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

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!

Country and Western In Memoriam Memories Movie History Music Music History Writing

Bob Nolan’s Inspiration

Hatfield Point Funeral Brings Back Memories of Bob Nolan

I had expected more Southern New Brunswick country music entertainers to attend a funeral in Hatfield Point two Saturdays ago.

The name in the obituaries that week filled me with a sense of deja vu: Robert Nobles, his place of birth, Hatfield Point. According to a brief bio, although born at the point his family had moved with him to Massachusetts when he was four. He was 89 when he died in Holliston, MA on Oct. 14 making the year of his leaving N.B. 1921. Another Robert Nobles, a cousin it was explained to me, had lived with his grandparents at Hatfield Point from the time he was three until he was 12. The Point’s Baptist Church from which the service was held overlooks the beautiful Belleisle from a high hill,

This Bob Nobles with a brother younger brother Earle had left there a year earlier in1920, to live with an aunt near Boston in that same state. Joining their father in Arizona a years later they found their family name had been legally changed to Nolan. Bob claimed his father had it done because Nolan sounded more ‘western’. That Robert Nolan would grow up to become a founding member of the Pioneer Trio, later the Sons Of The Pioneers. The other two singer songwriters were Tim Spencer and Leonard Slye, a name Hollywood studios signing him would change to Dick Weston, then Roy Rogers.

Bob Nolan would eventually become internationally famous for penning such western classics as Tumbling Tumbleweeds, Cool Water, Touch of God’s Hand along with scores of others including two of my all-time favourites: Song Of The Bandit and Echoes From The Hills. Many of the songs would be used in the 79 movies in which he and the Sons of The Pioneers would back western action stars of the 1930’s to 1950’s: stars of the calibre of Charles Starrett, Ken Maynard, Gene Autry, Dick Forin and, of course, Roy Rogers.

A study two decades ago published a statement that Cool Water at that time had been recorded by more different groups and solo artists than any other song. Those included blues artists, rock ‘n roll bands, jazz ensembles and choral groups. In a letter to an aunt in Hatfield Point Bob wrote that when he composed that song he was thinking of the cold, cl;ear spring on his grandparent’s farm. What a claim to fame for this province! But, as so often, we waited to milk the fame of it.

In the 1980’s when our provincial parliament was planning a Come Home To NB Year I suggested Bob’s wife, his brother and daughter: some of our most famous ex-patriots were being invited, all expenses paid. I was assured they would given a priority and lent them biographies, newspaper and magazine articles I’d collected. Bob had died on June 16, 1980. They assured me they would be returned. When I checked two months later I was told they hadn’t been able to locate even one of the three. With just six phone calls in 24 hours I had located and talked with all three. When I called the Come Home Committee spokesperson I was told it was too late, all funds had been allocated. Although I made requests I never saw my loaned items again.

Every country music history book written until a half decade ago, listed Bob as born in New Brunswick and Roy Rogers on his weekly TV show often said Bob had been born just a few miles from Saint John New Brunswick, Canada. When I asked his brother Earle if he was sure they had been born at Hatfield Point he said he was sure he had been but on a visit to the Point in 1938 he’d heard a suggestion that Bob might have been born somewhere else. Winnipeg perhaps. Bob, however, when he’d asked him, said he’d no recollection of living anywhere in Canada but Hatfield Point.

An Elizabeth MacDonald in BC, engaged by the University of North Carolina to collect details of Bob Nolan’s life and to assemble all the songs written by him, in talking with relatives was told of the rumour. Regretfully I mentioned Winnipeg when she asked me. She then hired a professional researcher who found Bob’s birth certificate dated April 8, 1908, Winnipeg. He’d always thought he’d been born on April Fools’ Day. When Bob was elected to the International Songwriter’s Hall of Fame a half decade ago the mayor of Winnipeg and assorted Manitoba dignitaries were there to take bows. New Brunswick was never mentioned.

The Bob Nobles buried in the Point’s Bayview Cemetery on Oct 23, had led a very interesting life, as well. He returned every summer with his parents to holiday at the Point and continued that ritual with his own family. His wife, Lillian J. (McKellar) whom he married in Scotland during the Second World War, in 2006, was buried in the same family plot. A Rev. Boyd who had been pastor of Hatfield Baptist for a dozen years in a eulogy, spoke of Bob’s interesting military career. He had, in one phase of it, manned a listening station in Scotland, part of a code breaking team monitoring German U-Boat radio trans missions. When discovered he was Canadian born, however, he was immediately replaced. Evidently it was thought Canada harboured terrorists even then!

Most of his family had made the trip up. It was one of the warmest, most family oriented funerals I’ve ever attended. And there was lots of talk about the other Robert ‘Bob Nolan’ Nobles, as well.

Column Archives Memories Music History


Pegasus performs at Rising Star

Coffee House in Hampton NB

From the Taylor  COLUMN Archives, Saturday, Nov 5, 1994

Pegasus-winged horse of Greek legend- a constellation that can be seen well up in the evening skies of autumn in our northern heavens. Well, it’s autumn and Pegasus can be seen- and heard- a lot closer to Earth tonight, appropriately enough at the Rising Star coffeehouse in Hampton.

That is our Pegasus, a legend native to our particular area of North America; the instrumental duo of Allison Cran and Adrian Thorton.

A more appropriate encyclopedic defining of Pegasus explains it however; their licence to use the name. The Muses according to mythology held a contest. The music made at this competition charmed the streams and made Mont Helicon grow toward the heavens. Poseidon, the god, ordered Pegasus to strike it. He did with his hoof and the fountain of Hippocrene sprang forth. It’s waters inspired people to write poetry. In this way Pegasus is connected with poetry and music. A poet or composer is said to “mount his Pegasus when he begins to write.”

This modern Pegasus- Allison and Adrian- are two very skilled interpreters of the poetry of music. They have been entertaining and soothing Saint John audiences at receptions, weddings, parties and art and literature events for more than a decade.

Usually this respected duo- Allison on penny whistle, flute and recorder, Adrian on guitar and mandolin- is retained to create a pleasant atmosphere of low key intimate music, background interpretations of popular and classical melodies. But tonight in the non-regimented format of the Rising Star Coffeehouse they can really let their hair down and give their wildly inventive talents free rein.

Don’t miss it. Pegasus tonight along with the other very interesting duo, No Bridge To Walk. Sounds like a sequel to Woman Who Walks Far doesn’t it? I don’t think this musical pairing , Jen Mercer and Carl Killen share a drop of native blood; they do however share the ability to blend vocals beautifully. I heard them in concert at a Broadway Cafe Coffeehouse this summer in Sussex and was greatly impressed with the versatility of their repertoire, which merged modern folk style hits with originals, songs penned by Carl. They call their music acoustic rock and I guess that describes it.

Carl, the lead singer and instrumentalist has written more than 60 compositions so far. Vocalist Jan Mercer adds tight smooth harmonies that give any song interpreted by No Bridge To Walk a distinctive sound that is all it’s own.

Aside from these two great duos the Rising Star’s perennial favourite, Donnie Fowler, will be back with a wide and varied repertoire of songs. Another favourite Willie MacEwan is appearing for the first time in the solo spotlight with a selection of country standards. It is hoped that Valerie and Felicia MacDonald will also contribute a set of songs. Seating is at candlelit tables in the Masonic Hall on Church Street, just down the hill from the RCMP barracks beside the Catholic church.

Tickets $4 at the door. Barry MacDonald , as usual acts as emcee.

Also in this column,, Boiestown Jamboree, Clogger’s Workshop, Butler Family Concert and Frank Mills at Miramichi.

Sorry no photos available.

Event In Memoriam Memories Music

Utah Phillip Tribute CD up for Grammys


Ani de Franco and Utah Phillips

Yuri Gagarin, Oh Yuri Gagarin/ He rode into the sky/

On a pillar of fire/And he gave us his name/

In a story that will never die/ This young Russia pilot/

Who did what no man had done.

Can you imagine any US songwriter being brave enough to write and record a song like that as the States was just emerging from the dark shadow of McCarthyism? The 1950’s inquisition into perceived un-American activities that had driven such entertainment immortals as Paul Robeson and Charlie Chaplin from it’s shores.

Well, Utah Phillips, who left this world greatly bereft in his 73rd year, on May 23, 2008 did! Bruce, his given name, has been a music hero of mine since the day in the mid 1960’s I discovered his Prestige International lp with that song on it. A hero, not only for that song, but for all the beautifully poetic songs he composed, as well as courageous ones he continued to write, since that first album, right up until his death.

Somewhat as a balm for the grief of his passing, Canada Post left me a Righteous Babe Records treasure trove in our mail box the first week of January: a belated Christmas present arranged  by my wife, Carol.

It’s a 2 CD Tribute To Utah Phillips entitled Singing Through The Hard Times that embodies 39 songs, 29 of them written by Utah. Of the other ten, one is a rare Robert Service gem,Michael,I’d never heard or even read before, three are traditional songs and six were written by singer/songwriters with close ties to Utah. This, to my ear, incomparable set is the best of the five nominees in the Best Traditional Folk Album category for a Grammy at the 2010 Awards being telecast by CBS on January 31.

cover of Tribute albumfirst Utah long play

The Prestige International disc Nobody Knows Me was recorded when he was calling himself  U. Utah Phillips because as he told me once “Back in those days I was a country and western singer and there was this guy recording in   Nashville, T. Texas Tyler, so I thought, since I was living in Salt Lake City again, after a three-year army hitch in Korea, I’d call myself U.Utah Phillips. Why not?”

Nobody Knows Me is an album of 16 songs so rare it’s not even listed in his Wikipedia bio. I have a copy autographed by Utah at our first meeting, a concert of his in Portland, Maine over 20 years ago.

I was with Kendall Morse, a gifted Maine folk singer and story-teller, at that concert. He, his wife Jacqui and Dan Schatz are the producers of this monumental 2-CD set. And those three are among the 38 fabled folk singers, instrumentalists and groups featured, one selection each, on the two CD set. Some like Kendall are among those that have come up to regular summer weekend folk gatherings in NB for three decades.

On this set Kendall sings one of the more poignantly beautiful songs Utah wrote, Phoebe Snow; his wife Jacqui The Miner’s Lullaby; Gordon Bok the classic Goodnight Loving Trail; Kat Logan, who beguiled breakfasters at an impromptu Kingston FarmeKendall Morse, Maine singer/storytellerrs Market concert four Augusts ago, his exquisite Faded Roses of December; Will Brown, Cindy Kallet and Grey Larsen render Going Away; Ed Trickett (part of a trio with Ann Mayo Muir and Gordon Bok for 30 years) sings The Telling Takes Me Home; the beautiful voice of Lisa Null is heard on All About Preachers and Caroline Paton’s (she with husband Sandy founded Folk Legacy Records) interprets the song , Singing In The Country, that Utah’s family and friends sang as he was lowered into his Nevada City, California grave, May 29, 2008; Harry Tufts sings the haunting She’ll Never Be Mine.

Utah Phillips was a long time member of the Industrial Workers Of The World (IWW or Wobblies). A spiritual heir of Woody Guthrie and Joe Hill. He wrote, along with his much loved eloquent anthems and ballads, such incendiary broadsides as All Used Up sung on this tribute set by another of my favourites, John McCutcheon who, himself, wrote the unforgetable masterpiece Christmas In The Trenches. John’s oft-times touring companion, Si Kahn sings John Brill’s Dump The Bosses Off Our Backs.

The most incredible paring on this unbelievable set of recordings is Emmylou Harris, one of Nashville’s most honoured singers joining her voice with the Irish Republic’s most celebrated traditional and contemporary song interpreter Mary Black, in a ethereal rendition of Utah’s Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia. In Ireland, Black has been officially proclaimed one of the most important vocalists of her generation.

Saul Broudy sings Utah’s classic, oft recorded Starlight On The Rails; Larry Penn sings T-Bone Slim’s The Popular Wobbly; Utah’s Room For The Poor is sung by Cathy Fink (who with Canadian Duck Donald was once a headliner act on the international bluegrass circuit); a traditional ballad, Ruben’s Train, is sung by Kristin Morris, Sparky and Rhonda Rucker and East Rattler perform Utah’s Patty Come Back; Faith Petric, a wonderful oldtime songstress sings her friend Utah’s If I Could Be The Rain; Dan Schatz sings Utah’s oft recorded Queen Of The Rails; Judy Cook, his inspiring Kid’s Deliberation and Pete Seeger a song of his Utah was fond of, Or Else! (One Of These Days); a close friend of Utah’s for over 50 years Rosalie Sorrels, a prolific recording artist, sings his The Soldiers Return, a song inspired by seeing Panmonjan, Korea, in ruins.

Folk music icon Tom Paxton sings Utah’s very moving I Remember Loving You (Back When The World Was New); Elizabeth LaPrelle sings Jessie’s Corrido, a song Utah wrote with Sorrels; old-time folk legend Dakota Dave Hull sings Utah’s Old Buddy, Goodnight; Bruce Brackney Utah’s Hood River, Roll On; Mick Lane a traditional ballad, Halleleujah! I’m A Bum,; Ani DiFranco, who became a collaborator of Utah’s in the last decade and a half of his life (she’s appearing at The Playhouse in Fredericton next Wednesday) leads a quartet of musicians in The Internationale; Jay Peterson performs Utah’s Daddy What’s A Train?, Ottawa folk act The Finest Kind led by Ian Robb interprets He Comes Like The Rain; Mark Ross sings Utah’s Look For Me In Bute; Jean Ritchie sings Old George’s Square, a song Utah identified with: he was one of 19 in his Korean unit who received Dear John Letters; Emma’s Revolution sings Utah’s Hymn Song; and another whose records I treasure, Art Thieme, sings The Hobo’s Last Ride; Taylor Whiteside sings Rock, Salt and Nails. And just about everyone on the two disc set join in on the title song, Singing Through The Hard Times, it’s biggest production number,

The song that most intrigued me, however, is one I hadn’t heard before, Larimer Street, written by Utah, sung by Rik Palieri, just the right voice to interpret the sardonic humour of a wrecking ball clearing away the dwellings of the poor to create yet another parking lot and demolishing a betting parlour, so as to put up a stock market investment facility.

All profits from this 2-CD set, originally intended as a fund-raiser to help Utah with mounting medical bills will now go to his family. And, if you are a lover of real folk music this absolutely essential 2 CD set, A Tribute To Utah Phillips, is available by visiting

Jacqui Morse and Dan Schatz
2010 Producers of "Singing Through The Hard Times" CD


The evening in Portland that I first met Utah, I’d arrived just at concert time so I was making my way to a washroom at intermission when I passed Utah in conversation with a fan. I heard him say  “I’m looking for the words to a song Wilf Carter wrote “I Bought A Rock For A Rocky Mountain Girl”. I stopped and said, “Wilf didn’t write it,  Red River Dave McInery did. He was a friend of Wilf’s in the 30’s in New York. Dave didn’t have a record contract at the time so he let Wilf record it.” On the way back they were still conversing and Utah said “Another song I’m looking for is The Hobo’s Lullabye that Wilf Carter wrote.” I stopped and said “No, Wilf didn’t write that one either, Gobel Reeves did.” Utah said, “Who the hell are you anyway?” I told him I was a record collector from New Brunswick.

Seven years later Utah was appearing at the Left Bank Cafe in Blue Hill, Maine, so Carol and I went down to hear him. He was sitting across the room from us, I noticed, with another couple, as we were being seated. We had just picked up our menus when Carol said, “He’s coming over.” I looked up as he stopped by our table, “You’re that record collector from New Brunswick, I was hoping I’d find you again someday,” he said. It was more of a statement than a question. What a memory he had for faces! In conversations with him then, at intermission and afterwards I agreed to put all of Wilf Carter’s and Gobel Reeves’ hobo songs on tape for him. I did and he sent me back two of his albums, Legends of Folk and The Moscow Hold I didn’t have.

Sometime toward the end of the past millennium I had a letter from Red House Records saying that one of their roster, Utah Phillips was appearing in concert at a college on the Maine coast, could I give it some publicity in NB? Well, I phoned the college intending to reserve tickets, as well as inquire about details, but they had no notice of such a concert. I phoned his home in California: “He’s on the east coast,” his wife said, “but I don’t know where all he has concerts booked.” I phoned Red House and was told, “He’s supposed to be there on such and such a date.” I phoned the college back and asked for someone in administration. “Oh, yes,” I was informed this time, “He’s here then but it isn’t a concert. He’s addressing our graduating class. Utah’s our convocation speaker. ”

So the opportunity to talk with Utah again, my last opportunity as it has turned out, went down the tubes. No one will ever hear that eloquent voice again…except on recordings, of of Utah performing

Kendall holding the medal at the 10  Ro0ckland Rinktum
Kendall Morse

Folk In Memoriam Local History Memories Music

John Murphy, arts community losses


Looking back at the year 2009, it seems New Brunswick, the southern half particular, was more bereaved by deaths in our musical community than in most recent years. Among those were:

John with Anna singing at home in Hampton


In September 1975, John Murphy who had immigrated from England a year before, with his wife Pip (Susan), visited The Telegraph-Journal offices. He had just accepted a position as an art teacher in the Saint John area. He wanted to insert a notice of a meeting to form a folk club, such as he’d belonged to in London.

John, as it turned out played guitar and button accordion and had a very distinctive voice. Along with others who had a love of folk music I became a regular. At first it was sing a-rounds but in a few months John decided some were gifted enough to stage concerts. Admission monies raised were pooled, used later to book local name artists for special concerts, Ned Landry, Lutia and Paul Lauzon, Jim Clark and others were early featured stars.These were successful enough that in a couple of years the club was booking such famous acts as Ladies Choice Bluegrass, Stan Rogers, the National String Band, even international acts like Gordon Bok.

Bok, a Camden, Maine, musician and singer was Folk Legacy Records mainstay with over a dozen albums released in the US. A twice yearly link-up was forged between his close-knit group of Belfast to Rockland, Maine performers and our Saint John Folk Club. Out of our club a quartet, Hal an Tow emerged that became the trio of John, Bernie Houlihan and Jim Stewart. They won acclaim here and abroad with a recording, the Marco Polo Suite, for which Jim wrote the score and lyrics. The trio, also, appeared on The National Film Board’s Marco Polo: The Queen of The Seas

Another trio to emerge from our ranks was Dawg’s Breakfast (a.k.a. Exploding Do-Nuts)…Stan Carew, Costas Halavracos and Bill Preeper…all CBC Radio staffers. Preeper and Steve Sellars, a duo, were featured on an ATV New Faces episode, as were Valerie MacDonald, who staged monthly Hampton coffee-houses, and Debbie Harrity. Another trio, Windjammer…Paul McCavour, Kevin Daye and Gayle Vincent (Katie Daye when Gayle dropped out,)…emerged and a Fredericton folk club was a spin-off.

In the mid-1980’s the Saint John Folk Club ceased to exist but remnants continued to interact with the Maine folk-scene.

John Murphy became active in school mural art projects and in school musicals. He also appeared in various local stage productions, involved himself with various local fund-raisers, became active with Amnesty International, visited Africa and helped bring about Hampton’s partnership with the Swaziland community of Piggs Peak.

He died very unexpectedly while driving into Saint John Regional Hospital in mid-September. Those of us who attended a three-day music gathering at his home only weeks before, received the news with utter disbelief. To all appearances John had been his usual imperturbable self, He is already sadly missed not only in Hampton, his home for over 30 years, but beyond. Many from Maine and England attended his Sept. 21 funeral.

A colourful and remarkably detailed mural entitled Article 26: The Right To Education, unveiled Dec 10, 2009 on the Hampton High School exterior has John’s picture at the top with other NB human right luminaries, symbols and visages, depicted across its wide expanse.


Canada Day 2009 brought sad news: John, known to most as Earl, McGinnis had died the day before at home in Norton. He was 89 but was one of those people who seem eternal. For over 30 years Earl coached the Norton Kings hockey team and was a die-hard Montreal Canadiens fan. Many of us, however, loved him for his vast repertoire of old Irish ballads, a treasure shared with his brother Willie who predeceased him. Together and individually they were hits at early variety shows in Norton, Hampton and Sussex. Austin, one of his sons, has led a country music dance band in that area for many years. Earl and his wife of 63 years, Beatrice, had two sons and three daughters. Austin’s son Darren, one of Earl’s 12 grandchildren, is now a rising young Canadian country singer with a manager and booker. In recent years Earl frequently joined Austin and Darren to perform on country shows as Three Generations of McGinnises. But for a few of us our most cherished memories of Earl were of him singing The Croppy Boy and other Irish songs at Randy Vail’s maple sugar, pancake nights on Bull Moose Hill. Although his passing left a gap Earl will live on in the memories of all who knew him.


Another major loss occurred Aug.31 with Helen Smith’s death. She was 88, a petite woman but full of energy and spirit who once at 16, while still with chicken pox, walked five miles across Kennebecasis River ice, Summerville to Drury Cove, to play with Don Messer at a 1937 Saint John concert. Although only four-foot six, never more than 70 pounds and a widow, she had lived in her own Long Reach, Kingston Peninsula home until a week before her death when she moved to Kings Way Care Centre, Quispamsis. Friends described her as ‘comical, the life of the party and someone drawn to music like a magnet.’ She played ukelele first then guitar. Later she studied fiddle with Winston Crawford and was a member of the Maritime Fiddle Association. Her son Fraser, a singing guitarist and daughter Sylvia Campbell, a yodeling singer, who plays guitar and fiddle, organize the Long Reach Kitchen Party concerts. Helen performed on one just before moving to Kings Way. It was the second 2009 Smith family tragedy: Fraser’s son, Evan, 23, died in a snowmobile accident Feb.28.


Allie Pratt, is another that is impossible to imagine gone, even though she was 84, I had talked with her at a Tom Connors concert just weeks before her death Oct.1. She had invited Carol and I to her next Allie Oop music weekend, a gathering of musicians and fans at her home in Lower Greenwich. They were events that often saw over 300 show up to camp and enjoy barbeques, meals and music. Allie played several instruments and only two weeks before had received a standing ovation at the Grand Bay KBM. She was a CWAC staff car driver in WW 2. At the time of her 1972 retirement she had served 38 years as operator/supervisor with NBTel. I met Allie at the early Valley Jamborees which she often video-taped. We had been her guests at dinner theatres and restaurants


Well-known, multi-instrumentalist, Bob Crawford, passed away at his Sussex home on Dec.22 with his wife Helen, sons Shaun and Christopher, brothers Winston, Frank and Richard there to mourn. I first met Bob at a Saint John fiddling competition: he was his brother Winston’s guitar accompanist a role he reprised just months later when Winston won a Maritime Fiddling Championship in Dartmouth. A bout with polio when he was four resulted in Bob walking with a limp but he never let it slow him down. He was energetic and resourceful in both his daytime employments and the music which fueled his zest for life. Bob enjoyed playing with numerous musical friends in duos, trios or multiple bands but especially as part of the Crawford Brothers & Friends and with his sons. Over the years he taught many to various instruments. He was just 61 when he died, after a six month battle with cancer.