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April 5, 2013

Canada patriot Tom Connors stomps out

I was maybe 12 years old when I had my brush with the man who would go on to become one of Canada’s most beloved musical heroes.

Being embarked on my own (short-lived) career as a rock star — wasn’t everybody back then in the wake of the Beatles? — I used to hang around Drouin’s Music Bar plucking electric guitars our band couldn’t afford.

One day, we entered the store to find a lanky, raw-boned guy in a black cowboy hat jawing with Mr. Drouin. He introduced himself as Tom Connors and asked, did we want to buy one of his records? Sure enough there was a stack of 45s on the counter going for a buck apiece or something.

Even though he had a whiff of the town drunk about him, the vinyl disks were for real, and none of us had ever met anyone who had actually cut a record. I can’t remember if I bought one or not — if I did it’s long gone — but the memory sticks with me of the man who would emerge from my hometown of Timmins, Ontario, and become a national superstar.

This is a belated tribute to Stompin’ Tom Connors, who died recently at age 77. He was called Stompin’ because he would pound a piece of plywood with his cowboy boot during his shows, and that become one of this trademarks.

But his real legacy was his almost fanatical patriotism.

It might have been easy to dismiss Tom Connors in his early years as a bit of a relic, with his corny tunes about everyday places in Canada. But the more he wrote about a Sudbury or Saskatoon or Rouyn or Tillsonburg, the more his reputation grew.

One particular song of his might indeed be considered an unofficial national anthem. “The Hockey Song” is a catchy, clever ditty that gets blared from arena PAs from coast to coast to coast, whether its the swanky Bell Centre in Montreal or some beat-up barn in rural Alberta.

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