Sadly, Canada lost a musical legend this past Wednesday. The death of Stompin’ Tom Connors on March 6, 2013 had the nation mourning. In Ottawa, the National Arts Centre lowered its flag to half-mast to mark his passing, as news channels and papers across Canada fondly remembered the great artist.
Stompin’ Tom was born on February 9, 1936 to an unwed teenage mother in Saint John, N.B. According to his autobiography, Before the Fame, life was tough for the youngster. He has said that he was begging on the streets by the age of four and by the age of eight, he was placed in the care of Children’s Aid only to be adopted a year later by a family from P.E.I. He ran away at age twelve to hitchhike across Canada. He picked up odd jobs as he travelled throughout our country’s cities – including working on fishing boats, as a fry cook, and even as a grave digger – and bought his first guitar at age fourteen.
Connors began his musical career while at the Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmins, Ont. He did not have enough money to buy himself a beer and the bartender offered to give him a drink in exchange for a few songs. This was in 1964 and Connors was now 28 years old. A few songs turned into a 14-month contract with the hotel. Three years later, Stompin’ Tom Connors would record his first album and have his first hit with ‘Bud The Spud’. Hundreds of songs followed, many based on his life experiences, the people he met, and cities he had visited growing up.
His earned his notorious name ‘Stompin’ Tom’ for his disposition while pounding the floor with his left foot during performances.
Despite the fact that Connors wasn’t gracing the covers of magazines or MTV’s screens for much of his four-decade career, his homeland songs like ‘Canada Day, Up Canada Way’, ‘The Hockey Song’ and ‘Sudbury Saturday Night’, are national anthems for his recognition of all things Canadiana – Connors continuously insisted that not enough songs were being written about his homeland.
In a message posted on his website, Connors says Canada kept him “inspired with its beauty, character, and spirit, driving me to keep marching on and devoted to sing about its people and [the] places that make Canada the greatest country in the world.”
Connors’ intense patriotism produced controversy when he faced the difficult headstrong Canadian music industry. In 1978, he handed back a handful of Juno Awards he had stockpiled over the years, complaining that some artists were being awarded in categories outside their genre while other winners had conducted most of their work outside of the country. He derided artists that moved to the United States as “border jumpers”.
“I feel that the Junos should be for people who are living in Canada, whose main base of business operations is in Canada, who are working toward the recognition of Canadian talent in this country and who are trying to further the export of such talent from this country to the world with a view to proudly showing off what this country can contribute to the world market,” he announced at the time.
The declaration marked the beginning of a 10-year self-imposed exile from the spotlight.
He remained in retirement for 12 years, returning to the studio in 1986 only to produce a new album to promote Canadian artists. He came out of retirement in 1988 when he released Fiddle and Song, his first new album since 1977.
Since 1990, Connors was repeatedly asked by CBC to do a music special. He eventually gave in and in September 2005, he shot and edited a live concert performance at Hamilton Place Theatre, spending more than $200,000 of his own money on the project – only to have it turned down by the newly-appointed programming VP, who said that the CBC was moving away from music and variety and it just wouldn’t fit with the companies new program tactics.
Connors would later receive a letter from CBC inviting him to perform a song as a guest on the network’s Hockyville series, or as a subject for a Life and Times project. Connors’ reply. . .
“As far as I’m concerned, if the CBC, our own public network, will not reconsider their refusal to air a Stompin’ Tom special, they can take their wonderful offer of letting me sing a song as a guest on some other program, and shove it.”
A memorial is scheduled to be held on March 13, 2013 at the Peterborough Memorial Centre in Peterborough, Ont.