December 16 2006
Dear Stompin’ Tom,
I’m not really sure where to begin.
I’m twenty-seven, a rambler (still…), and an amateur guitarist. I grew up in Peterborough, Ontario, but the last three years or so I’ve been spending lots of time in Yellowknife NWT as well. I’ve been attending university in Peterborough for almost eight years (on and off), and paying my way by working as a window cleaner, mostly up in Yellowknife. I’ve been listening to your music seriously for a few years now, and seem to be more and more impressed every time I hear a song for the first time. I guess I’m mostly just writing to say thanks – for your great contribution to the Canadian music scene and to Canadian culture in general.
I’m not sure if that’s something you hear all the time still, or not very often anymore, but I just thought I’d take the time to say it. I know for sure that I speak on behalf of plenty of others too.
I always knew of the song Tillsonburg, because I was born there. In high school I got a slightly broader introduction to your music while driving in a van to Cochrane, ON, to catch the train to Moosonee. It was a “best of” tape. In university I jumped at a chance to see you live – it was probably 2002, and down in St Catharines. I guess my brother saw you play around that time too, up in Bobcaygeon – he’s got a picture of you and him talking after the show.
As time goes by I keep collecting more and more of your records, any time I can find them. I recently found the five-disc set of sixty old time favourites. Also, this past weekend in fact, I got to hear the “live at the Horseshoe” album for the first time.
I’ve been playing guitar for a couple years now, and a good proportion of the songs I’ve learned are yours. Sitting around the campfire in the Woodyard up in Yellowknife, requests for “A Real Canadian Girl” or “Bud the Spud” are common. My friend Tony gets me to play the guitar so he can sing the “Gumboot Cloggeroo.” Tony is also the “Snowking” – he builds a big castle out of snow on Great Slave Lake every winter. You can see us on his website – http://www.snowking.ca – I’m on there too, as “Joe Snow.”
Up in Yellowknife there are lots of people from Quebec. Sitting around a fire with them is fun, because they all know so many traditional songs from their province. You can get six or eight Quebecois singing, and banging on a drum for rhythm, and it can go on for hours. But for the rest of us, it’s pretty much your music that’s the folklore. It tells stories, it’s catchy, and at least among my friends it’s some of the most commonly-known music.
Yellowknife is also one place where we get to hear your music on the radio. The aboriginal station pretty well specializes in country music, and they play a song of yours just about every day.
Here are another couple quick anecdotes: A friend of mine here in Peterborough is taking teacher’s college, and she used your music as the basis of a whole unit for a social studies/geography/history class. They were grade five or so, and they loved it. She had them singing “Name the Capitals,” and she taught them how to stomp.
The last couple months I was touring around down east. I caught a freight from Montreal down to Halifax, then hitchhiked around, up to Cape Breton, and back through New Brunswick, with a short stop in PEI. It was my first time on the Island, and I liked it fine, especially the rural areas. Hitching out of Charlottetown I was walking along, and came to a construction site. There were just a few people there, since the job was mostly done. One of them saw my guitar, though, and he says, “Hey, sing us a song!” Almost without hesitating I started into “the Ketchup Song,” and I was sure surprised when the guy started singing right along with me! Right there on the side of Highway 2! Turns out he grew up in Tignish, and saw you play a few times down there when he was younger. I never did make it up to that end of the island, mostly because it was starting to get too cold for hitchhiking. I caught a bus from Summerside to Miramichi, across the new bridge, and continued north from there.
I enjoyed reading your autobiographies, and they were an encouragement to something I already believed in, more or less: supporting Canadian music. I really don’t care for the idea of making a Nashville-style “industry” out of the scene, but I do believe in supporting the artists as individuals as much as possible. Some of my favourites these days are guys like Old Man Luedecke, or Petunia, or Sheesham and Lotus, or bands like the Silver Hearts or the D-Rangers. I’ve seen Corb Lund play a couple times, and he was the one who really opened my eyes up to the fact that there is still such a thing as good country music, as long as you steer clear of the mainstream country stations.
Well, that’s pretty well it. I just wanted to say, at least once in my life, thanks to you for all you’ve contributed – to the country, to its music, and especially to its people.