One long, hot Toronto summer, I lived a couple of houses down from Stompin’ Tom Connors.
I didn’t know who he was. Now and then I’d see him sitting on his front step, having his morning coffee or sipping a beer as the sun went down. He was a balding, raw-boned guy and I figured he was just another of those blue collar types who worked down at the Goodyear plant or on the line making tractors at Massey-Ferguson.
One of the kind of men who worked hard and spent their leisure time watching hockey on TV and drinking in bars where the draft came in 15 cent glasses accompanied by a bag of chips and a pickled egg.
Then somebody told me he played in those bars and was some kind of cowboy-folkie who only played his own songs at a time when that wasn’t really in fashion.
He got his nickname from stamping his boots to keep time and carried a trademark sheet of plywood on stage because saloon keepers got tired of having to fix the floor every time he played a gig for them.
But I eventually heard Tom’s songs and the rest of the country soon became familiar with them too. The first time I saw him live, he was playing Toronto’s storied Massey Hall, famous for its perfect acoustics and legendary live concerts by Canadian icons like Glenn Gould, Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot.
The crowd that night was less concerned with the acoustics than singing and stompin’ along to Tom’s string of home-grown hits. “Bud the Spud”, “Big Joe Mufferaw”, “Tillsonburg” and “Sudbury Saturday Night”. Songs about places, people and ways of life little known to most of us, but instantly recognizable by all who heard them.
His affection for his country and its people was infectious. And at a time when much of the country (and certainly Toronto) was determined to convince the rest of the planet just how sophisticated and “world class” we might be, Tom reminded us of who we really were.
Stompin’ Tom passed away today, leaving a final message to his fans which reads:
I want all my fans, past, present, or future, to know that without you, there would have not been any Stompin' Tom.
It was a long hard bumpy road, but this great country kept me inspired with its beauty, character, and spirit, driving me to keep marching on and devoted to sing about its people and places that make Canada the greatest country in the world.
I must now pass the torch, to all of you, to help keep the Maple Leaf flying high, and be the Patriot Canada needs now and in the future.
I humbly thank you all, one last time, for allowing me in your homes, I hope I continue to bring a little bit of cheer into your lives from the work I have done.
Your Friend always,
Stompin' Tom Connors
For those who never had the pleasure, here’s a taste of what endeared Tom to so many –- concluding with the song that is this country’s unofficial national anthem…