Canadian cultural icon Stompin’ Tom Connors has died. He was 77.
Connors is best known for his numerous songs about Canada, its citizens, and hockey. His hits included “Sudbury Saturday Night,” “Ketchup Song,” “Moon-Man Newfie,” “Bud The Spud,” and “Big Joe Mufferaw.” His biggest, “The Hockey Song,” is still played frequently at NHL games. He released four-dozen albums, which have sold a combined 4 million copies.
Born to an unwed teenage mother in New Brunswick, Connors spent his youth hitchhiking and begging on the street before being placed in an orphanage at the age of 8. He was adopted at age 9, then ran away four years later to begin picking up odd jobs all across Canada. In those early days, he worked as a gravedigger, tobacco picker, fry cook, and on fishing boats.
Though he bought his first guitar at age 14, he didn’t play a show until he was 28. According to Connors’ autobiography, Before The Fame, he was coerced into playing a few songs at a hotel in Timmins, Ontario, in exchange for a drink. That turned into a longterm contract at the hotel, and three years later, Connors released his first album.
Connors was rarely seen without his signature black cowboy hat and boots—boots he used to stomp on a piece of plywood during performances, an enthusiastic motion that earned him his nickname and fit in with his country-folk repertoire. Occasionally, Connors would auction off one of his “stompin’ boards” for charity, with one selling for $11,000 in 2011.
In the late ‘70s, Connors retired from performing, claiming that the Canadian government and Radio-television And Telecommunications Commission weren’t giving enough support to Canadian performers. He also boycotted the Juno Awards, sending back the six he’d previously won because, in his mind, the awards shouldn’t be open to “turncoat Canadians,” or Canadian artists who left their homeland to seek success in the United States. He remained in retirement for 12 years until the year 1988, when he released Fiddle And Song.
When Late Night With Conan O’Brien taped a week’s worth of shows in Toronto in 2004, Connors was one of the guests of honor, turning up to lead the audience in a rousing version of “The Hockey Song.”
Connors was given one of his country’s highest honors, the Order Of Canada, in 1996. He’s also been featured on a postage stamp. He ranks thirteenth on the CBC’s list of Greatest Canadians, right above Neil Young.
Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted his sympathies on Wednesday night, saying, “We have lost a true Canadian original. R.I.P. Stompin’ Tom Connors. You played the best game that could be played.”