Since late last night when I heard that Stompin' Tom had died, I've been drafting this blog entry in my head. I'm having a tough time with this. I figured he'd live forever. He was simply one of those bigger than life characters that made his way into my psyche and will remain there until I too die and join him in the big.....no, that line won't work with Stompin' Tom. He was not a delusional man and if he feared death, he sure kept it to himself.
I've watched him smoke thousands of cigarettes and consume cases of beer (and pretty much anything else that was laying around) and remain awake night after night with little sustenance (except perhaps a bowl of soup for breakfast) and after all this, walk onto a stage at 9:00 pm and perform two long shows for his avid fans. After putting his body through all that, I figured there's no way this man would die. Now that I think of his legacy this morning, I realize that I was right. He will never die.
During one of our all night chess games, I asked him about his views on life after death. With his Black Cat cigarette hanging on the end of a cigarette holder dangling from his mouth, he simply said "no". It was hard to get him worked up when he was planning the big check mate move, and believe me, he was always planning a check mate move. With every move, he was going in for the kill.
Our drummer one time made the mistake of beating Tom at their first chess game and he was immediately sentenced to an all night chess session in a cheap smoke filled hotel room in some small town in New Brunswick. Tom taught me a few things about being competitive.
Rather than tell more Stompin' Tom stories, and I have a book full, I instead salute the life lessons I learned from this man. I thanked him often for the great times but if I may, one more time say, Thanks Tom!
If Tom had a motto, it was "tell it like it is" and enjoy the consequences. I say enjoy because he would never suffer consequences. He embraced them. His career took a hit when he returned his Junos in 1978 but to him, that was never an issue. I think this was why our friendship endured and that is a result of one encounter he and I enjoyed somewhere on the Trans Canada Highway.
He came close to firing me and punching me at a gas station between Quebec City and Sackville New Brunswich back in 1993. We had been on tour for some weeks and I had simply had my fill of his rules, and believe me, if you were on tour with Tom, he had rules! I was even more adverse to sitting in a smoky hotel room listening to him discuss my naughty behaviour. So, one night, I up and walked out of his room before he got started and this almost drove him over the top. I'm not proud of this but I fueled the fire the next morning. When we hit the road, I announced on the CB that I didn't want to drive at 120 kmh (as we had been) for fear of getting a ticket. My saving grace was, I didn't back down. In fact, that 24 hour period solidified our friendship and freed us to chuckle about this often over the years.
This was a pivital moment for me and set the tone for the rest of my life. Tom taught me that I don't have to make excuses to anyone for simply being true to myself.
He loved my banjo playing, inviting me to record and tour with him many times over the years. Many years ago, he recorded a song called the Blue Berets. He loved my banjo break so much, he doubled it during the mix for this video. He would listen to it over and over as we were sitting around talking. I never saw myself as much of a banjo player but that changed after Tom's vote of confidence.
If you want to see some photos of Tom's personal bar in his home near Ballinafad Ontario, check out the photo galleries here. Whiskey Jack performed often at chez Tom and each time, it was like playing at Massey Hall.
Oh, one more thing Tom. Thanks for taking me to the Stanley Cup on Parliament Hill on Canada Day in 1993. It was the thrill of a lifetime.