Now I know a lot of people from east to west
That like the spuds from the island best
Cause they’ll stand up to the hardest test
Right on the table.
So when ya see that big truck rollin’ by
Wave yer hand or kinda wink yer eye,
Cause that’s Bud the Spud from old PEI, with another big load’a potatoes!
“Stompin’ Tom. There isn’t a Canadian who doesn’t know him. Right? They know him because he once wrote a song about their home town….”
Actually, Lennoxville doesn’t seem to have made it into a Stompin’ Tom Connors tune, but we forgive him. ‘Bud The Spud’, ‘Fire In The Mine’, ‘The Hockey Song’ – Connors may not have waxed poetic about our tiny ‘burg, but he loved all of Canada.
There was national mourning when Stompin’ Tom died last month at the age of 77. Yet it’s astonishing that he made it to his eighth decade, given the many years he spent just one step ahead of starvation, the many nights he spent sleeping in park bushes, the many freezing snowstorms he found himself in.
Stompin’ Tom: Before The Fame (1995), is a memoir that begins at the age of two, in a tussle with a gnarly cat, and ends at 31, with the beginnings of his breakthrough as a performer in Timmins, Ontario.
It’s a long but engaging story. His father was listed as “unknown” on the birth certificate, having skipped town when his mother demanded that he abandon his pregnant teenaged girlfriend.
A single mother in the 1930s and ’40s had few options. Finding a man, any man, to help out, was one. Stealing food to feed her kids was another. The family was constantly moving, outrunning creditors and cops, until Tom was finally nabbed by Children’s Aid and sent off to a workhouse run by sadists (sorry, that should read an orphanage run by nuns). One friend died after his arm was ripped off by a haying machine; he was seven years old.
Stompin’ Tom learned another lesson when he was 8: “No matter what game you played you always had to be suspicious of the other kids’ motives. You just never knew when that punch in the face was coming.”
He never sat still, running away, hitchhiking every time his feet started tapping, relying on the kindness of strangers as a boy and a teen, and later playing for bed or beer in bars and wherever else he could strum a guitar. Poverty and homelessness followed him. He would store bread on a nail, hung high enough on a wall that mice couldn’t nibble at it.
His brand of old-style country music infused with Canadian nationalism was not top 40 material, and he was ignored by the recording industry. So Stompin’ Tom recorded singles on his own dime and sold them one at a time at his shows.
Before The Fame is followed by The Legend Continues: Stompin’ Tom And The Connors Tone (published in 2000, and also filed in non-fiction at 920). There’s more travel, and tales of meeting his wife Lena, and how he ended up a Canadian legend.
– Eleanor Brown, April 19, 2013