This Canadian icon keeps Stompin’ along

Duncan Fremlin (with banjo) and Whiskey Jack will be at the Commercial Tavern on Oct. 14 to perform Stories & Songs of Stompin’ Tom, drawing on their many years of collaboration with the Canadian country/folk icon. [Submitted]

Charles Thomas Connors may have passed away in 2013, but Stompin’ Tom lives on as an icon of Canadian country and folk music.

His tunes, from the now-ubiquitous Hockey Song to the likes of Bud the Spud and Tillsonburg, are the very essence of Canadiana. And his music is very much a living thing in the hands of those who were his back-up band for some two decades, Whiskey Jack, who’ll be performing Stories & Songs of Stompin’ Tom at Maryhill’s Commercial Tavern on October 14.

Whiskey Jack first became associated with Stompin’ Tom in the late-1980s when Connors ended his decade-long retreat from the music industry. By that point, having formed in 1977, the band had already established a name for itself, appearing weekly on the CBC’s Tommy Hunter Show in the ’80s, for instance. The six critically acclaimed albums to their credit include the 1993 collaboration, Dr. Stompin’ Tom… Eh?

Whiskey Jack co-founder Duncan Fremlin, Stompin’ Tom’s long-time bandleader, said he and his colleagues have been working to keep the music front and centre in launching Stories & Songs five years ago.

“It’s very personal. It’s not a tribute show – we’re his bandmates that loved and respected him, and we’re just continuing on,” said Fremlin of the concert on tap for Maryhill.

Along with the standards – “Tom always said the novelty songs paid for the addition on his house, his cars,” he laughed – the band will be playing an assortment from Connors’ vast catalogue of some 300 songs.

“A song like Songbird Valley, when people hear it, nobody could dream that Tom wrote this song,” said Fremlin of Connors’ songwriting range, noting he wrote love songs and took great pains crafting them.

Along with exploring the music, the Whiskey Jack show also includes plenty of storytelling, giving the audience some insight into the man behind the icon.

Fremlin has so many stories, in fact, that he’s written a just-released book, My Good Times With Stompin’ Tom, that takes a look at “the behind-the-scenes Tom.” It includes plenty of stories from the road, drawn from the cross-country tours that saw the band hit dozens of cities from coast to coast, with Tom taking in the local flavour rather than rushing from one show to the next.

Fremlin notes that, driving the van, Connors was a virtual tour guide, telling the band about all the landmarks and local stories of the places he’d been many times, having hitchhiked back and forth across the country as a teen and a young performer.

“He was like a travel agent for these places – he had hitchhiked all these roads.”

A promoter of all things Canadian, Connors was particularly keen to boost Canadian musicians, happy to share his stage and exposing young talent to his audience.

“He was very generous with his stage, with his audience and with his time,” he said, noting that extended to his back-up band, who were requested to play their own songs and to adopt his own. “He was very encouraging of the way we interpreted his songs.”

For Stories & Songs, Fremlin (vocals and banjo) will be joined by award-winning vocalist Cindy Church; Douglas John Cameron, two time Juno Award nominee and multi-instrumentalist; Randy Morrison, five time Canadian National Fiddle Champion; Eric Jackson, one of Stompin’ Tom’s bass players, and drummer Al Cross.

Together, Whiskey Jack have been curators of sorts of the Stompin’ Tom music catalogue since his death in 2013.

“We’re thankful to be able to do this. It’s a privilege,” said Fremlin of carrying on the Stompin’ Tom tradition.

“We’ve been together a long time, and we’re playing the best music of our lives. We’re all in this because we love Tom and his music.”

“We’re often told after shows that ‘you guys look like you’re having fun.’ We are having the time of our lives,” he said. “It’s not work. It never gets tired.”

Whiskey Jack and the Stories & Songs of Stompin’ Tom take to the stage at 3 p.m. on October 14 at the Commercial Tavern. Tickets are $30, available at the venue, 1303 Maryhill Rd., or by calling 519-648-3644. For more information, visit The Commercial Tavern’s website.

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