Thu, Mar 7, 2013.
I'm off to the East Coast Music Week with the news of the passing of Dr. Stompin' Tom Connors. No doubt it will be the main conversation of the weekend, and many a glass will be raised in his name. East Coast musicians love Connors, and not just because he's from here. It's because of his attitude, and his fierce spirit. His connection with the country's small towns and working people made him a legend. He wrote about real people, and real places, the way most people live.
That's what Atlantic Canadian's musicians, or at least the greater part of them, do and do well. All that he wrote and did was with great respect, and love of the people and the places. He was a role model for generations of musicians.
Tom's East Coast roots are well-documented, especially in his two fine autobiographies, which I heartily recommend. Let's recap the highlights, though. He was born in Saint John, N.B., and spent the first nine years of his life in the city, growing up hard in the streets, with his unwed, teenage mother. Eventually he was placed with a family in Skinner's Pond, P.E.I., and later hit the road as a teenager, hitch-hiking and learning to play music. While he lived elsewhere, he returned to the Maritimes for his first hit, Bud The Spud in 1970. After that, almost every album included a song about one place or another in Atlantic Canada, and although he lived the majority of his life in Ontario, he'd always be thought of as a Maritimer.
It was St. Thomas University in Fredericton that gave him his first honorary degree, which was a source of great pride for him. He even named his next album Dr. Stompin' Tom, Eh? And when the East Coast Music Association bestowed a lifetime achievement award on him in 1993, he turned the tables on the board of directors. He asked that instead, they create a new award, and give it out each year to the unsung heroes in the local music world. The champion of the underdog wanted to see those people recognized. To this day, the Association gives out the Stompin' Tom Award yearly, to a deserving person from each Atlantic province.
You'll read and hear lots praise for Connors in the next few days from every corner of the country. I can tell you about the teacher in Yellowknife who plays her kids a recording of Tom's Name The Capitols, so they will sing along and learn the capitol city of each province and territory. You'll hear the stories about him packing the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto in the late 60's, his boot pounding the stompin' board so hard you could smell burnt sawdust in the air. People around your office will be singing the theme song for P.E.I. Tourism, "For information on vacations, phone the land of fun, 8-double-zero, five-six-five, seven-four-two-one." The East Coast Music Awards has stated that there will be a tribute at the Awards show, and the Industry brunch event. And I'm looking forward to the late-night hotel room parties, where I guarantee you the musicians will be jamming to Big Joe Mufferaw, The Hockey Song, Ketchup Song, Sudbury Saturday Night, Tillsonburg, Moon-Man Newfie, The Bug Song and of course, Bud The Spud. Why? 'Cause he's from Prince Edward Island. And New Brunswick.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).