Born February 9, 1936 Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada
Died March 6, 2013 Ballinafad, Ontario, Canada
Charles Thomas “Stompin’ Tom” Connors, OC, singer, songwriter, guitarist, fiddler (born 9 February 1936 in Saint John, NB; died 6 March 2013 in Ballinafad, ON). One of the most iconic figures in Canadian music, Stompin’ Tom Connors was a working-class, salt-of-the-earth troubadour and perhaps the most overtly nationalist songwriter 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, and reflected his extensive travels throughout the country. He was a passionate activist for Canadian music and culture, going so far as to return six Juno Awards in protest of what he saw as the organization’s favouring of expatriate Canadians over those with only domestic success. He 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 had as hard a childhood as one could have, experiencing poverty, homelessness, hunger, and the rigours of the child welfare system. In his very early childhood he and his mother begged on the streets of New Brunswick, and when she was jailed, the young Tom was incarcerated with her. Eventually he was placed in an orphanage and foster care before being adopted by a family in Skinners Pond, Prince Edward Island.
Connors wrote his first song, “Reversing Falls Darling,” at age 11. At 15 he began 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 his way across Canada, working for 13 years at various jobs and occasionally spending a night in jail for vagrancy. This period, during which he saw a great deal of the country and experienced the seamy side of life, informed his musical persona as a rough-hewn, sincere, grassroots songwriter.
Connors began singing professionally in 1964 at the Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmins, Ontario. He initially performed in exchange for a beer but remained there for 14 months, eventually earning $35 per week. He was also heard locally on CKGB radio. In the absence of 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 referred to as “Stompin’ Tom” when he was introduced before a performance at the King George Tavern in Peterborough, Ontario, on Centennial Day, 1 July 1967. To avoid damaging the stages, he would place a sheet of plywood under his boot. This “stompin’ board” became as much part of his image as did 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.
His successes came mainly on country and university radio stations. However, he received the Juno Award in 1971 for best male country singer and became something of a cult figure, due in large part to his popularity as a live performer; he toured exhaustively throughout Canada, and his record-setting 25-night run at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern became legendary.
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.
Connors did not return to performance until 1988, when he released Fiddle and Song. The album, which introduced the fiddle style he had developed during his retirement, included the popular “Canada Day, Up Canada Way,” “Lady KD Lang” (see k.d. lang), and “I Am the Wind.” It was followed in 1990 by a triumphant 70-city tour of 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 go gold, and eventually platinum 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.
A hard drinker and heavy smoker, Connors died of kidney failure at the age of 77 on 6 March 2013. The National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa lowered its flag to half-mast in tribute to Connors’s contribution to the artistic life of the country. On 7 March, New Democrat MPs paid tribute to Connors by performing “Bud the Spud” in the foyer of the House of Commons. A memorial service was held at the Peterborough Memorial Centre in Peterborough, the birthplace of his nickname, on 13 March 2013.
He sang of maple trees, wheat fields growing tall, the Leamington tomato, New Brunswick’s famed reversing falls. In Canada, as he sang, we get to see them all.