The man who put Tillsonburg and its tobacco fields on the international musical map is dead.
Legendary singer-songwriter Stompin' Tom Connors, one of Canada’s best-known musical icons - famous for a lengthy list of songs nationally, but in particular in this area, Tillsonburg, died Wednesday at his Ontario home from natural causes, at the age of 77.
His song Tillsonburg detailed an abortive career priming tobacco in this area. It was apparently based on personal experience and struck a chord with anyone who has worked in a tobacco field or the industry, underlining its unique challenges with humour and Connors’ legendary melody and rhythm.
His live rendition during at least two concerts in Tillsonburg were undeniably highlights of much-enjoyed shows and the community’s namesake song - along with the man who penned and sang it - remain a favourite in this area.
Facebook pages of people in this area contain mentions of the Connors’ passing, along with links to a variety of Stompin’ Tom video performances of Tillsonburg. An unsubstantiated YouTube posting also cites how the postee’s late grandfather worked with Stompin’ Tom in the tobacco fields. Connors would play his guitar during breaks, recalled the grandfather, who remained a lifelong fan.
Former Tillsonburg News reporter/photographer and musician Mark Garrett (whose repertoire includes a Tillsonburg ‘cover’ tribute) saw Connors perform live three times, once at the Sanderson Centre in Brantford, and twice in town, the last time inside the Memorial Arena, complete with the plywood ‘stompin’ board from which he earned his nickname.
“He was Stompin’ Tom,” recalled Garrett. “He put on an awesome show – classic Stompin’ Tom.”
Garrett has a distant family connection to the Canadian music legend. His uncle John Shea’s mother taught Stompin’ Tom in school in PEI says Garrett, where a young Connors gained a reputation for enjoying playing his guitar much more than doing farm chores.
Garrett’s theory on Stompin’ Tom’s popularity is based on the fact his music spoke to the average Canadian.
“He stood for Canadian values,” said Garrett, noting Stompin’ Tom could very likely have pursued a much more lucrative country music career south of the border in the United States.
“He wanted to stay where he was born and raised and sing about the country he loved.”
Stompin’ Tom will be missed on the Canadian musical scene said Garrett, but never forgotten, not just for Tillsonburg, but immediately recognizable tunes such as Sudbury Saturday Night, or The Hockey Song which has become a fixture at arenas across the country.
“They still do play it and they still will,” Garrett concluded. “That will go on for a long time.”
STOMPIN’ TOM CONNORS FAST FACTS
Courtesy of QMI Agency
Born: Feb. 9, 1936, in Saint John, N.B.
Early Musical Influences: Hank Snow and Wilf Carter.
First Song Wrote: Reversing Falls Darling written at age 11.
First Major Professional Singing Gig: Performing at Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmins, Ont., in 1964 which lasted more than a year.
First Single: Carolyne in 1965.
Best Known Singles: Tilsonburg, The Hockey Song, Bud The Spud, Sudbury Saturday Night, Big Joe Mufferaw.
Honours: Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame (1993, an honour he declined), Order Of Canada (1996) SOCAN National Achievement Award (1999), Governor General's Performing Arts Award (2000).
Died: March 6, 2013, at age 77.