There are few people who have had as much of a hand in influencing Canadian music as the legendary Stompin’ Tom Connors. Soon, it will be a year since Canada lost one of its most treasured entertainers, songwriters, storytellers and all-around advocates for the working class. The effects of his passing and of his absurdly prolific oeuvre are still palpable: he worked tirelessly to support the little guy and, as a result, he was a man that gave Canada’s music and arts scene an identity as the scrappy little up-and-comers who weren’t going to take any shit.
He drank like a fish and smoked like a chimney, sucking back close to 100 cigarettes a day, and that’s why he refused to be compromised and sold as a commodity – it just wasn’t him. He wasn’t a glossy marketing image — he was an old salt. Hell, he wouldn’t even take off his iconic black Stetson hat when he met Queen Elizabeth II – he didn’t see why he should have to.
“Stompin’ Tom very willfully injected Canadian cultural pride into a genre that was largely dependent on fitting in with its American counterpoint,” says St. John-born folk singer/songwriter David R. Elliott. In 2013, Elliott, along with bluesman Mike Trask, embarked on a cross-Canada tour that saw the duo paying tribute to Connors by including a rotating number of covers in their set, both had grown up considering Connors a cultural and musical hero. “He had an attitude that didn’t help his career at all, but eventually resulted in an entirely unique career, with uniquely Canadian music. Tom was a personable fella that wrote for the people he drank with on the road.”
He didn’t like the dilution of the Canadian identity and proved that he wasn’t going to stand for it when he famously sent back all of his JUNO awards and began a boycott of the awards show.
“I am returning herewith the six JUNO awards that I once felt honoured to have received and which I am no longer proud to have in my possession. As far as I am concerned, you can give them to the border jumpers who didn’t receive an award this year and maybe you can have them presented by Charley Pride,” he wrote in a statement to the JUNOs. Just to show he wasn’t kidding, he later dictated that he refused to let the JUNOs honour him upon his death.
Look no further than controversial actions like Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s statement about their Polaris Prize win for evidence that Connors’ vicious stance on Canadian integrity was soaked up like gospel by willing champions of Canadian artistic integrity. His influence is felt in genres that are miles away from his own folk/country crooning, too.
“The mythical idea of this Canadian troubadour travelling the country and eroding his way through a two-by-four each set with his aggressive time-keeping was a wonderful symbol to me as a young drummer,” says Samuel Rosenberg, drummer and percussionist for Canadian folk singer/songwriter Charlotte Cornfield, as well as indie-psych group Slight and doom-metal extraordinaires Ensorcelor.
“The continuity between his life and surroundings and his art and image was intense. Touring Canada relentlessly and having it inform every aspect of your musical being is harrowing, and all the while seeming to make an impact as notable as that in the two-by-four.”
Raise a glass to this legendary Canadian and stomp along with the greats like Sudbury Saturday Night and the Ketchup Song, Tim Hus is hosting a Stompin’ Tom birthday bash at the Ironwood on February 8 and Matt Masters is also hosting a birthday party for the loveable stomper on the same night at the Oak Tree Tavern.
By Nick Laugher