Found this one languishing in the ‘drafts’ pile just waiting for a few links. Written March 2013, the week singer, songwriter Stompin’ Tom Connors died.
I caught the revival of Stompin’ Tom in the 80’s because my friends in Scarborough were musicians and fanatics. I wore my cowboy boots to the Horseshoe, the Hotel Isabella and Grossman’s to hear country punk, blues-a-billy, rocknfolk inspired bands. My ears were primed for Tom. Some of us were also tuning into the Rheostatics and paying attention to what they were paying attention to.
So when Dave Bidini’s tale of tracking down Stompin’ Tom came out back in the day, the news reached me somehow. This week I enjoyed reading John Doyle’s memories of the Stompin’ Tom resurrection story, paying homage to their fellow college radio dj at York University, Alan Round, who turned on both John and Dave to Stompin’ Tom.
Tom’s name rang in my ears even then. My mom had told a tale of his shake-the-fillings-in-your-molars stomping when she and dad saw him, but I couldn’t remember where in their non-stop tour of Central/Eastern Canada and upper New York State they’d caught up to Tom. (Probably not their US years.)
She called me up this morning. Turns out it was Larder Lake Hotel, Larder Lake, Ontario circa ’64 or ’65. My mom was teaching grade school and my dad was the United Church minister. He was minister to a two or three point charge, which meant they’d drive around in Sunday blizzards to 2 or 3 small towns ‘nearby’, so dad could preach a sermon and the family could greet the people.
It was kind of a deal in the 60’s for the minister and his wife to be out at the local hotel. “This was before your dad became chaplain of the legion.” Good idea! One way of ensuring you can have a beer in public now and then.
“Movin’ on to Rouyn’ was Tom’s first single, released 1965 in Timmins by CKJB radio station. Mom and dad won this 45 that night in the Larder Lake hotel. V-town, mentioned in the second verse, was one of the charges in my dad’s preaching rounds. Kirkland Lake, more well known, was down the road. Rouyn-Noranda is just over the border in Quebec; my family lived there in the late 50’s.
I’ve caught wind of family outrage that the single went missing. “In the moves” mom says but I’m pretty sure I remember it from the box of 45’s in the family room in Scarborough that Danna and I danced to. My mom still lives in that house so it’s the long years in one place that are to blame. Years hide things.
I loved the family stories from their time in the Ontario northwoods. I grew up playing down the creek, one of Toronto many forested ravines. It was the great woods to us but I imagined something else. Taller trees, like stately grandmothers, less brush underneath, wide spaces to walk, a creek not bound in a cage of rocks, not stinking of whatever the factories a 1/2 mile north dumped into it, fish leaping, enough to share.
I was about 7 when I asked my dad if I might have been reincarnated and been with them up north. He smiled and talked to me of the power of stories. He reminded me of the stories he’d told of his camping trips as a boy “not a summer until you get north of North Bay” and the stories from his fly-in trips to Native communities north of Thunder Bay, after he’d left the church and joined the Human Rights Commission. He was telling me I knew the forest through stories.
Now I think the forest was telling me stories too. Lay down a beat, start singing that story.
Stompin Tom toured us around this land and its people. In truth I haven’t been listening to Tom much this week, except for the excellently curated selection over at Network Effects. I’ll wait until there’s a fire and some fount of song to lead a sing-along.
No, this week I’m remembering that forest I imagined as a child and listening to its music. In my poking around since Tom’s death I discovered that he and his manager started a record label in 1971, Boot Records, that featured a some Native musicians, one of whom was the Cree musician, Morley Loon.
Youtube got me to this recording of Morley Loon, not by Boot Records but by the CBC Northern Service. I hear the forest in these songs.
Cree Songs by Morley Loon recorded by CBC Northern Service.
Resurgence. Songs of this land and the people.
Something Tom rooted for.