Canadian country-folk legend Stompin’ Tom Connors has died. He was 77.
Connors passed away Wednesday at his home from “natural causes.”
“There’s nobody that ever can be compared to him anywhere,” spokesperson Brian Edwards told 680News.
“I mean, he got his own postage stamp, he’s an officer at the Order of Canada, 61 albums he’s recorded and every one of them was written about the country that he loved so much.”
“He stayed a Canadian — never ventured across the border. He was true Canadian as anybody could be.”
The musician knew his health was declining and penned a note to his fans:
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
- Listen to an interview with Brian Edwards, president and CEO of Rocklands Entertainment
- Listen to 680News music reporter Rudy Blair interview Stompin’ Tom Connors in this July 14, 2009 interview
- Canadians mourn: Your reaction to the death of Stompin’ Tom Connors
Connors is survived by his wife Lena, two sons, two daughters and several grandchildren.
“They’re devastated. He was such a close family man. It’s a tough one,” Edwards said of Connors’ family.
A public celebration of his life featuring speakers and music will be held next Wednesday in Peterborough.
Dubbed Stompin’ Tom for his propensity to pound the floor with his left foot during performances, Connors garnered a devoted following through straight-ahead country-folk tunes that drew inspiration from his extensive travels and focused on the everyman.
Although wide commercial appeal escaped Connors for much of his four-decade career, his heritage-soaked songs like “Canada Day, Up Canada Way,” “The Hockey Song,” “Bud the Spud,” and “Sudbury Saturday Night,” have come to be regarded as veritable national anthems thanks to their unabashed embrace of all things Canadiana.
In a July 2009 interview with 680News music reporter Rudy Blair, Connors said there was a lack of music focused on Canada and he wanted to fill that gap.
“Nobody was writing about Canada or singing about it or very damn few. So I thought ‘hey there’s a niche. I think I’ll do my best to fit in there,’” he said.
Eric Alper of eOne Music Canada said his love for his homeland will be one of Connors’ legacies.
“He told our stories. He told our themes. And he did it in a way that wasn’t selling out to anybody,” he told 680News.
“I mean he was very emotional about how much he loved Canada.”
“The great thing is that his songs are going to be remaining in the hearts of Canadians for decades to come.”
Connors’ fervent patriotism brought controversy when his principles put him at loggerheads with the Canadian music industry.
In 1978, he famously returned a handful of Juno Awards he had amassed in previous years, complaining that some artists were being awarded in categories outside their genre while other winners had conducted most of their work outside of the country.
He derided artists that moved to the United States as “border jumpers.”
“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 a statement at the time.
The declaration marked the beginning of a 10-year self-imposed exile from the spotlight.
Connors’ earliest days
From Connors’ earliest days, life was a battle.
He was born in Saint John, N.B., on Feb. 9, 1936 to an unwed teenage mother.
According to his autobiography, “Before the Fame,” he often lived hand-to-mouth as a youngster, hitchhiking with his mother from the age of three, begging on the street by the age of four. At age eight, he was placed in the care of Children’s Aid and adopted a year later by a family in Skinner’s Pond, P.E.I. He ran away four years later to hitchhike across the country.
Connors bought his first guitar at age 14 and picked up odd jobs as he wandered from town to town, at times working on fishing boats, as a grave digger, tobacco picker and fry cook.
Legend has it that Connors began his musical career when he found himself a nickel short of a beer at the Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmins, Ont., in 1964 at age 28.
The bartender agreed to give him a drink if he would play a few songs but that turned into a 14-month contract to play at the hotel. Three years later, Connors made his first album and garnered his first hit in 1970 with “Bud The Spud.”
Hundreds more songs followed, many based on actual events, people, and towns he had visited.
“I’m a man of the land, I go out into the country and I talk to people and I know the jobs they do and how they feel about their jobs,” Connors has said.
“And I’ve been doing that all my life so I know Canada like the palm of my hand. I don’t need a map to go anywhere in Canada, I know it all.”
In 1988, Connors emerged from his decade-long protest with the album “Fiddle and Song,” featuring a new fiddle style and the songs “Canada Day, Up Canada Way,” “Lady kd lang,” and “I Am the Wind.” It was followed in 1990 by a 70-city Canadian tour that established him as one of the country’s best loved troubadours.
But his strong convictions about the music industry remained. Connors declined induction into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993.
Accolades he did embrace included an appointment to the Order of Canada in 1996, and his own postage stamp.
“I want everybody to know that while I was around my main thoughts every time I wrote a song is that there’s a gap in Canada about songs about this land and I wanted to fill that drought,” he told 680News in 2009 on how he would like his career to be remembered.
“I hope that I filled the gap as much as I could.”
Canadians react to the legend’s death