By Wayne Thibodeau and Doug Gallant
A Canadian music icon that called Prince Edward Island home has died.
Stompin’ Tom Connors died of natural causes at his Ontario home on Wednesday. He was 77.
Prince Edward Island fiddler Billy MacInnis remembers the goose bumps that overtook his body the first time he played on stage with Stompin’ Tom.
MacInnis went on to play with the man who penned such songs as “The Hockey Song”, “Sudbury Saturday Night”, and “Bud The Spud” for nearly a decade.
“(Stompin’ Tom) loved the Island, it was by far his favourite place, his favourite province,” said MacInnis, adding he was left shocked after receiving word of his friend’s death Wednesday evening.
“His heart was really on Prince Edward Island. Even though he left at quite a young age, he let everybody know he was from Skinners Pond, P.E.I.”
Born Thomas Charles Connors in Saint John New Brunswick on Feb. 9 1936, he was separated from his mother at a young age and raised by foster parents in Skinners Pond, until he was 13 years old. His life of poverty, orphanages, hitchhiking and playing bars would eventually turn into a life of hit songs, national concert tours and fame in spite of a constant uphill battle to be recognized by the music industry in Canada.
In 1979 in a fit of frustration and disappointment he returned all six of his Juno awards as a statement of personal protest against the Americanization of the Canadian Music Industry.
Stompin’ Tom’s health had been declining for years.
Before he died, he penned a note to his fans.
“It was a long, hard, bumpy road but this great country kept me inspired,” Stompin’ Tom wrote in his brief note.
“I must now pass the torch to all of you, to help keep the Maple Leaf flying high, and be the Patriot Canada needs now and in the future.”
Stompin’ Tom has an astounding 61 recorded albums, 10 of which have yet to be released to the public.
The East Coast music industry, which is meeting in Halifax this week, reacted with shock to news that the P.E.I. musician had died.
P.E.I. singer songwriter Tim Chaisson said Stompin’ Tom left a huge musical legacy.
“So many wonderful songs,” Chaisson said. “When you grew up where I did you heard a lot of Stompin’ Tom’s music. You heard it on the radio and on the tapes people played. I’ve jammed to a lot of Tom’s songs.”
Pictou County singer-songwriter Dave Gunning, who’d toured the country playing bass for Stompin’ Tom, said he knew he wasn’t well.
“But Tom liked to keep those things quiet.”
Gunning said the first thing that used to come to mind when he thought of Stompin’ Tom was his music. Now it will be the man.
“He was really good to me on the road. I learned a lot about the music business from him and a lot about life.”
Rob Oakie, executive director of Music P.E.I. described it as "a very, very sad day not just for the music community but for all of Canada."
“We’ve lost one of Canada’s greatest musical icons and a truly great Canadian.”
Back in western P.E.I., where Stompin’ Tom grew up more shock and sadness.
Patsey Butler of Alberton grew up with the musician.
“It’s hard to believe,” she said, looking at photos she had of him at her 38th birthday. She’s now 75.
Brenda Doyle of Skinners Pond said Stompin’ Tom put her community on the map. She worked in the mid ‘90s to get the old school house where the musician was educated reopened.
His famous boots were put on display on a heritage stone in front of the school house.
“He put Skinners Pond on the map with his Irish moss song.”
A celebration of Stompin’ Tom’s life is being planned for March 13 at the Peterborough Memorial Centre in Peterborough, Ont. As per his request, the service will be open to the public.
Stompin’ Tom is survived by his wife Lena, his two sons, two daughters and several grandchildren.
MacInnis will be a pallbearer at Stompin’ Tom’s funeral.
Stompin’ Tom personally requested MacInnis play at his 70th birthday celebrations.
Reflecting back, MacInnis said he and Stompin’ Tom had a connection.
“He was very kind, very down to earth. He was stuck in his ways. He had his own beliefs and he stood by them and there was no changing him, he was what he was. But I can’t say enough about him.”