Stompin' Tom Connors dead at 77
Published Wednesday, March 6, 2013 8:39PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, March 7, 2013 8:55AM EST
Country legend Stompin’ Tom Connors, whose rousing songs of Canadian life covered everything from Sudbury nickel miners to P.E.I. potato farmers, has died at the age of 77.
Connors died Wednesday of “natural causes,” according to a spokesperson.
Charles Thomas Connors was born in 1936 in Saint John, N.B., to a teenaged mother, and raised by foster parents in Skinners Pond, P.E.I, until the age of 13.
One story has it that in 1964, at the age of 28, Connors found himself at the Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmins, Ont., short five cents for a beer. He made up the difference by playing a few songs, and that turned into a 14-month contract.
He was known as “Stompin’ Tom” for tapping his boot on a wooden board in rhythm to his playing, and was rarely seen in public without his signature black cowboy hat.
Connors made a point of writing songs about Canadians, and as a result his music transformed him into a cultural icon. Some of his songs have become closer to national anthems, most notably “The Hockey Song.”
"I don't know why I seem to be the only one, or almost the only one, writing about this country," Connors told The Canadian Press in 2008.
"It just amazes me that I've been going so long I would think that somebody else (would have) picked up the torch a long time ago and started writing tons of songs about this country. This country is the most underwritten country in the world as far as songs are concerned. We starve, the people in this country are starving for songs about their homeland."
His focus on patriotic songs brought him at odds with a Canadian music industry increasingly looking south of the border. Disappointed with what he saw as “border jumper” artists who went to the U.S. to record albums, in 1978 he returned several Juno awards.
“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 said.
In addition to returning his Juno awards, Connors also declined his inclusion into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. But he was appointed to the Order of Canada and got his own postage stamp.
Ronnie Hawkins, a music legend in his own right, said Connors’ strength was his ability to hold listeners with his stories.
“He just told those stories. He’s like those great storytellers, like Johnny Cash was a great storyteller, all those great writers, like Gordon Lightfoot. He’d tell you those stories, and he had a bunch of them,” he told CTV News.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted late Wednesday that Canada had lost a “true Canadian original,” and referencing The Hockey Song, wrote: “You played the best game that could be played.”
Connors also wrote a letter to his fans shortly before his death, to be released after he passed away:
Hello friends, 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
Connors is survived by his wife Lena, two sons, and two daughters.
A “celebration of Tom’s life” is being planned for March 13 in Peterborough, Ont., at the Peterborough Memorial Centre. The event will be open to the public.
With files from The Canadians Press