We think no more of Inco on a Sudbury Saturday Night
The glasses they will tinkle while our eyes begin to twinkle
And we think no more of Inco on a Sudbury Saturday Night"
Canada has certainly produced its share of Country Music legends, but absolutely none have been quite so proudly Canadian as Stompin’ Tom Connors, a blue-collar icon and almost certainly one of the most successful independent musicians in the country’s history. Over a career spanning almost half a century, Stompin’ Tom traveled constantly across Canada, celebrating its land, its people, and its stories, in song. He wrote his first song at only 11 years old, and went on to write over 500. In the process, he recorded 51 albums and sold over four million copies, which is pretty impressive given that he rarely, if ever, promoted himself outside his beloved home country. Stompin’ Tom was instantly identifiable by a black Stetson hat that he almost never removed. He’s also famous for the piece of plywood he always carried around with him - he had a habit of stomping his foot to keep time while performing, and he started using the plywood so club owners would stop complaining about him marking up their floors. That little extra percussive element became a trademark of his music.
Separated from his mother at a very young age, Thomas Charles Connors would be raised by foster parents until he was a teenager. At some point, Tom, no stranger to living in poverty, ran away from home and became a vagrant, traveling all over Canada and playing his songs to any bar that would have him, quite literally singing for his supper. Tom used to relish being arrested on vagrancy charges, knowing he’d have a warm place to sleep that night. It's this constant travel that informed his music.
Dominion Records eventually scooped him up, and he put out four records for them in rapid succession - The Northland's Own, On Tragedy Trail With Stompin' Tom Connors, Stompin’ Tom Connors Sings Bud The Spud And Other Favourites, and Stompin’ Tom Connors Meets Big Joe Mufferaw. Tom wasted little time in establishing the love of the country he’d crossed so many times over the years - "The Maritime Waltz" and "Roll On Saskatchewan" to name just a couple examples - and the third album would give him one of his most enduring classics, "Bud The Spud," a song celebrating the "best doggone potatoes that’s ever been growed" from Prince Edward Island. Tom would found his own label for much of his future releases, Boot Records (and really, what else could it be called?). He actually wound up forming three labels - Boot, Cynda and A-C-T - and he released early records by such luminaries as vocalist Rita MacNeil and classical guitarist Liona Boyd, amongst many others.
Tom’s other big enduring classic, "The Hockey Song," was released in 1972. The song is three verses, designed to mimic the three periods of a game, and it ends with "the puck is in, the home team wins!" which he’d change to a local team depending on what city he’d perform the song. The Ottawa Senators began playing it during games in 1992, and it spread to Toronto from there, and ever since, it’s been an inescapable hockey rink standard all over Canada and America. In 2004, when Conan O'Brien did a week of Late Night With Conan O'Brien in Toronto, Stompin' Tom was invited to perform "The Hockey Song" to a boisterous Toronto crowd, who gave him a hero's welcome. This is one of the only times he was on American television.
Over the years, Canada gave the love right back to Stompin’ Tom - he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, he got a SOCAN award for Lifetime Achievement and a Lifetime Artistic Achievement award courtesy of the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards, and he won a respectable six Juno Awards. The last one became a controversy in the late 1970s when he returned every single one of those Junos, as a protest against musicians who conducted most of their business in the United States being nominated (musicians he referred to as "turncoat Canadians" and "border jumpers," in case you’re wondering how fiercely patriotic Stompin’ Tom was). Tom spent the better part of a decade in retirement, but returned in 1988 for the album Fiddle & Song, and kept active at a steady rate ever since.
Famously, Stompin' Tom gave a Colbert Bump to K.D. Lang at the beginning of her career with the song "Lady K.D. Lang," and the rest is history.
A lengthy, one-of-a-kind career came to an end on March 6, 2013, when Stompin' Tom Connors succumbed to kidney failure in his home. He was 77 years old. A celebration of life was broadcast from the Peterborough Memorial Centre in Peterborough, Ontario, the town where Stompin’ Tom got his nickname in the first place. His casket was adorned in the Canadian flag, his black Stetson, and his last piece of plywood. A commemorative statue of Stompin’ Tom stands in Sudbury, Ontario, reflecting one of his old favorites, "Sudbury Saturday Night."
Discography (excluding compilations):
- The Northlands' Own Tom Connors (re-released on A-C-T Records in the mid-1980s as Northland Zone due to a printing error) (1967)
- On Tragedy Trail (1968)
- Bud the Spud and Other Favourites (1969)
- Stompin' Tom Meets Big Joe Mufferaw (1970)
- Merry Christmas Everybody (1970)
- Live at the Horseshoe (1971) (live album)
- My Stompin' Grounds (1971)
- Love & Laughter (later released as Stompin' Tom and the Moon-Man Newfie in 1973) (1971)
- Stompin' Tom and the Hockey Song (1972)
- To It and at It (1973)
- Stompin' Tom Meets Muk Tuk Annie (1974)
- The North Atlantic Squadron (1975)
- The Unpopular Stompin' Tom Connors (1976)
- Stompin' Tom at the Gumboot Cloggeroo (1977)
- Fiddle and Song (1988)
- More Of The Stompin' Tom Phenomenon (1991)
- Believe In Your Country (1992)
- Dr. Stompin' Tom...Eh? (1993)
- Long Gone To The Yukon (1995)
- Move Along With Stompin' Tom (1999)
- The Confederation Bridge (2000) (EP)
- An Ode for the Road (2002)
- Stompin' Tom and the Hockey Mom Tribute (2004)
- The Ballad Of Stompin' Tom (2008)
- Stompin' Tom and the Road's Of Life (2012)
- Stompin' Tom in Live Concert - Soundtrack (2014) (posthumous live album)
Tropes associated with Stompin' Tom Connors include:
- Ballad of X: Tom details his life story in striking detail in "The Ballad Of Stompin' Tom."
- Break Up Song: "Rubberhead," which is what the girl dumping him called him. And when he gets a new girlfriend and his old girlfriend gets jealous, he calls her one right back!
- Canada, Eh?: Meet the godfather of this trope. Tom sang about a lot of things - working class struggles being a favorite topic, such as miners and farmers - but it all came back to his love of his country. Tom wrote a song about every town, city and province he visited during his career, and immortalized some Canadian folklore in his music. Even the famous "Bud The Spud," ostensibly about a potato trucker evading police, is not-so-subtly an ode to the potatoes of Prince Edward Island.
- Cover Version: On one of his live albums, Live At The Horseshoe, he does a rendition of "I've Been Everywhere," the old country standard largely made up of Listing Cities that had most recently been a number one hit for Hank Snow. Stompin' Tom, being Stompin' Tom, nearly doubles the song's length by adding every Canadian town he's ever been in! You gotta have one hell of a memory to pull that one off.
- Greatest Hits Album: A few here and there, which is welcome considering Tom's vast discography. The Best Of Stompin' Tom Connors from 1972, A Truly Proud Canadian, released posthumously in 2014, and 50th Anniversary, also released posthumously in 2017, are some notable examples. Probably the most popular is Souvenirs: 25 Of The Best from 1998.
- Hot Pursuit: "Bud The Spud" details one - apparently the cops in Ontario aren't too fond of the titular Bud, a trucker delivering potatoes.
- Never Bareheaded: Tom wore that black Stetson in basically every appearance he ever made. He was only seen in public without it when he got married.
- Ripped from the Headlines: As mentioned above, Tom wasn't shy about putting Canadian folklore and major headlines into his music. For example, "Fire in the Mine" is about the Hollinger Mines fire in Timmins, Ontario that killed 39 miners in 1928. "Erika Nordby (Canada's Miracle Child)" references a 2001 incident where Nordby, then a toddler, was somehow revived after two hours with no heartbeat due to hypothermia. That just scratches the surface.
- The Something Song: Stompin' Tom is the patron saint of this trope - "The Hockey Song", "The Ketchup Song", "The Sasquatch Song", "The Snowmobile Song", "The Bug Song", "The Coal Boat song"...
- Spoken Word in Music: Tom would recite his lyrics almost as much as he'd sing them, which only added to the folksy charm of his storytelling.
- Three Chords and the Truth: Tom kept his country sound simple and traditional, with no concessions to any country music trends whatsoever.