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Album Release Column Archives Country and Western Folk Memories Music

Stompin’ Tom’s Never Ending Story

Stompin’ Tom’s New CD – a Milestone in His Never Ending Story

Stompin' Tom 1936-2013
Stompin’ Tom 1936-2013

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.

Stompin' Tom Connors and Ned Landry
Stompin’ Tom Connors and Ned Landry

“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

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Local History Memories Writing

A Sussex story of the 50s

Playing Hockey On ‘The River’ Could Be Hazardous!

“Watson get out of the water! You’ve got your new clothes on! Your father is gonna kill you!”

These were the words we heard before we could even see the dam and river. But, I’m getting ahead of my story … you have to understand certain things first!

In Sussex from at least the 1930’s to the early 1950’s the favourite unofficial rink in Sussex was a stretch of quiet water above the filtration plant dam on Trout Creek. The dam created a deep pool about 30 feet wide which, because it was not as free-flowing as other river channels within the town, was always the first to freeze over in late fall..

It was the rink where most of us in that area got our early hockey instruction from older kids, no coaches or referees, seldom an audience. My apprenticeship began at eight when my grandfather bought me my first pair of tube skates. That was 1942; until then my skating had been done with bob-skates on garden patches of ice.

Like most everyone who played on ‘the river’ in those years I couldn’t afford a pair of shin pads or hockey gloves until my final years of high school. Just buying a stick and an occasional puck bent my budget and most of us still have bumps and scars as reminders of those happy days when we’d play from early morning to after dark Saturdays and Sundays and almost every afternoon after school when the weather permitted.

It was pick-up hockey with usually ten or more aside but with a number of those always ‘temporarily winded’ or recovering from minor injuries ‘off ice’ it made the number on each side usually just about right…a couple of defense men, a goalie and a number of forwards. Anyone coming late to ‘the game’ was picked up alternatively by the sides.

The big problem with the location, however, was losing pucks. All we ever had at the dam end as a barrier were wide planks on their edges and pucks lifted over a foot high that missed the net went over the dam and were usually not retrievable until the ice broke up in late March or April and water levels dropped. Those who took the time to fish them out became the suppliers of pucks the next fall but that stockpile usually ran out as all of them, of course, could ever be found, washed downstream and under banks. I remember one year retrieving 38 of them myself and others found some as well.

But the biggest thrill of all any fall was to be ‘first on the ice.’ You sort of felt you owned that river rink for the next few months if you were. But qualifying for that honour was not without its dangers as some found out. Thankfully there was never a fatality, but there were nail-biters.

I lived on Magnolia Avenue from 1939 until a couple of years after high school, a street that at our mid-stretch, had only a government yard and shed … a long tin covered structure housing bridge materials and road maintenance machines … between it, the river and dam. Winter Street which parallels Main in that part of Sussex ends right across from where the filtration plant and the dam once existed.

One afternoon I was walking home from school with Delbert Thorne, a friend in my class who lived on what was then the far end of Magnolia Avenue in the last of what were, originally, identical houses called the Seven Sisters. When we reached the end of Winter Street Delbert said suddenly: “It’s been pretty cold the last few nights, lets see if the river has iced up yet.”

As it turned out his sudden thought proved providential. We crossed the Avenue, walked along the side of the filtration plant and rounded the end of the tin shed to see a sight that afterwards the four of us would laugh about but could have easily ended in tragedy. Paul Watson who lived nearby had broken through the ice and was holding on to the edge. He was a grade younger than we were and his next door neighbour, a year younger than him, was running around yelling “Watson, get out of the water! You’ve got your new clothes on! Your father is gonna kill you!”

Well, Delbert and I quickly got a plank from the lumber piles in front of the shed, and between the three of us we were able to get Paul out, dripping and cold but uninjured. Paul’s father owned a fairly successful hardware and had taken him and his brother to Saint John recently for new winter outfits, one of which Paul was wearing. As the neighbour, who was his constant companion in those days, said he’d been so concerned about what Paul’s father was going to do to him he just hadn’t thought about helping him get out and, well, he knew Paul was a good swimmer.

That was the big danger of being ‘first on’: the dream of being that year’s celebrity could result in a quick cold splash back to reality. And if any of us had, unfortunately, gone through and came up under the ice we would have met the same fate as the young hockey player in Stephen King’s Dead Zone. If you’ve read that book or seen the movie that scene may already have come to mind.

My own icy water baptism occurred a couple of years later but not during a try at being the ‘first on.’ When it snowed we… us kids…would shovel off our river rink but when a thaw came and the river refroze with shale and ridges, as it sometimes did, we’d borrow a force pump with hoses from the filtration plant and flood the tennis court across the river in O’Connell Park.

One Saturday morning, after a late Friday night of hockey by moonlight I overslept, wolfed down breakfast, pulled on a jacket and hat, grabbed my skates, stick, a couple of pucks and ran across the open space…where the new Sussex Public Library now stands…which led directly to the river a few hundred feet upstream from the dam, jumped down. Unfortunately a few days of higher temperatures had weakened the ice under the snow and I was in water up to my waist before I knew it and still sinking. Luckily my reflexes were much faster then than they are now and I was able to catch an overhanging tree limb and pull myself out.

Then it was a fast run back to the house, dripping water all the way, a quick change of clothes and footwear and I was off again on the longer but safer route around by Main Street’s turreted bridge. And really thankful to find, on reaching our tennis court rink, that no one had witnessed my drenching or my dripping exit from the river

I’ve often thought that my two sons, who were transported in heated vehicles to indoor rinks with dressing rooms and toilets facilities during their dozen school years in organized hockey and never played a skirmish game on an open pond or river, missed so much in physical conditioning! All the fun of walking a couple of miles to play other area teams and often helping shovel an outdoor rink when you got there for a game at which we’d be lucky to have a referee, never even expect a linesman. It sure helped built self-reliance, certain survival skills and endurance, though, if nothing else!

Categories
Upcoming

Norton Benefit Concert

Saturday, 8 p.m. at the Canadian Legion Branch #76 which will feature the musical talents of the O’Donnells and McGinnis families.

Phone Brent at 652-5238 or the Legion 839-1908

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Upcoming

Perry White Memorial Concert

This is an advance notice:tickets for the Memorial concert, May 2, 7p.m. At Sussex Regional High School.

Tickets are $15 now at Backstage Music 433-2122 and The Source 433-3447 in Sussex. Donations to the fund can be made at any Scotiabank branch.

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Upcoming

Timberland Motel and Restaurant 34th Anniversary Celebration

The Moose Horn Acoustic Band will provide the music for the Timberland Motel & Restaurants 34th Anniversary celebration that includes a buffet with a hip of beef, sea-food casserole with mussels and dessert for $25 or come to just listen to the music for $10.

The Buffet is from 6-9p.m.

And the music concert is from 8-10p.m. Tickets are available from

The Timberland 433-2480, Back Stage Music 435-2122

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Upcoming

Moncton Country Jamboree

Eric, Pat and Jonathon Blackieer invite you to another great evening at Jonathan’s Country Jamboree & Museum, 3170 Mountain Rd, Moncton Saturday at 7 p.m.