Friend recalls the road with Stompin Tom
VANCOUVER - When Stompin Tom Connors arrived at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa on what would be his final cross-country tour of Canada a few years ago, staff were concerned and a little flustered.
Tim Hus, Connors' opening act on that tour, recalls arriving to a packed arena and staff members who hadn't received Connors' "rider," the list of his hospitality requirements for the night.
Connors insisted he'd sent the rider, and staff were apologetic.
"They said, 'Oh but Mr. Connors we didn't get your hospitality rider, all we got was a fax that said two cases of Moosehead beer,' and he said, 'Well, then you got my rider,'" Hus says with a laugh.
"They just couldn't believe it. They said they'd never seen anybody who could fill a stadium full of people and his only requirements were two cases of beer — one for the band and one for him."
Connors, who rose from a tragic childhood to a Canadian icon, never forgot his humble beginnings, says Hus.
At a smoked meat shop in Montreal, the owners pulled out all the stops for the country music legend and his entourage. Nearby, a man down on his luck with a bicycle laden with cans for recycling was leaning against a wall.
"Tom, he said, 'You see that guy over there, that guy with the bicycle? I'd like you to go over and give him a beer.' That's the kind of guy he was," Hus says.
"I think he really identified with people like that because he'd been to the school of hard knocks and spent a lot of years just hitchhiking around with his guitar. I guess he'd been on the receiving end of that; he'd been the guy people had bought a beer for when he was down."
Connors was incredibly smart, Hus remembers, and tour members passed many hours losing to him at chess and Scrabble.
If the weather was good and there was a patch of grass to be found behind a hotel, he'd set up a game of croquet, planting and replanting a stand-up beer holder as he tapped the colourful balls through the course.
Connors, who wrote several books about his life and his loves, seemed to live pretty simply, Hus says. He liked his cigarettes, his beer and his country.
To pass the time, Hus would sometimes name a town somewhere and the country singer would easily recount a tale of someone he met or something he did there in the decades he'd been criss-crossing this big land.
To join the tour, Hus and band members had to sign a contract that included after-show festivities.
"Famously — and infamously — he makes you sign a contract that you're going to stay up with him, drinking beer and socializing until five in the morning. You think that's kind of funny when you sign on... but then he actually holds you to it," says Hus.
Even well into his 70s, Connors slept little and kept a pace difficult for his juniors to match. It wasn't easy to meet that particular contractual obligation, Hus says.
"For a lot of people obviously it would be the thrill of a lifetime to stay up and drink beer with Stompin Tom, and it was. It was really great," he says.
"But believe it or not, you'd be surprised once you get about six weeks into the tour and it's getting to be about four in the morning and your eyes are starting to fall shut and he's like, 'Hey, buddy, you've still got an hour left. You signed the contract.'"
Connors, 77, died Wednesday.
Hus, who grew up near Nelson, B.C. and now calls Calgary home, says he will pay tribute to his friend and mentor the only way he can: by continuing to make music inspired by the award-winning singer-songwriter. His sixth album will be released shortly.