Tuesday June 30, 1998

Tom is still stompin' for Canada

Stompin' Tom Connors, the legendary Canadian cowboy and nation-booster behind such traditional country music hits as Sudbury Saturday Night and The Hockey Song, apparently needs some convincing he's hip again in the '90s.

"I don't know, I sort of hold an even keel pretty well all the way through," the gravelly-voiced Connors is saying down the line recently from his Ontario home. "I don't make any big splashes and I don't get lost altogether. I just sort of float on a regular sea." That's some sea.

Connors, who's been wearing his trademark black cowboy hat since he was 14 years old, was the subject of a punk tribute album last year called Stomp On Wood.

He also just released a new 25-track compilation album called Souvenirs (along with 10 back-catalogue titles) and is the last act on the bill at tomorrow night's Molson Canadian Canada Day concert in Ottawa, some of which will be broadcast by MuchMusic.

Connors, who will be joined by Leahy on stage, follows sets from such Canadian rock royalty as Sloan, The Tea Party, The Philosopher Kings and Boston-based Big Wreck.

"After I was booked, I found out that there will be maybe a half-dozen rock acts there, but it doesn't intimidate me at all," says Connors. "I'm anxious to meet some of them as a matter of fact. Contrary to what the person on the street thinks, most musicians hardly ever get a chance to sit down and have a beer together because you're always working out on the road."

Connnors launched a 38-date tour last night in Lindsay, Ont., which wraps up at Toronto's Massey Hall on Oct. 29.

He's driving himself across the country in a van -- as he has always done over 30-plus years and dozens of albums -- and is looking forward to playing theatres and auditoriums again despite his advancing years.

"It's been five years since I've been out, and I guess I've got to test myself each time," says Connors. "But I'm always game for it. I'm 62 now, we'll just see. The thought of it doesn't scare me at all."

And while Connors is encouraged by such popular Canadian bands as Rheostatics and The Tragically Hip injecting "Canadiana" into their songs, he still thinks Canadian radio has a long way to go.

"I don't think radio has changed its tune very much about playing identifiably Canadian content," says Connors. "They, as far as I'm concerned, are way behind the times, and delinquent in not playing identifiably Canadian (music) so that people from east to west in the country can get to know each other via songs."

As you can imagine, one of the greatest thrills of Connors' life -- the early part of which was detailed in the 1995 autobiography, Before The Fame, with a second book coming next year -- was his 1996 appointment to the Order Of Canada.

In true Connors style, he made the stodgy event his own with the help of Beryl Potter, the late disabled-rights activist.

"Everything looked pretty straitlaced, people with tuxedos and all this stuff and little glasses of champagne in their hands," relates Connors. "So I went over and struck up a conversation with Beryl. I says, 'Do you ever give anybody a ride on that wheelchair?' And she says, 'Oh, yeah. Want a ride?' And I said, 'Sure.' So I thought maybe she'd just go a couple of feet and back up again. But she'd quite a strong motor on the thing and she just let her go. So I started hollering, 'Get out of the way! Hi-ho Silver! Here we come!' And so everybody had to get out of the road and I'm waving my hands like the Lone Ranger with the cowboy hat and all and her just laughing her ass off.

"And before you know it, it kind of broke the ice and everybody sort of let their hair down and we had a party after that."

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