Musicians, friends remember Stompin' Tom, say Canada has 'lost an icon'

Nick Patch, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - As musicians, fans and friends shared their memories of the late Stompin' Tom Connors on Thursday, the man who signed the singer to EMI records said Canada has lost an icon.

Deane Cameron called Connors a "true original," a "storyteller" and a "troubadour" — as well as a "tremendous promoter of the Canadian identity in a very down-to-earth storyteller way."

With songs such as "Sudbury Saturday Night" and the beloved arena staple "The Hockey Song," Connors — who died Monday at age 77 — was adamant that his songs reflect his homeland.

"I think the country has lost an icon, and certainly a man who spent his life reaching out to Canadians of every walk of life to try to give them stories of Canada," said Cameron, who was the president of EMI Music Canada for 24 years.

In an interview with CTV, another Canadian icon — Gordon Lightfoot — called Connors' output "prodigious," singling out "The Hockey Song" in particular.

"It really is a powerful song to hear onstage although it is a very light-hearted song," said Lightfoot.

"He was a powerful entertainer and he had a powerful voice. He was a great player, he always had great musicians working with him."

Connors former bandmate Bob McNiven —now with a band called Whiskey Jack — told CHFI Radio that he was dazzled by the late musician's songwriting ability.

"I've been thinking about his songs, sort of the musical times I had with him," he said.

"(They were) unique in their subject matter. That's one of the huge appeals of Tom is he tells people stories, he tells the stories about the places, the people of this country ... that's what talks to people."

McNiven said he recalls being amazed by the wide range of fans who would show up to see Connors play.

"Down on the right hand side would be three or four silver-haired granmothers standing there crying, looking up at Tom," he recalled.

"Right next to them would be a father holding his baby looking up at Tom, next to them would be five or six kids who were obviously from university — and perhaps maybe a little in their cups — and had 'Stompin' Tom for Prime Minister' T-shirts on. It ran the gamut."

Cameron, meanwhile, noted that Connors was an inspiration to other musicians because of his commitment to his message.

"He was a man of conviction, everybody knew that he stood for certain things, Canadianism being at the top of that list."

Connors had apparently known that his health was failing and prepared a letter to fans to be posted on his website when he died.

"I want all my fans, past, present, or future, to know that without you, there would have not been any Stompin' Tom," read that message.

A public celebration of Connors' life featuring speakers and music will be held next Wednesday in Peterborough, Ont., the city where the musician got the name "Stompin' Tom."

In lieu of flowers, Connors' family has asked that donations be made to local food banks or homeless shelters, in memory of the musician.