Stompin’ Tom Connors, Canadian Singer, Dies at 77

March 8th, 2013

Stompin’ Tom Connors, a Canadian country-folk singer whose odes to the vast country he had roamed as a hitchhiking troubadour — not least his paean to its national obsession in “The Hockey Song” — earned him renown from the Maritime Provinces to British Columbia, died on Wednesday at his home in Halton Hills, Ontario. He was 77.

His Web site announced the death, citing natural causes.

Mr. Connors wrote more than 300 songs and sold nearly four million albums. His work was shaped by his love and knowledge of Canada, garnered from youthful wanderings in which he worked as everything from dredge-boat sailor to tobacco-picker to short-order cook to gravedigger. His songs told of a potato-truck driver from Prince Edward Island, a polka-playing musician from the Yukon, and Red River Jane, who left him high and dry in Winnipeg before becoming the subject of a sad song.

He was known for his big black cowboy hat, and he got his nickname from the emphatic way he kept time with his left foot. Unlike most successful Canadian entertainers, he shunned the American music world, confining his touring and recording to Canada.

In 1978, he denounced Canadians who sought American success as “border jumpers” and retired for more than a decade in protest of what he saw as the Americanization of his industry. A particular gripe was Canadian songwriters who rhapsodized about places like Alabama and Tennessee. He returned only after a new generation of Canadian punk performers discovered his music.

Three-quarters of Canadians live within 100 miles of the United States border, and many Canadians strive to demonstrate cultural differences in the face of the flood of American media. Mr. Connors seemed eager to lead the fight. In a letter he asked be published after his death, he said all his work was inspired by “Canada, the greatest country in the world.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper hailed Mr. Connors as “a true Canadian original.”

“The Hockey Song” first appeared on Mr. Connors’s 1973 album, “Stompin’ Tom and the Hockey Song,” but reached wide popularity only after it began to be played at National Hockey League games in the mid-1990s, which it still is on both sides of the border. In 2004, when “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” taped a week of shows in Canada, Mr. Connors was a guest and sang the song. After his death was announced at a Toronto Maple Leafs game Wednesday night, many fans took to their feet when the song was played.

“Oh, the good old hockey game/Is the best game you can name,” the lyrics go. “And the best game you can name/Is the good old hockey game.”

Thomas Charles Connors was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, on Feb. 9, 1936, to an unwed teenager who left town with him when he was 3. The two begged and stole in order to eat. When his mother was in jail for theft, he was sent to an orphanage and from there to foster parents who treated him badly. In his autobiography, “Stompin’ Tom: Before the Fame” (1995), he wrote that he started hitchhiking around the country at 12, bought his first guitar at 14 and survived by doing odd jobs and literally singing for his supper. In the coldest part of winter, he welcomed vagrancy arrests in order to have a warm place to sleep.

In the early 1960s, he wrote, this never-ending grind and his apparent lack of a future left him feeling so forsaken that he thought of deliberately freezing to death in a snow bank in Quebec.

Legend, well burnished by Mr. Connors, has it that his big break came in 1964 at the Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmins, Ontario, when he was 28. He was a nickel short of a beer, and the bartender agreed to give him a drink if he would play a few songs. That led to a 14-month engagement at the hotel and the chance to make records at the local radio station.

His first was “Bud the Spud,” his paean to the truckdriver, in 1970. He ultimately recorded 61 albums for seven labels, 10 of which have yet to be released.

Mr. Connors said his heroes were “average Joes” whose struggles in the uncountable nooks and crannies of Canada he claimed to know like his own palm. His “Sudbury Saturday Night” depicts the city of Sudbury in northern Ontario, the location of one of the world’s biggest nickel mines, long owned by the International Nickel Company, or Inco. “The girls are out to bingo and the boys are getting stinko,” it goes, “And we’ll think no more of Inco on a Sudbury Saturday night.”

In 1973, Mr. Connors married Lena Welsh on “The Elwood Glover Show,” a talk show on CBC television. She survives him, as do two sons, two daughters and several grandchildren.

In a 1995 interview, Mr. Connors offered the opinion that nobody should die happy. “I think people should die without their dreams being fulfilled,” he said, “so maybe they can have an excuse for coming around again.”

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