Thank you CBC Radio! Just when I think I’ll never hear anything that I haven’t heard at least once already in any given day or week, you give me a wonderful treat.
Stompin’ Tom Connors – his songs and his conversation in radio interviews and call-in shows from the CBC archives. Last Sunday on Radio One on Inside the Music (listen here). If you know him and love his music, you will truly enjoy this. If you know him and think ho hum, take a listen to him talking about his life and where the songs came from. If you have no idea who he is, listen so that you may learn about someone central to Canadian music and Canadian pride.
My mother was a fan of Stompin’ Tom so I grew up with his music. I don’t know if ‘Tillsonburg’ was the first song of his she heard, but it was her favourite. She’s from Tillsonburg and she worked in tobacco – one season. She understood, and connected with, every word. That’s what Stompin’ Tom songs do for Canadians and Canada. He is the quintessential Canadian; born in New Brunswick, raised in PEI and has worked out west, in Ontario and pretty much every part of the country.
In the doc, he talks about meeting people who had recently returned from visiting Germany. The Germans they were with one evening sang their country’s folksongs then asked to hear some songs about Canada. They couldn’t think of one except for Oh Canada. So Tom, over the years, set about writing those songs. He created the folk songs about our country.
There are strong regional music traditions in Canada. Certainly Newfoundland, the Maritimes and Quebec are rich in traditional songs that tell the history of their places, events and people. The west is the homeland of country and western. But songs about Canada as a whole or regional songs known outside those regions? Like Woody Guthrie, Stompin’ Tom both created and popularized the music of a land.
‘Stompin’ from St. John’s to Tillsonburg
The first time I saw Stompin’ Tom perform was in St. John’s at the old Memorial arena. He was on a small dais and the audience was seated in front, all of us on the covered ice surface. It was close and personal. He didn’t mind you getting out in the aisle taking his picture and he stayed after the performance for a long time signing autographs and talking to fans.
Years later I saw him in Tillsonburg. The sound system was atrocious. It was almost impossible to make out his words when he was singing or talking. But it was worth every cent and more when he started Tillsonburg (My back still aches). The place went up! You couldn’t hear him over everyone singing along. (You can listen to him singing it in Hamilton by clicking the title, also below for Sudbury Saturday Night.)
In his songs, Stompin’ Tom gets at the heart of the people and landscape of every one of our regions. And by focusing on the particular, he speaks to the whole of this large and sometimes fragmented nation. Thank you, CBC, for the chance to hear him talk about how and why he made the music and to tap my foot and sing along with Sudbury Saturday Night. You don’t have to have ever been in Sudbury to ‘get it’.