavering patriotism earned him respect from people across all walks of life. Following his death, many paid tribute to his legacy. Peter Herrndorf of the NAC stated, “Stompin’ Tom Connors loved Canada and wrote about the beauty he saw in the Canadian people and the landscape. When he composed ‘The Hockey Song,’ it became known as Canada’s second national anthem.” Bob Rae commented, “Tom was a wonderful voice for Canada, and his music brought cheer to the lives of so many. He was a true patriot and embodied the very best of what it means to be a Canadian.”

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