Stompin’ Tom’s New CD – a Milestone in His Never Ending Story
A perception once rooted is hard to disinter.
On page seven of Tom Connors own biography Stompin’ Tom Before The Fame he writes: I had been born Charles Thomas Connors at the stroke of midnight on February 9, 1936, in the General Hospital in Saint John, New Brunswick. My birth certificate shows my mother’s name as Isabel Connors.
Tom was in high school at Saint John Vocational (now Harbour View High) in 1950 when I was in the commercial art course there. He posed for several of the murals painted by Fred Ross that distinguished the corridors of that institution of learning for many decades. And long time RCA fiddling legend Ned Landry is Tom’s cousin on the Sullivan side of their families.
Yet even such an authority on the unique personalities that embroider the pages of Canadian history as Wayne Ronstad was amazed a couple of months ago to learn that Tom hadn’t been born on our Garden of the Gulf. And a favourite recording artist of mine Stew Clayton begins his Tribute To Stompin’ Tom with “From Skinner’s Pond in PEI”.
Part of the myth, of course, derives from Tom himself who for many years opened every concert and TV telecast with “Hello, I’m Stompin Tom from PEI” and, of course, his was the voice of PEI’s TV commercials in those years, as well. Tom in a letter to me, 15 years ago, explained the paradox this way:
“When interviewers ask what they believe to be a simple question they don’t want you to go into a long speech about your entire historical background. I therefor use the following rule of thumb.
“When asked “Where were you born?”, I say Saint John, NB, because that is where I first saw the light of day. When asked “Where are you from”, I say Skinner’s Pond, PEI because that is the first place I could ever call home. When asked where is your home? I presume the question means right now, so I say, just outside Georgetown, Ontario.”
I was amazed a couple of years ago, giving a talk on New Brunswick songs at the Saint John Art Centre, how few of the audience realized Tom was from this city or that he had written songs about the province and Saint John.
In fact the first song he wrote, My Reversing Falls Darling was composed when he was attending Vocational. He, also, wrote and recorded Saint John Blues, The Don Messer Story, Tribute To Wilf Carter (with the line ‘Til the wood camps of New Brunswick hired Wilf for a better wage) and a great radio air-play hit New Brunswick and Mary.
And, now, on his new Ballad of Stompin Tom CD, there’s a very haunting song Rose of Silver Falls, perhaps inspired by a gypsy caravan he saw during his two years at the St. Patrick’s Orphanage near the Falls.The most hilarious song on it is an NB inspired one too, (Working In The) Bush of Bouctouche (because of a gal in Tatamagouche). And the title song Ballad of Stompin’ Tom affirms in its opening line the place of his birth, “I was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, by the sea.”
I think this is Tom’s most impressive and enjoyable album since his release of Fiddle & Song in 1988, an LP/cassette that included such powerful folk ballads as Return Of The Sea Queen, Entry Island Home, Wreck of the Tammy Anne, I Am The Wind and Lady k. d. Lang.
This new CD album of his resonates with the same powerful folk feel! He even includes a real Irish folk song, of IRA origin, Kevin Barry and Wilf Carter’s six decade old Take Me Back To Old Alberta.
Others with a definite folk gene include Birth of The Texas Gulf Mine, My British Columbia Home, Lady Slipper and Ottawa Lures.
And only Tom could take a bawdy song popular during the Second World War, Chase Me Charlie, change the lyrics, but keep its lilting racy rhythm, while transforming it into such a beautiful country love song, one you’ll be humming for days after hearing it. It’s something he did with a song of similar origin The North Atlantic Squadron 33 years ago.
Another selection so hilarious it should have you laughing from beginning to end (it did me) on this new CD is Chickee Pooh (curly eyes and laughing toes, and where did you get those?). And there is a variant of an English folk song that Hank Snow gave new life to in the 1940’s The Cowboy’s Broken Ring. Tom’s mother Isabel died last year, that her favourite song. And there’s another beautiful new song from Tom’s pen, the Bride And Groom Waltz.
The others are updated re-recordings of three of Tom’s greatest hits, The Olympic Song (with a verse about the 2009 Games in BC added), The Hockey Song and the Hockey Mom Tribute.
In his early recording years before details of Tom’s troubled childhood surfaced I wondered why neither he nor Donald Sutherland, who even then had appeared in an amazing number of Hollywood feature movies never mentioned Saint John, their birthplace, in interviews. Unhappy childhoods or, in Donald’s case, I understand, school years, aside, it seemed to me an apathy exist toward entertainers in NB giving Cape Breton and PEI a decided edge. Various international music authorities, in conversations over the years have accessed our province as having more gifted musicians and singers than either of those, The difference, they felt, was we just don’t merchandise tour talent nearly as well.
I had one dismaying example of that myself! When Tom came out of his 1980s decade long hiatus from entertaining and was planning an 80 concert 1990 Ontario to British Columbia and back across to the Atlantic tour his road manager Brian Edwards asked me to inquire if should their first Atlantic provinces concert be in Saint John would his birth city acknowledge the fact with some fanfare?
I took the proposal to the city’s much beloved mayor, a lady I had known since we were children. She thought it was a great idea and that she would present it to council..A week later I had a phone call from a city hall secretary saying council had turned it down. Summerside and Charlottetown, however, grabbed it up quickly, staging a parade, elaborate publicity and banner draped streets.
The new Ballad Of Stompin’ Tom CD should be available at music stores everywhere, or you can visit visit www.StompinTom.com