Tuesday, August 1, 2000

Still Stompin'

At 64, Tom Connors keeps on bringing his style of music to the people, with an Ontario tour that takes him to Blyth and London this week
By JOE MATYAS -- London Free Press

I was surprised the day my father told me he was a Stompin' Tom Connors fan and produced a CD to prove it.

This revelation didn't seem to fit a man who loves big bands, Mario Lanza and Hungarian gypsy music.

Stompin' Tom, he explained, is a true Canadian character, someone cut from his own cloth, a one-of-a- kind original.

Right on, dad. With his pure boom-chucka sound, homespun rhymes and blatant patriotism, Connors has become just as much a cultural icon as an entertainer. This fact was recognized by the University of Toronto in June when it presented him with an honorary doctor of laws degree.

Connors is in the midst of a summer tour of Ontario that brings him to Blyth tonight and London on Thursday.

Like most Connors tours, this one includes everything from arenas in small towns such as Bobcaygeon to first-rate concert venues such as Massey Hall in Toronto.

Centennial Hall in London will be set up with licensed cabaret-style table seating on the main floor for Connors' performance -- an arrangement that certainly suits a man whose early career was spent in the pubs and taverns of the country.

It's legend now that Connors' career was launched at the Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmins when he didn't have enough money for a glass of beer. Bartender Gaetan Lepine agreed to spot him a free one if he'd take out his guitar and play a few songs.

He did and the response was so good that he was given a 13-month contract to play nightly at the hotel and weekly on a local radio station. At 64, the black-hatted Connors has achieved national celebrity status. He'll be in London singing his classic tunes and songs from his new CD, Move Along with Stompin' Tom, and keeping his profile high a few weeks before the release of a new autobiography, Stompin' Tom and the Connors Tone. Connors' first volume of memoirs, Before the Fame, was about his deprived childhood and early career. The new book picks up from there.
Born in Saint John, N.B., Connors lived hand-to-mouth with his poor mother until he was taken from her and placed in the care of the Children's Aid Society. Orphanages and a foster home were his homes until he was adopted by the Aylward family of Skinner's Pond, P.E.I. He lived there until the age of 15, when he started hitchhiking across the country.

The young drifter is now a member of the Order of Canada, an honour bestowed on him in 1996. Although Connors has long been the people's choice, he's had to battle recording industry producers and radio networks to get his songs made and played, twice going as far as starting his own labels -- Boot Records and A-C-T. Connors stunned and stung the recording industry in 1979 when he returned all six of his Juno Awards as a statement of protest against the Americanization of the Canadian music industry. Who else would have done that? As dad said, there's no one quite like Stompin' Tom.



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