Thursday, 7 March 2013

Stompin' Tom's Winnipeg Visits

November 20, 1971, Winnipeg Free Press

Stompin' Tom Connors first came to national attention in 1969 when Bud the Spud became a hit but it was  in 1971 that his career really took off. He won his first Juno Award for best male Country and Western performer in February and was a staple on Canadian TV variety shows such as The Tommy Hunter Show, The Ian Tyson Show and Don Messer's Jubilee

The first mention I can find of Connors playing the 'Peg is at the Playhouse Theatre on November 27, 1971. Unfortunately, it wasn't reviewed by the Free Press. (Connors claimed to have criss-crossed the country ten times by then, so he may have played a Winnipeg stage in his pre-fame days.)

October 20, 1973, Winnipeg Free Press

On October 21, 1973 Connors was back, this time at the Centennial Concert Hall. Again, it was not reviewed by the Free Press. 

The following month his wedding to Lena Welch in Toronto was nationally televised.

In December 1974 a Free Press column notes that Connors was a  "recent guest" at the Downs Motor Hotel on Portage Avenue, (verdict: he was a really nice guy), though it does not appear that he played a gig while here.

June 14, 1975, Winnipeg Free Press

His third appearance was at the Centennial Concert Hall on June 16, 1975. By this time he was riding about as high as a Canadian musical act could. He had his own TV show, Stompin' Tom's Canada on the CBC, a string of hits and five consecutive Junos for best male country music performer.

This concert had two opening acts, The Roving Cowboys and Stevedore Steve, performing country music-influenced working-man songs. Tom took the stage and after introducing his band and launched into Bud the Spud. His set also included Zapuska Polka, The Martin Hartwell Story, Jack of Many Trades and Red River Jane which includes the lyrics:

Here I walk in the Winnipeg rain
Tryin' to get a bus, tryin' to get train
Tryin' to get back to my field of grain
Away from Portage and Main
I blew my mind and my money in vain
And I blew my past on a fast Red River Jane

Free Press reviewer Harvey Garfinkle called the show “a demonstration of superb Canadian talent.

March 29, 1978, Montreal Gazette

In March 1978, Connors' career took a downward turn when he publicly lashed out against CARAS, (the Canadian Academy for the Recording Arts and Sciences), for supporting "turncoat Canadians", meaning those who resided or earned their living outside the country. He refused to let his name stand for any more Juno Awards and returned the six that he had already won.

Connors also cancelled his headline performance at the CNE in Toronto when he learned that American singer Charlie Pride was being paid ten times what Connors was for his show on another night.

Bitter, Connors left the business. What was supposed to be a one-year hiatus turned to ten.

May 11, 1990, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1988, a grassroots campaign to "Bring Back Stompin' Tom" led by people such as CBC's Peter Gzowski, eventually lured him from his life in northern Ontario. Connors said that after years of constitutional squabbling over Canada's future, it was time for patriotic music to make a return. In 1990 he announced a 70 city tour that included Winnipeg.

His June 18, 1990 concert at the Centennial Concert Hall was notable for the fact that he received a long, emotional standing ovation before he played his first note. According to Free Press reviewer Bohdan Gembarsky, he then launched into "...a rousing show filled to the gills with folksy humour and more stomping, hooting and jabbering than you could shake a stick at."

Connors returned to the city on a number of occasions, drawing crowds of around 1,500 each time. Here is his "Winnipography" that I have pieced together from the Winnipeg Free Press archives. if you know of an additional show, please let me know !

November 27, 1971 - Pantages Playhouse
October 21, 1973 - Centennial Concert Hall
June 16, 1975 - Centennial Concert Hall
June 18, 1990 - Centennial Concert Hall
August 6, 1993 - Pantages Playhouse
October 16, 1998 - Walker Theatre
July 27, 2001 - Centennial Concert Hall
August 1 2004 - Burton Cummings (Walker Theatre)
August 4, 2010 - Centennial Concert Hall

His final concert on August 4, 2010, at the age of 74. It was in front of 1,600 fans at the Centennial Concert Hall.

Stompin' Tom Connors died on March 6, 2013. The Connors family has asked that donations be made to local food banks or homeless shelters in his memory.

Stompin' Tom Connors.com Official news release
Stompin' Tom Connors' final letter to fans 
Stompin' Tom Connors Dies at 77 Globe and Mail
On the road with Stompin' Tom Connors CBC Archives (video)


The Great Canadian Talk Show said...

It should be noted that a longtime Winnipeg (St James) resident, and transplanted Maritimer, the late Marge Turner, was widely recognized as Tom's biggest fan in Canada. Her home was adorned by his LP's and personal letters from Tom and she had an encyclopaedic knowledge of his music. It was an astonishing sight and as her so still lives in the house, my guess is the momento's are still on display.

mrchristian said...

That's neat !

If this CMHR thing doesn't work out maybe a Stompin' Tom museum instead. Install a large, neon cowboy boot atop the spire !

Anonymous said...

Excellent work. I was at the '98 show and it remains one of the top three gigs I've ever seen, right up there with Dead Kennedys.

One typo - wrong century on date of his death.

mrchristian said...

Thanks anon. Fixed. i was working on a post about the Royal Albert when the news of his death came so I had 1913 on the brain !

Sadly, I never had a chance to see him.