Published Tuesday July 1st, 2008
Stamp for the Stomper
Once again, for the umpteenth time in his long career, Saint John-born Stompin' Tom Connors is a man in demand. There is a group of fans lobbying for his hit The Hockey Song to be the new theme of Hockey Night In Canada. And, of late, his phone has been ringing off the hook, mostly with congratulations, after Canada Post announced he will be honoured with his image on a national stamp that will be released in June 2009.
Stompin’ Tom Connors can add having a stamp with his image on it to his long list of achievements. The stamp will be released in June 2009.
Of course, he always has time to take a call from the Maritimes, especially from New Brunswick, where, thanks to an honourary doctorate from St. Thomas University, we call him Dr. Connors.
"As long as you don't need an appointment right away, I've been kind of busy," jokes Connors from his rural farmhouse about 20 minutes east of Guelph, Ont.
Connors has won awards and praise since 1969, when Bud The Spud made him a national star and a hero on Prince Edward Island. He has also had a rocky relationship with trophies, once returning six of his Junos to protest awards that favoured "border jumpers," those Canadians who furthered their careers in the U.S. rather than promoting Canadian recording.
Today, for the first time, five of Connors' top albums - Bud The Spud, Fiddle & Song, Ode For The Road, My Stompin Grounds and Live At The Horseshoe - will be available digitally on iTunes, both as full albums or individual songs. In the coming months, more of his catalogue will be offered digitally.
But a stamp for the Stomper? That's another thing altogether.
"I'm elated about that, that's really something," he says. "When the announcement came out that I was going to be elected, well, hey, I had to have a couple of beers right away. A lot of people can get a Juno, but not too many can get a stamp. They're unique, it's one of a kind. I know Anne Murray and Gordon Lightfoot got one, I think it was about a couple of years ago they got a stamp. I never suspected in God's little acre that I'd ever be selected for one, because that's the way it goes. I don't know, these things happen sometimes and you don't expect them."
The stamp is the latest honour in a decade of tributes for the 72-year-old. In 2004, he was ranked No. 13 in the CBC poll for the greatest Canadian. He was the top artist of any kind to make the list; among living Canadians, he trailed only David Suzuki, Don Cherry and Wayne Gretzky.
"I topped all the other recording artists and people in my profession, eh? I was tickled pink."
That same year saw him perform on Late Night with Conan O'Brien when the show visited Canada for a week. Now, he has even been immortalized on stage in The Balled Of Stompin' Tom, based on Connors' two autobiographies. The show will be staged at The Mack Theatre in Charlottetown from July 3 to Sept. 20.
Prince Edward Island, of course, loves to lay claim to Tom. Along with Anne Of Green Gables, he's the Island's most famous face.
"The only difference there is that Anne was fictitious. This is the real thing here."
New Brunswickers have to keep reminding people he was actually born here. It has created a bit of provincial jealousy over the years, especially after his first, and most famous hit, Bud The Spud.
"They told me they sold more potatoes that year," he says. "I think in New Brunswick, around Hartland, they didn't like me at all. They were saying, 'There goes that god damn Bud The Spud up the highway again, with them P.E.I. potatoes goin' to Toronto, when ours should be going up there.'
"It was all in fun. I knew some Acheson people around Hartland at the time, and I used to go and visit them when I'd go by, and they were always ribbing me about it. They'd say how the P.E.I. spuds were no damn good, they weren't as good as the ones in N.B. You know how it goes."
Then there was the time Connors was in a fight at the legion in Newcastle, after a show. It was all a misunderstanding over his trademark hat, which he wore, despite the legion's rule that hats must be removed.
"I figured you'd ask that," he says.
"Oh, I've played Newcastle since, they're a lot nicer to me now than they were that night. I wouldn't have went in with my hat on, but those guys that came out to the show, they insisted. And so, I just took it for granted, it's gonna be alright, these guys are going to go to bat for me and all that.
"Well, I tell ya, it became a free-for-all, with half of the house saying he keeps the hat on, and the other half said he don't. And I wound up in the snowbank in the backyard, I don't know what happened to everybody else. But me and my two guys ended up in the snowbank, and the hat came out after me."
These days, without recording or touring, Tom is enjoying the highest profile of his long career. As for digging out the stompin' board and hitting the road again for the thousandth time, it's only a matter of time. He passed on a message to all his fans in the Maritimes about when they might expect to see him play: "I don't know just (when) exactly, but I know that the East Coast will be my priority when I go."
Stompin' Tom Connors: You can't beat him, but soon you'll be able to lick him, thanks to Canada Post.