Stompin' Tom Connors' 50th album, and 23rd of original songs, The Ballad Of Stompin' Tom, arrived in stores on Tuesday via EMI Music Canada.
The man has written more than 150 songs about Canada, the subject that's closest to his heart, and I recently had the opportunity to chat with the outspoken and often controversial icon about his nationalism and other subjects during a party hosted by the Connors family at their rural southern Ontario home.
Connors bought the house in 1975, when he had a rare afternoon off from his constant touring. He's added to it over the years, so that it now includes a room that's more of a tavern than most taverns. It exudes a comfortable charm, just like its inhabitants. There are pool trophies on shelves surrounding the pool table, while Connors' music awards and honours are kept in a room downstairs.
Tom, Jr. was serving drinks behind the bar, Tom's wife Lena encouraged me to have more of them as she told me the story of how she met her husband, and plentiful trays of delicious food were circulated through the room. Connors explained eight of the 16 songs from The Ballad Of Stompin' Tom that were played before the album became background music for more socializing.
Connors was handed a guitar made, appropriately, from 63 pieces of history and heritage from every part of Canada. You can read about the fascinating instrument here, and I can tell you that it sounded great when Connors treated us to a rendition of "Bud The Spud."
I was then invited to sit down with Connors at his kitchen table for about 40 minutes of colourful conversation. Here are some of the things he talked about:
"The way I do it is different than you ever heard before. I write all the songs in my head and, when they're written, I pick up the guitar and I see if they fit the chords. If they do, it's a song. And that's all there is to it."
Giving away his Junos and retiring from the music business, before returning in the late '80s, to protest the Americanization of the Canadian music industry:
"I write for the country and I sing for the country and that's all. I couldn't care if there was any money in it or anything else. I'd be doing this for nothin'. It's fortunate that I don't have to, but I love doin' what I'm doin', and that's why I've persisted for so long.
"But with the Junos and all that stuff, I've had letters from them since, and I've had letters from other awards people, but they're too pro-American in this country — the whole shebang of them, including radio and everything else. They have no qualms about playing American music and no qualms about Canadians leavin' this country and comin' back home, and now they're big heroes because they recorded last in Nashville. Big deal. I can't join that crowd anymore. I learned [that] in 1977 or whatever year it was that I gave back my Junos. I made up my mind then, and my mind is still made up."
Auditioning band members:
"When I go on the road, I don't want teetotalers on the road with me. So what I do when I need a new member of the band is I call up the guy and the first question I ask him is, 'Are you interested in comin' on the road with Stompin' Tom?'
"If he says yes, my next question is, 'Do you drink?' If the guy says no, I tell him that's one stroke against him right off the bat. I don't want some guy to come on the road with me, and then he discovers after he's on the road with me that we drink, and says, 'Oh shit, what's all this about?'
"And then the next question I'll ask him is, 'Do you take any type of dope?' If he says, 'I take the odd toke,' that's another stroke against him, because I don't allow it on the road. If you're caught, who's name gets in the paper? Not you, me. And all of a sudden, I'm a fuckin' trafficker or somethin'.
"As far as drinkin' is concerned, I don't like these guys who use their non-drinking to not associate with the guys. Smokin' is another thing. I say to the boys, 'Listen, I smoke, and I smoke like a Sudbury stack. So get it through your head. If I have to rehearse with you guys or do this and that on the road, you're going to have to put up with my god-damn smokin'. So whether you smoke or not, you better be prepared for second-hand smoke or whatever the hell you want to call it. You better put up with it.'"
Bylaws banning smoking in public buildings:
"I have an awful problem. You go on tour to the god-damn arenas and theatres or wherever you go, there's no smokin' any more. It's an extra expense. You have to rent a special trailer for outside and you have to park it close to the door, because you can't run across the god-damn parking lot in front of everybody else when you're out tryin' to have a smoke, so it makes it very difficult.
"And if you want to go out for supper or dinner or some fuckin' thing to have a meal, there's no smokin' in restaurants. So I sit in my van and the guys bring me out my food. That's the way it's been for the past four or five years. I eat in my own god-damn vehicle.
"I'm a second-class citizen now in my own fuckin' country because I fuckin' smoke. But I'll tell ya, I'll continue to be a second-class citizen because I ain't fuckin' quittin'. I'll tell ya right now, I enjoy smokin' and I'll smoke myself to kingdom fuckin' come. I don't smoke on stage because I'm only out there for about three-quarters of an hour, and then I make up for the time in the dressing room. You can't smoke and sing at the same time. But if I could, I would."