If you are not Canadian the name Stompin’ Tom Connors means nothing to you, but in Canada he is a music legend and a national treasure. Tom was not always at the top of the heap; in fact he worked his butt off to be the success he is now. One day in the 60’s he drove his pickup truck to Carleton Place, Ontario and walked into the Mississippi Hotel on the corner of Bridge Street and Lake Avenue looking for a singing job.
The owner at that time, Ms. Lorraine Lemay (Ottawa Valley Country Music Hall of Fame) looked at him curiously as he held a guitar in one hand and a piece of plywood in the other. His audition turned into a month long stay at the hotel, and so began Stompin’ Tom’s career for room and board in the hallowed hotel. The Mississippi Hotel was built in the 1800’s and was a former bawdy house and even a hospice for those with TB. It has passed through many owners and is one of Canada’s top 100 haunted buildings.
As legend goes Stompin’ Tom did a three week stint at the hotel and went through four sheets of plywood. Various stories have circulated about the origin of the foot stomping, but it’s generally accepted that he did this to keep a strong tempo for his guitar playing — especially in the noisy bars and beer joints where he frequently performed. After numerous complaints about damaged stage floors, Tom began to carry a piece of plywood that he stomped on even more vigorously than before.
The “stompin'” board has since become one of his trademarks. After stomping a hole in the wood, he would pick it up and show it to the audience (accompanied by a joke about the quality of the local lumber) before calling for a new one. It was reported that when asked about his “stompin’ board”, Tom replied, “it’s just a stage I’m going through”. Stompin’ Tom periodically auctions off his “stompin’ boards” for charity with the latest board selling for $15,000.
At the Mississippi Hotel Tom worked on the song called “Big Joe Mufferaw” day after day and a couple of years later that particular song was heard on country music stations all over Canada. Tom was also pretty opinionated about Canadian content in music. He once returned all his Junos (Canadian Grammy) back to the board of directors accompanied by the following letter:
“Gentlemen:I am returning herewith the six Juno awards that I once felt honoured to have received and which, I am no longer proud to have in my possession. As far as I am concerned you can give them to the “border jumpers” who didn’t receive an award this year and maybe you can have them presented by Charley Pride. I feel that the Junos should be for people who are living in Canada, whose main base of business operations is in Canada, who are working toward the recognition of Canadian talent in this country and who are trying to further the export of such talent from this country to the world with a view to proudly showing off what this country can contribute to the world market. Until the academy appears to comply more closely with aspirations of this kind, I will no longer stand for any nominations, nor will I accept any award given.”
It was with this same conviction that Stompin’ Tom Connors came out of hiding years later to save the beloved hotel where he once sang. In 1990 the Mississippi Hotel was slated for demolition and a few concerned citizens contacted the now reclusive Connors and asked for his help. Connors had become a “recluse” due to his ongoing disagreements with the Canadian music business. The Carleton Place plea to Connors himself got the ball rolling to save the hotel and he and the Mississippi Hotel made national news.
Connors refused all requests for live interviews but released a written statement:
“All that can be done must be done to preserve this “Grand Ole Lady.”
And with those few words the Mississipppi Hotel was spared from demolition.
Later in 1998 he played a sold-out concert in Carleton Place and the town attempted to present him with a plaque commemorating him on behalf of his contribution to the town and the “Grand Ole’ Lady”. Tom being Tom refused to accept it and the plaque was left with his management.
On the “Greatest Canadians” list Stompin’ Tom comes in at number 13 but in the town of Carleton Place he is nothing but number one. Connors, a once traveling country singer ended up changing the history of Carleton Place, Ontario and the Mississippi Hotel because of a one month stay over forty-four years ago.
Now Stompin Tom rest is gone. I was truly hoping one day Tom might come back so every gray stone of the ‘Grand Ole Lady’ can thank him properly for saving her from demolition.
This blog is dedicated to the memory of Stompin’ Tom Connors, and may you rest in peace.
Written in 2011
Photos by Linda Seccaspina
If you don’t think that your country should come before yourself, you can better serve your country by livin’ someplace else.
– Stompin’ Tom Connors