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Taking a look at the man behind Stompin’ Tom

Local author and playwright Charlie Rhindress signs copies of his new book Stompin' Tom Connors: The myth and the man during a recent launch event at Cole’s book store in Amherst for the biography.
Local author and playwright Charlie Rhindress signs copies of his new book Stompin' Tom Connors: The myth and the man during a recent launch event at Cole’s book store in Amherst for the biography. - Contributed

Charlie Rhindress authors insightful biography on Tom Connors

AMHERST, N.S. —

Charlie Rhindress admits he wasn’t a fan of Stompin’ Tom before he started to write his biography. But by the time he finished the book, he had certainly earned a newfound respect for the Canadian legend.

Rhindress said when he was approached by his publisher to write another book in 2017, a year after his biography of Rita MacNeil came out, he was hesitant at first to jump on board.

“I knew nothing about Tom. I literally knew Bud the Spud and I think I heard my family talk about The Hockey Song but I didn’t know it, I don’t think I ever heard it all the way through. And I didn’t know any of the other music,” he said. “So it was completely starting from scratch.”

But throughout the two years of researching and drafting and “trying to get to know who Tom was,” Rhindress said he realized there was much more to the foot-stompin’ cowboy than he ever imagined.

“Over the course of that process, I really came to respect Tom Connors, the man behind the character of Stompin’ Tom, and what he meant and what he had accomplished.”

Rhindress, a former artistic director of Sackville’s Live Bait Theatre and artistic producer at Eastern Front Theatre in Halifax who is now making his home in Amherst, N.S., said this biography tells that story.

“I think a lot of times people think Tom Connors was Stompin’ Tom but there’s a big difference between the two.”

Rhindress said Tom Connors was an earnest, intelligent and thoughtful man who created a character that Canadians from coast to coast came to know.

“Stompin’ Tom is like a creation . . . so there was a little bit of storytelling going on when he was telling about his life stories and stuff. He’d exaggerate a little bit,” he said. “So trying to get to the truth sometimes certainly was a challenge.”

Rhindress has put on many hats over his career – he has been an actor, writer, director and producer who has worked on more than 100 theatre productions – but he said nothing has been as difficult as writing this biography.

“This was the most work I put into anything,” he said.

Rhindress said this was a much different process than when he wrote Rita MacNeil’s biography. Although he didn’t know Rita well, he had met the songstress on several occasions, particularly during the staging of Flying on Her Own, a play he had written about the Cape Breton singer and activist’s life.

In contrast, when he first started writing Tom Connors’ biography, he knew virtually nothing about the country star’s past or how he had came to fame. The sheer volumes of stuff that had been written about Stompin’ Tom over the years took months and months to get through, he said, much less listening to hundreds of songs on nearly 50 albums from throughout his career.

“It was like a puzzle, trying to put all the pieces together,” he said.

But once it all came together, it was well worth it, he said.

What he learned about Tom Connors, said Rhindress, was that he was a trailblazer. He was great at marketing, understanding the value in mythologizing characters such as Bud the Spud or Stompin’ Tom. He created his own record label and served as his own producer and promoter.

And, of course, Tom Connors was a true Canadian, singing songs about this country and its people, many hits which are still heard on the radio and in bars to this day.

“He was a big-time patriot. I learned so much about Canada by listening to his music and doing research on the places he sang about,” said Rhindress. “So I hope that’s one thing people take away from him.”

Stompin' Tom Connors: The myth and the man – an unauthorized biography is available locally at Tidewater Books, and also at Chapters and Coles bookstores across Canada and online at Amazon and Formac Publishing.

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