What better time than Canada Day’s 150th birthday weekend to celebrate the proudly patriotic music of Stompin’ Tom Connors?
The iconic Canadian country artist, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 77, has a just-released collection — Stompin’ Tom Connors 50th Anniversary — to mark the five decades since he was first introduced that way (for stomping his heel while he sang, later on a piece of plywood he carried with him) at a July 1, 1957, performance at the King George Tavern in Peterborough, Ont.
The 18-track disc features all of his best known songs, including Sudbury Saturday Night, The Hockey Song and Bud the Spud, a forward by Hockey Hall of Famer Ken Dryden, plus four reworked versions of his tunes by The Cuddy/Polley Family Band (Don Valley Jail), George Canyon (The Hockey Song), Corb Lund (The Consumer), and Connors’ most recent backing band, Whiskey Jack (Algoma Central #69).
“I never performed with him live (but) had numerous interactions with Tom,” said Blue Rodeo frontman Jim Cuddy in an interview with The Toronto Sun.
“I think the first time might have been the SOCAN awards (in the late ’80s). He was very gracious. What was remarkable about it was we came up to his table he had a case of beer under his table. So he did pull out a bottle and cracked it open. We were pretty fascinated. We were pretty young and still intimidated by the industry and he certainly was not.”
Canyon, a Nova Scotia native who now lives near Calgary, never got the opportunity to play with Connors — who died in March, 2013 — or see him live. But Canyon agrees he was a captivating outsider. He later got to casually know Connors, who returned his ’70s-era Junos in 1978 to protest the Canadian music awards being given to ex-pats and declined to be inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993.
“Stompin’ Tom, he was revered, he was the icon,” said Canyon, who had a July 1 date headlining a music festival in Castlegar, B.C.
“And then playing his music, too, as a kid around the campfire. I’ve been playing The Hockey Song, for a long time. I’ve played literally almost every square inch of Canada and when we play a bit of The Hockey Song, which we do every show, the place goes nuts. And there hasn’t been one venue or one crowd that did not respond amicably and sing along. They might not even know who Stompin’ Tom was but, as an artist, to have that kind of effect on a nation, wow.”
In addition to the new collection, the new Stompin’ Tom Connors Centre in his hometown of Skinners Pond, P.E.I., had its grand opening on Canada Day, featuring a 120-seat performance space with the first annual Stompin’ Tom Fest, which runs July 1 to 2.
Cuddy said Connors was proof you could stay in Canada once “making it” after he and Blue Rodeo co-founder Greg Keelor returned to Toronto from The Big Apple in the early ’80s before forming their country-rock-pop group in 1984.
“It felt like a step backwards for us since we had been in New York,” said Cuddy. “But there were a couple of icons, they were Gordon Lightfoot and Stompin’ Tom, who were real mavericks, who lived in the city, stayed in Canada, regardless of their fame, especially with Gordon. So it was sort of inspiring to me that this was possible.”
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