The following is an article submitted by Duncan Fremlin, leader/manager of the band Whiskey Jack, which plays The Loft Oct. 7.
It all began in the 1950s thanks to Sault Ste. Marie broadcasting Hall of Fame radio DJ, Don Ramsey. By today’s standards, it’s hard to imagine one man at a northern Ontario radio station influencing an entire generation, but he did just that.
As an impressionable young lad growing up on Pumpkin Point Road (east of Echo Bay), and a radiophile, with his ear glued to Don’s show night after night, I was introduced to the endearing and lyrical world of Stompin’ Tom Connors. I would learn years later that Don was one of the few radio personalities that Stompin’ Tom actually liked. This was a topic Tom and I discussed when we met and started touring together in 1990.
My first job with Tom was as his sidekick and MC on the now famous 1990 comeback tour. In May of that year, I found myself standing on the Memorial Gardens stage, the arena where I spent my wayward hockey playing youth, microphone in hand, announcing to my old hockey pals, family and neighbours, “Please welcome back, for the first time in 13 years, Stompin’ Tom Connors!”
That was our fourth stop. It was important. It was special because the Soo is where, according to Tom, "I cut my songwriting teeth there when I was a young buck learning how to make up songs.” He told me years later that he wrote many of his hits during his weeks playing the Royal Hotel, a tough blue-collar country bar on Queen Street East….songs like Little Wawa, Algoma 69, Tillsonburg and more.
I spent that summer at Tom’s side managing the tour and keeping his travelling circus from falling apart under trying circumstances. I was also assigned the job of guarding the damn quarter-inch plywood board he stomped on each night. The attempts to steal the board were numerous but luckily for me, unsuccessful.
On his next tour in 1993, I once more returned to my home town with Tom, this time standing with him on stage with my banjo hanging over my shoulder. He had asked if my band Whiskey Jack would work with him and I said, “Hell, yeah.”
I had known Tom for a few years at this point so I learned to expect the unexpected. Within an hour of arriving at a little, somewhat seedy motel on Great Northern Road, he announced to his entourage of musicians and sound crew that we would be playing miniature golf at the little park next door. And we did ... until three in the morning. The owners kept it open because, “It’s Stompin’ Tom!”
This is one of the many tall tales that made it into my 2018 book, My Good Times With Stompin’ Tom.
Since Tom’s death in 2013, I’ve returned often to Sault Ste. Marie with my show, Whiskey Jack Presents Stories & Songs of Stompin’ Tom. Headlining the city’s Sesquicentennial show at the Roberta Bondar Pavilion was pretty damn cool, particularly in light of the fact Roberta and I attended Sir James Dunn together.
We return once again, this time on Oct. 7 at the very impressive and beautiful theatre, The Loft. Interest in our country’s favourite eccentric hasn’t lapsed. This is our ninth year on the road so Canadians obviously continue to have an appetite for this all Canadian show.
Some of the best musicians in the country will join me that night, including Tom’s longtime fiddler, a legend in his own right, from PEI, Billy MacInnis.
“She’s on a bar hoppin’ spree, back in Sault Ste. Marie” is still one of the best first lines of any song!.
Stompin’ Tom music at the Algoma Conservatory of Music? It works for me and I’m guessing Tom will be smiling, wherever he might be.
As a PEI newspaper reporter told me last spring, “Your show is a cross between The Vinyl Cafe and Red Green, exceptional music and funny as hell.”
As Tom would say, “We’re going to have a good time. That’s the main ting."