Stompin' Tom remembered as 'dart smoking, plywood banging' Canadian icon
Published Thursday, March 7, 2013 8:54AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, March 7, 2013 3:57PM EST
Stompin' Tom Connors, the legendary folk musician who spent his life criss-crossing the country singing about small towns and everyday Canadian life is being remembered as a cultural icon who helped define the nation.
Connors died Wednesday at his home in Peterborough, Ont., from natural causes. He was 77.
"Tom Connors was a great Canadian who truly loved his country," said Gordon Lightfoot Thursday on CTV's Canada AM. "He was just a nice normal guy -- a Canadian and loved working here, a very patriotic person."
Connors was known for hits that have become part of the classic Canadian songbook for many, from "Bud the Spud" about a P.E.I. trucker carrying potatoes to Ontario, to "Sudbury Saturday Night" and the "The Hockey Song," which still echoes in arenas across the country, crowds raucously singing along to the well-known anthem.
Lightfoot said Connors had a "prodigious" output as an artist, writing hundreds of songs that often "read like poetry in motion."
"The Hockey Song is one that is very well known because it's played all over and I've heard that one played in person and it's a very powerful song to hear on stage, although it's also a very lighthearted song. He was a powerful entertainer," Lightfoot said.
Tributes quickly began to show up on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook after word of his death spread Wednesday evening.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a dedicated hockey fan, offered his condolences to the man who gained his nickname from his habit of kicking a wooden board to keep the beat as he performed.
"We have lost a true Canadian original. R.I.P. Stompin' Tom Connors. You played the best game that could be played," Harper tweeted, referencing “The Hockey Song.”
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said Connors helped define the character of the nation -- a sentiment shared by many expressing their sadness at his death.
"Very sad to hear of #StompinTom's passing. He sang Canada's songs, our places, our lives," May posted on Twitter.
Toronto radio personality Dean Blundell also remembered the hard-living folk musician who performed right up until the last few years of his life.
"Sad to see THE beer drinking, dart smoking, plywood banging, heart of Canadiana passed today. #STOMPINTOM #REALCANADIANMAN," Blundell tweeted.
On Thursday, NDP MPs paid tribute to Connors by gathering to sing “Bud the “Spud” on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
“A giant of Canadian music and a great promoter of Canadian music left us last night, and our team would like to sing a little homage for him,” NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said ahead of the song.
At the Leafs-Senators game in Toronto on Wednesday night fans also paid tribute by singing “The Hockey Song.”
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.
A fiercely patriotic Canadian, he once returned several Juno awards as a protest against awards being given to expat Canucks living and working in the U.S. He also refused entrance to the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, though he was appointed to the Order of Canada and a postage stamp was issued in his honour.
Ronnie Hawkins, a music legend in his own right, said Connors’ strength was his ability to hold listeners with his tales of Canadian life.
"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.
In a statement posted on his official web site, Connors left a message saying: “I want all my fans, past, present, or future, to know that without you, there would have not been any Stompin' Tom."
He added: “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."