Stony Plain Records released his fifth album, Hockeytown, on June 15, 2010.
For six weeks during that summer he was on tour with the legendary Stompin’ Tom Connors. For Canadian Interviews Tim wrote a chronicle of his travels with Stompin’ Tom to reveal what happens behind-the-scenes at
‘The most Canadian show in the country’.
ON TOUR WITH STOMPIN TOM
Letters from the road
This is Tim Hus writing to you from Dryden, Ontario. Tonight we will be performing our second concert of the Stompin' Tom tour at the Dryden Cultural Centre.
It has been a really busy year for my band, The Rocky Mountain Two. We started things off by being honoured to perform at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Right after that we were off to the Caribbean island of Martinique where we performed as part of a cultural exchange - we were told that we were the first Canadian band to perform in Martinique. Next I was singing my songs in Korea for university students. We toured western Canada and the Northwest states and recorded a new album, Hockeytown, which came out on Stony Plain Records on June 15th. After a series of CD release concerts throughout the province of Alberta we performed 2 and 3 shows daily at the Calgary stampede before flying to the Northwest Territories to perform at the 'Folk on the Rocks' music festival in Yellowknife.
After picking up a rental truck at the Calgary airport it was down the highway again on the long lonely road to Thunder Bay to meet up with The Stomper and the other members of the Stompin' Tom band.
This is my second tour where I am sharing the stage with Canada's legendary ‘Man of the Land’ with the big black cowboy hat and the stompin' board. The first tour was last summer in 2009 where I opened his tour from Ontario to the Maritimes and Newfoundland. We got along very well and became friends and enjoyed working together, and so I was very pleased that Tom invited me to tour with him again - this time western Canada all the way to Vancouver.
Most nights I open the show with about a 20-minute set with the band backing me up. After that we bring Tom out on stage where the band and I back him up for 40 minutes or so. After an intermission we do the same thing again for a second set.
For a young singer/songwriter who is working hard at building a career in music and a name for myself it is almost ideal as I am able to introduce the songs that I have written to Tom's many fans night after night. Tom has such a strong following in this country and the people really do adore him. Some nights the crowds are in excess of 6000 people. There isn't a Canadian who hasn't heard of Stompin' Tom or ‘The Hockey Song’ and know how proud he is of this land and all that he stands for. I don't think that there has ever been a country performer in Canada who has won over the hearts of the people the way that Tom has.
This year the members of the Stompin' Tom band are Billy MacInnis, Al Widmeyer, Tim Hadley, and Rick Preston.
Billy has been playing with Tom for a number of tours. He is from Prince Edward Island and comes from a long line of fiddle players. He is a great musician and plays guitar, mandolin, and piano in addition to his outstanding ability on the fiddle. Tom is very fond of Billy as they are both from PEI and his style is ideal for Tom's music.
Al Widmeyer is from Kitchener, Ontario and plays everything with strings on it: guitar, banjo, mandolin, steel, dobro, and fiddle (he doesn't play fiddle on this tour). He has a great ear for music and of course, with his wide range of talents, is a welcome addition to any country band. He drives the city bus in Kitchener when he is not working the road as a traveling musician.
Tim Hadley plays the upright bass. His doghouse bass has a carved cedar top (as opposed to a plywood top) and is about 100 years old - a truly beautiful instrument. He has performed with many bands over the years and has toured with Tom for about 9 years now. He is a schoolteacher and lives in Plainfield, Ontario.
The guitar player on this tour is Rick Preston who I brought with me from Alberta. Rick and I played together for three or four years with my first band in Alberta. His guitar work can be heard on my 2004 'Alberta Crude' album and my 2006 'Huskies & Husqvarnas' album. I am very excited to have him on this tour as he has a great feel for my songs and we used to play a lot of Tom's songs for fun when we played together. I guess we never dreamed that we would be playing those same famous songs with the man who wrote them a few years later! Rick has been a professional guitar player for more than 40 years. He has performed with Dave Dudley (Six Days on the Road) and Lucille Star (The French Song) and is an excellent country lead guitar player.
We had a couple days of rehearsals in Thunder Bay before our first concert. Everybody is getting along well and I have a feeling it is going to be a really great tour. I can hardly wait to play the western provinces with the one and only Stompin' Tom!
Westbound out of Winnipeg
We're rollin' west on the Trans-Canada highway and across the great plains of North America. There is no place in the world like the Canadian prairies. Although I have crossed the prairies many times I don't believe that I have ever seen them as green as they seem to be this August. Usually by this time of year the grasslands and fields are starting to look quite brown but it must be a banner year for rain around these parts.
We are a few shows into the Stompin' Tom tour by now so everybody in the band is getting a feel for playing together and the shows are getting more comfortable and settling in. I think that all of the musicians in the band have as much fun as the audience on most nights as the show is never the same from night to night. Tom doesn't use a set list so we just try to listen to his stories and try to anticipate what song he is going to sing next and then do our best to back him up.
Tom generally starts every show with ‘Bud the Spud’ and finishes with ‘Sudbury Saturday Night’. You can be quite sure that he will sing the ‘Hockey Song’ somewhere in the show, but other than that it is as much a mystery to us as it is to the audience what songs he will sing. I think Tom himself doesn't really have planned what program he is going to do until he is actually on the stage and into the show.
Tom is a first-rate showman and a very charismatic entertainer so he really feeds off the energy of the audience and is able to pick up on what it is they have come to hear. It gets really funny when everybody starts yelling out requests. In Thunder Bay somebody called out ‘Movin’ on to Rouyn’ - a song that Tom wrote many years ago while singin' in the hotel bars in Northern Ontario in the mid-1960s. The song is recorded on Tom's very first album with only his old Gibson flat-top guitar as accompaniment. Even though I'm sure he hasn't sung that song on a stage in 40 years he just started singing it and we did our best to join him. You just never know what to expect at a Stompin' Tom show!
On Wednesday, August 4th our entourage rolled into Winnipeg for a concert at the Centennial Music Hall. This was to be our only show in the province of Manitoba for this time around.
Most people would think that when traveling down the road from concert to concert a famous band like the legendary Stompin' Tom surely must be riding in a big fancy tour bus. That is the way that most country music stars travel, isn't it? Most would expect there to be more than one bus - perhaps the star of the show has his own personal bus and the musicians ride in a separate bus? It is plain to see from Tom's music that he is a down-home kind of guy with simple, honest values, so what kind of a tour bus does he travel in? Quite a few people have asked me what Stompin' Tom's tour bus is like, and does it have his name or a big boot painted on the side? Is it red or white or both? Does it have a Canada flag on the front or a Prince Edward Island license plate on the back? It might surprise you to hear that we don't have a bus on the Stompin' tour at all. We travel in a convoy of trucks and vans and use CB radios to keep in touch. That is how Tom toured in the 1970s and we still travel that way today. "Breaker, breaker, you got a copy on me Back Door?" Pretty cool, eh?
The very first vehicle carries our security, manager-promoter, and merchandise guy. They travel on ahead of the convoy and check in at the venues and the motels, etc.
The lead vehicle is driven by our road manager, Tom Jr. (he is the Stomper’s son), and he has our security man and one more with him. The second vehicle is Tom himself and he does all of his own driving. He doesn’t travel with the radio on or have any distractions. He just likes to take the travel time to look out at the country, think of new song ideas, and focus on the upcoming show (all while smoking a steady stream of cigarettes, of course).
The ‘Back Door’ of the convoy is the band van where all we musicians ride. Last year we used my own touring rig - the ‘Hus Bus’ - for the tour, but this year we are using a rental vehicle that has a satellite radio. None of us have satellite radio at home or in our own vehicles so we are all very much enjoying listening to it on this tour. Most of the time we are listening to ‘Outlaw Country’ on Sirius or Willie Nelson’s channel or the Bluegrass channel. It is great to hear the songs of Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Tom Russell, Hayes Carll, Dave Dudley, and so many other artists that play truck-drivin’ and honky-tonk music that you never get to hear on commercial radio these days. There are no commercials either. Definitely an improvement in radio in my opinion. The only thing is that we haven't heard any Stompin' Tom or Tim Hus songs yet. That would sure be great. I was told that they played my song ‘Beer Hauler’ (a song I wrote about a guy driving a beer truck from coast to coast) on one of the truckin' shows, and also the song ‘Hurtin' Albertan’ that I wrote with my friend Corb Lund, but I haven't heard them yet so far.
The last truck is a rig that carries all of the sound and lighting equipment as well as all the merchandise (CDs, T-shirts, books, etc.) that we have for sale at all of the concerts.
We had a big crowd in Winnipeg and they were really into it so the show was great. My friend Andrew Neville and his band ‘The Poor Choices’ were sitting right in front and you could tell that they were enjoying themselves to the fullest. John Scoles was there as well, wearing a big cowboy hat. He is the proprietor of a great live music venue in Winnipeg where I have performed several times called ‘The Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club’. I would recommend that you check it out if you are ever in town and want to take in some original roots, country or blues music. Andrew and his band perform there all the time and they play great prairie truckin’ honkytonkin’ music.
I sang a couple of the songs that I wrote about Manitoba at the show. ‘Red River Flood’ is off of my latest album and tells the story of Manitoba’s ongoing struggle with the big river. It is a bluegrass type of song and we play it quite fast. It went over really well as did ‘Flin Flon’ - a hard rock mining song about the sulphide mines that I recorded on my 2006 Huskies & Husqvarnas album.
Tom of course was in good shape and served up songs for the Ukrainians and prairie folks and poor, poor farmers. When he sang ‘Red River Jane’ one guy yelled out "That is the best song in the whole world!"
We loaded up the trucks and were westbound out of Winnipeg ... past the 100th meridian where the great plains begin.
Croquet in Saskatchewan
Here's another letter from the road as we make our way across the prairies and ever closer to the Pacific Ocean.
With the hot summer sun blazing overhead we pulled into Regina. We performed our concert in the showroom at Casino Regina. The format of the show was different than usual. Instead of our usual two sets we performed only one longer set. Billy MacInnis started the show with a couple of fiddle tunes and then I sang three songs before bringing Tom out for an extended 75 minute set.
Although I only had the opportunity to sing a few songs I made sure that one of them was my new song ‘Saskatchewan Son-of-Gun’, recorded earlier this year on my latest album Hockeytown. As you can imagine it went over gangbusters, as the song is sort of an anthem about all things SK.
I have always enjoyed playing in Saskatchewan and my band has always been made to feel very welcome. Big bassman extraordinaire Spider Bishop is from Broadview and played upright bass for my band for over 1000 shows so I guess I sort of wrote that song with Spider in mind and thinking about all of the good times we shared, and also all of the good folks who have been coming to our concerts over the years with Pilsner beer and the Roughriders near and dear to their hearts.
Last year when we performed two nights at Casino Rama in Ontario with Stompin' Tom the show also had the same format of one longer set rather than two sets. I don't really know why the show is different when we play at casinos. The particulars of the performance are determined by the promoter, and it is likely that if it is a casino bringing in the show, it is in their best interest to have a shorter set so that the concert ends earlier and the audience has ample time to spend their money on the gaming floor.
When we arrived at the venue there were a couple of musicians heading for their gig at the lounge next door, and when they recognized who I was they stopped to tell me that they had learned a couple of the songs that I have written and are performing them on stage. Naturally this made me feel good as there is no greater compliment to a songwriter than having somebody think enough of your song to take the time to learn to sing and play it. I am proud to say that there seem to be more and more people covering my songs all over the country these days.
I should share with you a little bit about what life on the road is like. For those who make a living traveling up and down the road from place to place life can sometimes start to feel like an endless string of highways, gas stations, restaurants, dressing rooms, motels, hotels, and venues. Of course the real thrill and excitement is the two hours we spend on stage performing our music as a band and connecting with a live audience. I have always felt that playing in a band is quite similar to playing on a hockey team. You have the same kind of camaraderie and joking around. You really get to know each other well and start to trust each other and depend on each other and become a team. You pull into a town you have never been to before, and step in front of an audience you have never seen before, and put forth your best effort and try to win them over. This is just like a hockey team pulling into a foreign town to play a team they have never played before. When you win over an audience and leave town victorious you grow closer as team members and as bandmates.
In Saskatoon we had a day off and got into a serious game of croquet. Yep ... that's right. The most important thing on the Stompin' Tom tour (aside from drinking Moosehead Beer to your heart's content) is not letting your team down when things are going head to head in a battle out on a grassy field in a nearby park or behind the motel. In Toontown we got into a game that lasted six hours and came right down to the last shot. We played in a park close to the river and the mosquitos were truly vicious and you had to keep swatting 'em away while contemplating your next shot. Halfway through the match (just as our team was taking the lead) a big prairie thunderstorm came rolling in. As the thunder and lightning came ever closer we started ducking our heads down lower and lower and began scanning the surroundings for cover. An open field is not the best place to be in a prairie thunderstorm. Finally the skies opened up and the rain started pouring down in sheets. We ran and jumped into the vehicles and waited out the downpour and then when it let up to a sprinkle we went out again and right back to our game. By this time it was starting to get dark and the mosquitos were on a post-thunderstorm feeding frenzy, but the game was close and we had to see it through.
Finally it got to the point where we couldn't see the croquet balls in the grass anymore because it had become so dark. So what to do? We pulled the vehicles up onto the field and turned the headlights on. The legendary Stompin' Tom and his band of Moosehead beer drinkers knocking croquet balls through hoops on the grassy banks of the Saskatchewan River by the light of truck headlights while the blood-sucking insects swarmed us – pretty Canadian, isn't it?
Of course most of us were shivering in the cool night air because our shirts had become soaked in the rain and none of us had thought to bring our jackets. So that's how we finished the game after midnight with The Stomper missing the final shot and our team suffering a hard-fought defeat. The tour is far from over though and we will certainly have a rematch!
Beautiful British Columbia
Here we are again with another installment of ‘Letters From The Road’ on the Stompin' Tom Western Canadian summer tour 2010. I woke up this morning (it was actually around noon) after having stayed up until 6:30 AM sharing stories and a few bottles of beer with Tom. The bright sunlight shining through the blinds finally woke me up, and after finding some clothes I headed for a nearby restaurant to find something to eat. I passed by the open door of Tom's motel room and found him eating cold wieners from a can with a fork in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other. He was in a good mood and in good health, greeting me with a hearty "Mornin' Tim! Just having my breakfast..."
After loading our suitcases and guitars in the trucks we fueled up and headed westward from Saskatoon towards Alberta. We stopped for something to eat in Bigger and rolled into Alberta on Highway 12, passing through Consort, Veteran, Coronation, Castor, Halkirk, Stettler, Clive, Alix, and Lacombe. It was quite a surreal feeling because I got my start in the music business playing in every one of those little towns. Spider and I (we performed as a duo) would drive out in the middle of winter and put on a Canadiana country cowboy music show. Oftentimes the audience was just a handful of people. (I'm sure that some of you remember those days...it was your kind words and encouragement that inspired me to stick with it and keep going.) I can tell you that I never thought that in just a few short years I would be driving past those same hotel saloons on tour with the legendary Stompin' Tom and performing in the largest concert halls in Canada. I shook my head and thought to myself how incredible it is that dreams sometimes really do come true.
We had a really nice summertime BBQ behind the motel in Red Deer - cooking up steaks and sitting around a picnic table with potato salad and our usual plentiful supply of Moosehead beer. We pulled the truck up and turned on the radio - listening to Hank Snow and enjoying the afternoon. We finished things off with a game of croquet. This time our team was victorious!
We had really good concerts in Red Deer and Calgary before heading for British Columbia. Tom was in fine form and now we were getting into quite familiar territory for myself so there were lots of Hus hats and T-shirts in the audience. It really meant a lot to me to see such strong support for the music I have been putting out over the last number of years – lots of folks singing along with the words to the songs.
In Red Deer, Riley Tubbs (the upright bass player in my regular band) came to the concert with his girlfriend Mel. It was really great to see them. Unfortunately there wasn't a position for Riley on the Stompin' Tom tour. Tom and I are sharing a band, so there is only room for one bass player in the band. Tim Hadley is the bass player on this tour and he has been a member of the Stompin' Tom band for longer than anybody else ever has ... I think this is his ninth or tenth year. Tim Hadley is a great bass player and a great guy and a perfect fit for Tom's style of music, and I enjoy sharing the stage with him.
Opening concerts for the legendary Stompin' Tom in Canada's biggest concert halls has been a dream come true for me and an experience I will always treasure, but I am also very much looking forward to getting back on the concert trail with my own band in September. The guys in my band mean the world to me and I regret not having them around this summer. There is simply nothing that can replace the bond that is shared performing a couple hundred concerts a year and traveling the world together.
From Calgary we were on to my home province of British Columbia with shows in Kamloops, Chilliwack, Vancouver, and Dawson Creek. All of these shows were very strong and of course I had family and friends at every concert, which put me in great spirits. Tom was giving me lots of good-natured ribbing and saying that I didn't need to tell him fifty times a day how beautiful British Columbia is. We stopped at Craigellachie (the site of the driving of the last spike on the Canadian Pacific Railway) and took some photographs. This is the site of Canada's most famous historical photograph where Donald A. Smith is hammering the last spike and completing the national railway linking the country from sea to sea. It meant a lot to me to visit this site with Canada's most famous Canadiana songwriter. This coming November will mark 125 years since the historic event and I am trying to get my band booked to perform at the occasion as I have a couple of songs about the railway and this subject.
In British Columbia Tom was singing ‘The Bridge Came Tumbling Down’ (about the collapse of the Second Narrows bridge in Vancouver), ‘Okanagan Okie’, ‘My British Columbian Home’, and ‘Alcan Run’ (about driving the Alaska highway from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks), and I was singing ‘Hell's Gate Run’, ‘Open Pit Mine’ (about the Highland Valley Copper Mine), ‘Vancouver Blues’, and ‘Seine Boat Song’ (about fishing for Pacific salmon). The audiences were delighted to hear so many songs about their part of the world. It is looking to be a great year for the Pacific salmon fishery as they are expecting the greatest salmon run in 97 years! Can you name the five species of Pacific Salmon? Here's the answer (in reverse letters): eyekcos, koonihc, ohoc, knip, muhc – I used to work in the fishery before I became a no-good, two-bit, guitar-pickin' son-of-a-gun.)
Wrapping up in Fort McMurray
We are in Fort McMurray on the day of our last show on the Stompin' Tom tour. Tonight we will take the stage at Summer's End Festival at Macdonald Island Park. We are billed as the ‘Greatest Kitchen Party in the World’. This is Stompin' Tom's first time ever performing in Fort Mac. This town is full of Newfoundlanders and Maritimers working in the oil patch and there is no doubt that they will be out in full force to hear Tom sing ‘The Gumboot Cloggeroo’, ‘The Man in the Moon is a Newfie’, and ‘Margo's Cargo’ as well as the many other East coast songs that he has written over the years. It is surely gonna be a concert to be remembered!
Tomorrow Rick and I will make the long drive to Calgary and the rest of the crew will board a plane for Ontario and all points East. A few guys from Rocklands Talent flew out yesterday and they will drive the remaining band vehicles back across the country to Ontario.
The summer has come to an end and fall is in the air. In northern Alberta some of the leaves are beginning to change colour and the children are getting ready to head back to school. And so our tour with the one and only Stompin' Tom draws to a close.
So what is Stompin' Tom really like? He is undoubtedly one of a kind. I have never met anybody like him before. First of all, he has an amazing constitution. He eats very little (and when he does it is just boiled wieners or cold clam chowder or kippers that he eats directly from the can). He hardly sleeps (those who play in his band are required to sign a contract stating that we will stay up with him until 5 AM every night). Some nights he doesn't go to sleep at all, but one thing that you can be sure of is that you will never see him without a bottle of beer and a cigarette. He smokes 109 cigarettes a day. I have never met anybody else who can go longer without sleep, eat less, or drink and smoke more than Stompin' Tom. What makes it all that much more remarkable is that he is going on 75 years old!
He likes to joke around and tell stories. He is very intelligent and knowledgeable on a variety of subjects, and he is a real thinker and observer. He is a real supporter and champion of all things Canadian. What you see on the stage is pretty much what he is like off the stage: a very down-to-earth kind of a guy who doesn't put on any airs. I remember when we played at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa we were told that they have never seen an act before that is capable of filling a stadium that has a Rider (band hospitality requirements) of two cases of Moosehead beer and nothing else. Most people show up at a house party with more demands than that...
I don't know if there has ever been anybody in this great country of ours that has come from more humble beginnings (born to an unwed teenager in St. John and then put into an orphanage at a young age) to go on to greater acclaim. Tom ran away for the final time from his adopted family on Prince Edward Island at the age of fifteen and hitchhiked and hoboed the land for the next thirteen years. He was a drifter and a dreamer, and through his music and love of the land – and his ability to chronicle it in song – he has gone on to sell millions of records, be awarded several honourary degrees from top universities, and be awarded the Order of Canada and the Governor General’s Award. Last year Canada Post even issued Stompin' Tom his own postage stamp. To learn all about the remarkable story of Tom's life I recommend that you read his two autobiographies, Before the Fame and The Connor's Tone.
It has been a dream come true for myself to have the opportunity to meet one of my biggest musical idols and to tour with him across the whole country from St. John's to Vancouver. I am the first westerner that has opened the Stompin' Tour and I was very proud to represent my half of the country in concert and in song. It was a good time spending the summer with the members of the band and crew and I'm sure it will be a change not to see them every day.
There were also a few things on the tour that I was a little disappointed about. We visited the town of Merritt, BC, which claims to be the ‘Country Music Capital of Canada’. We stopped at the Husky restaurant and had something to eat and had a look at the Johnny Cash ‘Walk of Stars’ handprint in the sidewalk. Tom had never been to Merritt so he asked that we go into town to look at all the country music displays.
Merritt is home to a very big country music festival and jamboree and the town really does celebrate country music. The sidewalks of town are filled with handprints of famous country music personalities and most every building has a large mural with the face of a country music star on the side of it – Johnny Cash, George Jones, Hank Snow, Alan Jackson, Don Messer, Wilf Carter, Dwight Yoakam, Paul Brandt, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Ian Tyson, and on and on. New stars and old-time stars and superstars and lesser-known personalities - they are all represented and honoured in Merritt. Even Casey Clark and Beverly Mahood from CMT have a mural, but nowhere in Merritt is there any mention of Stompin' Tom. That was certainly a disappointment and kind of embarrassing to look at all the displays with the legendary Stompin' Tom at my side and to find that nobody bothered with him at all. After being in the Canadian Musicians’ Union for 50 years and recording 50 albums and spending a lifetime touring this country and celebrating it in song, ‘The Country Music Capital of Canada’ completely passed him over.
In one of my earlier letters from the beginning of the tour I mentioned that we were listening to satellite radio and how much we were enjoying it. After listening to satellite radio for the last six weeks in the tour van I found it a little bit discouraging that we heard so very little Canadian music being played. We all know that commercial radio for the most part does not play very many Canadian artists (there is a Canadian content regulation to ensure that some do get played, but the stations rarely go above and beyond the minimum that they are required by law to give airtime to) but it seems that the same is true of satellite radio. We listened mostly to the Outlaw Country and Bluegrass programs. The music was very enjoyable but there was very little Canadiana. This was to be expected as the programs are broadcast from the USA, but the thing that was disappointing was that there seemed to be no channel where you could hear Canadian music all of the time.
I must admit that I am quite new to satellite radio and there might be a channel that plays all Canadian music, but I was not able to find it. I found 189 channels or more with everything from comedy to sports to gospel and every type of music you can imagine, but no all-Canadian music channel. Elvis Presley even has his own channel on Satellite radio that plays Elvis all day and night. If one guy (who died 33 years ago) can have his own channel, why is it that a whole country doesn't have a channel dedicated to Canadian music?
Anyway, that's about all. I have certainly had an experience that I will never forget and no matter what life has in store for me I will always be able to say that I toured with Stompin' Tom from one end of the country to the other and became friends with one of my musical idols. In a small way I have become a piece of Canadian and country music history.
I will be performing at Country Music Week in Edmonton and opening a concert for Clint Black at the Epcor Center in Calgary before getting back on the road with my own outfit in a couple of weeks. We are touring east all across the land as far as Halifax. I hope you can make it to a show. You can be assured that it is gonna be filled with Canadiana country and cowboy music!
We look forward to seeing you on the road...
All the best,