By Martti Lahtinen
He wore a black Stetson and never took it off. If he ever did, any gas jockey anywhere between Newfoundland and Vancouver Island would have noticed a brown line across his forehead, and thought: ‘There’s a guy who’s full of s**t, and he’s down a quart.’
He might have been full of it but he could back it up, unloading road songs with a raspy blare – a nasal Willie Nelson whose voice box might have been buffed with 80-grit sandpaper from Home Hardware. Compared to this guy, Gatineau clogger Wayne Rostad sounds like Pavarotti.
This guy was Stompin’ Tom Connors, whose cross-country roving ended last week with his passing at age 77. “The Hockey Song” goes into overtime, but it’s not sudden death.
Stompin’ Tom was a Maritimer, but because his fame took root in Northern Ontario – at the Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmins in the mid-1960s – a kinship to his balladeering connected with yours truly, a former Sudburian.
Connors struck musical gold digging for nickel:
‘The girls are out to Bingo, and the boys are gettin’ stinko,
‘And we think no more of Inco on a Sudbury Saturday night.’
With his catchy tunesmithing, he nailed the flavour of the mineral-rich basin. In those days, ‘Inco’ was short for the International Nickel Company and – apart from Bingo and binges – it sure seemed to be the only game in town.
If Stompin’ Tom had Sudbury pegged, he nailed the flavour of every city, town, and village his nomadic travelogue revisited. The “Muckin Slushers” were found in Elliot Lake uranium mines, and those seeking summer jobs to the south were indelibly tainted with the tobacco-stained memories of Tillsonburg:
‘My back still aches when I hear that word.’
Hereabouts, the flavour includes the anglophone muck-up of legendary Ottawa Valley lumberjack Joseph Montferrand, which in Stompin’ Tom transcription was “Big Joe Mufferaw.” One can understand mangling ‘Montferrand,’ but one wonders how in the bejeepers ‘Des Joachims,’ a Valley river hamlet, ever became ‘Swisha.’ Even Connors might have doffed his cowboy hat to scratch his head over the bridging of that bilingual non sequitur.
But I digress. I saw Stompin’ Tom perform just once, when his musical mapping of Canadiana had begun to make an imprint in the 1970s. He played the Laurentian University athletics building, on its freshly-varnished hardwood gym floor, so fans were forced to leave their winter boots and shoes in the outer hallway.
When Connors got his black left boot banging on his trademark chunk of plywood, the temptation to stomp along was irresistible, but ineffective. Sock feet just don’t cut it.
The concert reviewer in the Sudbury Star might have blurted: Stompin’ Tom’s a hit, but overall the show ‘stinks.’
I didn’t notice. The mere thought of Connors stomping to “Bud the Spud” – my favourite tune – put the boots to any extraneous olfactory stimuli that might have spoiled the rare moment.