Stompin’ Tom Connors had a good point to make in 1978 when he sent his Juno awards back in protest. He believed Canadian radio didn’t want to play Canadian music — certainly not his — and that too often, Junos were given to artists who left Canada to work and live in the United States or elsewhere.
Prior to the 1978 Juno Awards, Connors withdrew his name from contention, drawing heat for his decision. Two days after the awards, he called a press conference. It was March 31, 1978, and Connors, standing before a group of reporters, said, “I feel that Junos should be for people who are living in Canada, whose main base of operations is Canada, [and] who are working toward the recognition of Canadian talent in this country.” Wearing his trademark cowboy hat, the lanky singer cast his eyes toward the six Junos that sat on a table before him — awards, he said, that “I was once proud to receive, but am now ashamed to keep.”
With that, he promptly packed his Junos in a cardboard box and sent them in a taxi to the offices of the Canadian Association of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS), which ran the awards. Connors also vowed not to perform live again until the music industry began to support homegrown talent. Few believed he would carry through with the threat — but he didn’t perform again for more than a decade.
In 1978, Stompin’ Tom took a stand for Canadian, and specifically independently made Canadian music. Since then, his cause has been taken up by subsequent generations of artists — including myself. It’s a simple notion: that great Canadian music can be made in Canada and exported to the world. I’ve been drawn to distinctly Canadian music since I was in high school. I remember making mixed tapes filled with great Canadian artists like The Tragically Hip, 54-40, Spirit of the West, and the Skydiggers. I would even proudly mark these tapes with red-ink maple leaves.
Today, I make my living playing music and like, Stompin’ Tom, try to do it from within Canada. At clubs and concerts across the country, I meet other artists like myself who are fighting through the music-business muck to create something real. I’ve worked hard at it, and today, I’m exporting my music to the world. As I write this, I’m finishing a tour in Tasmania and beginning a tour in Scotland, playing folk music that has little commercial appeal — certainly not the kind of radio-friendly pap Stompin’ Tom railed against back in 1978.
Musicians today are fortunate, in that technology allows them to connect with audiences around the world while living and creating in Canada. This isn’t to say that artists who find major international success necessarily lose touch with their Canadian roots: Think of Neil Young, or Joni Mitchell, or Leonard Cohen.
My grandmother had an expression — “the quiet good goes on.” Few of us have stood for independent music in as bold a fashion as Stompin’ Tom. I haven’t returned the Juno I won in 2008 for best traditional folk album. But every Canadian musician since should thank him, at some point, for the elbow room he created for the rest of us to express our individuality, independence, and pride in our country. Stompin’ Tom made us all believe that we can create music that’s relevant to ourselves — and to the world.
Old Man Luedecke, a Juno-award-winning folk musician, lives in Chester, N.S. His latest album is Tender is the Night.
This article originally appeared in 100 Days That Changed Canada, published by HarperCollins.
Learn more about Stompin' Tom from the Canadian Encyclopedia.