Canadian singer Stompin' Tom Connors dies at 77

Stompin' Tom Connors

Canadian music icon Stompin’ Tom Connors, whose songs about every nook and cranny of Canada, its people and favorite pastime included “The Hockey Song,” “Sudbury Saturday Night,” “Bud The Spud,” “Tillsonburg” and “Big Joe Mufferaw,”  died Wednesday of natural causes at his home, in Halton Hills, Ontario, his family at his side. He was 77.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted "We have lost a true Canadian original. R.I.P. Stompin’' Tom Connors. You played the best game that could be played."

The 11 o’clock news across the country dedicated segments to Connors, some even leading with the story. Twitter and Facebook were filled with dedications and personal comments about meeting or working with him or simply enjoying his music or his true patriotic love for Canada.

At the Toronto Maple Leafs vs Ottawa Senators game, his enduring anthem “The Hockey Song” was played in its entirety after news of his death was announced on the scoreboard. The song is played during every third period. The lyric includes: “Oh, the good old hockey game is the best game you can name. And the best game you can name is the good old hockey game.”

Connors performed the song on Late Night With Conan O’Brien in 2004 when the host brought his talk show to Canada for a week. Of course, onstage the singer-guitarist laid down the plywood on which he stomped his foot as he performed and the audience was on its feet singing every word.

Recording for at least seven different labels since the 1960s, he leaves a legacy of 61 albums, 10 of which have yet to be released to the public, his family said in a press statement on Connors’ official web site announcing his passing. He signed with EMI Music Canada in 1989.

“Tom Connors was the Quintessential Troubadour and Storyteller,” former EMI president Deane Cameron wrote Billboard in an email. “From his humble beginnings to his rise as a great Canadian Icon, Tom was truly an original and fiercely committed to his message. He inspired so many young artists and songwriters with his ability to connect with Canadians of all walks of life. He was a close friend and a fun partner in the pursuit of getting music to people. We have lost a national hero and a leader of the human spirit. He changed my life.”

Bruce Eaton, who met Connors 15 years ago through Capitol/EMI, when he was a sales rep for Upper Canada brewery, remembers delivering a draft beer fridge to his house and not leaving for two days. “Every visit became more eventful to the point where Tom used to call in sick for me,” he says. “The day I introduced my Dad to Tom was the best father / son moment of my life. He was the most humble man I ever met who was the proudest Canadian ever.”

Born Thomas Charles Connors in Saint John, New Brunswick, on Feb. 9, 1936, he was raised by foster parents in Skinners Pond, P.E.I. until he was 13 years old. His early life was filled with poverty and orphanages, but he soon took to the road with his guitar, hitchhiking across the country, playing bars and writing about all that is Canadian -- selling four million albums in his lifetime and receiving countless honors from Officer of the Order of Canada to his face on a Canadian postage stamp. He wrote two autobiographies, 1996’s "Stompin’' Tom: Before the Fame" and 2000’s "The Connors Tone."

David MacMillan, Connors’ marketing manager for 16 years at EMI Music Canada -- who is mentioned in Connors’ second book for his tireless mission to keep Connors happy -- told Billboard, “In my position I worked on over 10 albums for Tom doing the marketing, overseeing photo shots and the artwork. Over the years I became friends with Tom and [wife] Lena and have many fond memories of my times with Tom playing darts, pool, talking all night and more. Check out Tom’s statement on his website about passing on the torch. That is the important thing for all Canadians to take away from Tom’s legacy -- we all should sing the praises of this great country in your own way, plant trees, sing songs, do something good for your community, be inspired by Canada like he was.”

The statement to which MacMillan refers is a personal message from Connors that his family says he wanted passed along upon his death: "Hello friends, I want all my fans, past, present, or future, to know that without you, there would have not been any Stompin’' Tom. It was a long hard bumpy road, but this great country kept me inspired with it's beauty, character, and spirit, driving me to keep marching on and devoted to sing about its people and places that make Canada the greatest country in the world. I must now pass the torch, to all of you, to help keep the Maple Leaf flying high, and be the Patriot Canada needs now and in the future. I humbly thank you all, one last time, for allowing me in your homes, I hope I continue to bring a little bit of cheer into your lives from the work I have done. Sincerely, Your Friend always, Stompin’' Tom Connors.”

Connors is survived by his wife Lena, two sons, two daughters and several grandchildren. A memorial will take place March 13 in Peterborough, ON at 7pm at the Peterborough Memorial Centre, and, as per his request, will be open to the public. In lieu of flowers, the Connors family has asked that donations be made to your local food bank or homeless shelters, in memory of Stompin’' Tom.