NEW STOMPIN’ TOM BIOGRAPHY HI-LIGHTS; CARLETON PLACE, MUFFERAW JOE, & THE ‘GRAND OLE LADY’
A new unauthorized Biography on the life of the late Stompin’ Tom Connors describes the late singer’s stong connection to Carleton Place and the old Mississippi Hotel within it’s many descriptive pages.
STOMPIN’ TOM CONNORS ‘THE MYTH & THE MAN’ was written by Amhearst, Nova Scotia writer/actor, Charles Rhindress who is best known for a couple of his previous works, I AM NOT WHAT I SEEM, the Rita MacNeil Story and FLYING ON MY OWN, a play co-written with & about the late singer’s life.(MacNeil).
It is an honest, raw and impressive account of the life of this nations best loved lone troubadour who became embedded in the psyche of Canadians from all walks of life and from all parts of the country. He truly was the one and only “Mr. Canada.”
The connection and relationship that Connors had with the Town of Carleton Place was both strong and meaningful. And it just continues to go on and on.
Many times the ‘story’ I first wrote about “Stompin’ Tom & Carleton Place” (first published in the CARLETON PLACE CANADIAN-1990) has been revamped and re-published several times and has appeared in many publications nation-wide. Simply put, people just can’t get enough of it.
So here we go again.
With the publication of Rhindress’s new book let’s turn back to the original story (which has been updated several times) and revisit that tall lanky singer’s connection to our town, our times and the legacy he left behind.
STOMPIN’ TOM, CARLETON PLACE & THE MISSISSIPPI HOTEL
By: Lyle Dillabough
The year was 1969 and it was also the Town of Carleton Place’s Centennial Year. A time to celebrate the past. A time for new beginnings. And it was also the year a certain roving troubadour, one remarkable woman, an Ottawa valley town and a hotel that exists still, all came together to make history. it was the year that Stompin’ Tom first came to Carleton Place.
The late Canadian country music icon, Stompin’ Tom Connors refers to the old Mississippi Hotel (that still stands guard on the corner of Bridge Street and Lake Avenue although it’s name has been changed to the Carleton Heritage Inn) in Carleton Place Ontario as the “Grand Ole Lady.” And he had good reason to have fond memories of this treasured Ottawa Valley landmark.
This is because he wrote one of his very first hit songs there and Stompin’ Tom was not the kind of man to forget those people and places that had helped him along the way. The song he wrote there was the great Ottawa Valley tribute tune, “Big Joe Mufferaw.”
On a warm summer’s day in early June, a relatively unknown singer by the name of Tom Connors, rolled into Carleton Place driving his pickup truck and parked it out back behind the legendary establishment. he proceeded then to walk inside carrying his guitar and a piece of plywood. A group of four men were sitting around a table and Connors bought them all beer with the understanding that they would cheer him on when he auditioned for the owner.
The owner was none other the unforgettable (and inductee into the Ottawa Valley Country Music Hall of Fame)Lorraine Lemay. Right up till the time of her death, she always referred to Tom Connors as “one of the finest gentleman I have ever met.”
Connors got the job and thus a month long engagement set the stage for one of Carleton Place’s “proudest moments” and the launch of Stompin’ Tom’s recording career.
During his time there, he played three weeks at “Mississippi Country,” (which the Mississippi Hotel was known as at the time) worked in the daytime with a local farmer, “Jammed” with several local musicians and went through four sheets of plywood. He also played one week at the Kemptville Hotel (that maybe how he came up with the line, “the girl from Kemptville town,” although some claim that the line refers to Lorraine Lemay herself) and rode in what still remains as Carleton Place’s biggest parade ever held which occurred Dominion day (July 1st) 1967.
It somehow seems the stuff of romantics or legend when one thinks of the unknown Connors driving his pickup with a sign reading simply “Tom Connors At The Mississippi Hotel” into history.
People still talk of this tall, lanky man’s time in the Carleton Place area to this day. It seems that everyone who met him has a story to tell. One thing is certain: he made a definite impression on all who saw him.
In those days Connors would sleep on a bed that he had set up in the back of his pickup. However after much convincing on the part of Ms. Lemay, he finally agreed to accept her offer of a room in the hotel. “He just didn’t want to be a burden in any way.” Lemay said in an interview several years later.
Lemay also recalled how he worked on the lines of “Big Joe Mufferaw” day after day. “He kept asking me” she recalled, “do you think it’s any good?” Two years later the song could be heard constantly on every country station in the country.
In 1990 the Mississippi Hotel was nearly demolished. Only a concerted effort on the part of a few dedicated locals ensured that this did not happen. That and a “public plea” made by none other than Connors himself. “All that can be done must be done to ensure the preservation of the ‘Grand Ole Lady’ ” he declared in a written statement. And the rest is history as the ‘Grand Ole Lady’ was saved and thus it remains.
In 1998 during a concert stop in Carleton Place, Town officials attempted to present Connors with a plaque commemorating him on his contribution to the town and its history. he refused to accept it and the plaque was left with his manager. he was very interested in knowing how his efforts to save the hotel turned out and when Ms. Lemay passed away he was grateful to be informed of her passing.
Still, one could not be faulted for wondering why he never returned to pay a visit to Ms. Lemay. Some say this is due to the fact that the two of them had a bit of a “thing” going back in 67 but who knows?
When Connors passed away in March of 2013, the national CBC and CTV television networks came to Carleton Place to shoot footage on the Stompin’ Tom/Carleton Place connection. A large mural was painted on the side of a building that stands directly beside the old Mississippi Hotel. Below it is a line from the tune that he wrote there. It reads, “and all the folks around Carleton Place knows the Mississippi rolled off of Big Joe’s face.”
SAVING THE ‘GRAND OLE LADY’
In 1990, the year Stompin’ Tom helped to save the Mississippi hotel from demolition, there was a concerted effort on the part of some to ensure the survival of the ‘Grand Ole Lady.’
Former CARLTON PLACE CANADIAN Editor, Dianne Tysick Pinder-Moss, was one of those who did her best by publishing everything she could to help keep the issue in the forefront of people’s minds at that time.
The following is an “example” of this ongoing effort back then.
“HOTEL SHOULD BE SAVED, SAY AREA MEDIA/MUSIC CELEBRITIES!”
(From the CARLETON PLACE CANADIAN Newspaper-February 1990)
By: Lyle Dillabough (Special to The CANADIAN)
Several Ottawa valley celebrities have spoken out in favour of saving and preserving the 100 year old Mississippi Hotel. Here is a sample of what some of them had to say.
* MAX KEEPING-anchorman CJOH News
“I think it’s a great idea to save the hotel. There are too many memories there. I think it’s important to give the next generation a look at preserved architecture. If anything, the hotel could be a monument to the “Silver Fox,” Ron McMunn.
WAYNE RONSTAD-singer/songwriter, host of CBC’s “On The Road Again”
“Architecturally, the building is of tremendous merit to the town of Carleton Place. To utilize the building for Senior Citizens housing or something worthwhile would be a boom for the town. I urge people to do all they can to save it.”
HAL BOTHAM-morning man on radio station CJET
“I spoke to different groups on several occaisions. I don’t remember exactly what for because it’s been a long time. I do remember going there to watch Ron McMunn perform. It sure would be a shame to see it torn down.
GARRY PERRIN-radio personality “Delmer MacGregor”
“What’s going to happen to the fashion spot of C.P? Pickled eggs and blue jeans. Let’s keep that country showcase!”
“WORDS” From STOMPIN’ TOM:
Over the years Stompin’ Tom and myself would at times exchange letters. He was a terrific writer who always used an old fashioned ribbon typewriter to compose his letters. And although I would never betray his confidence I don’t think he would mind me sharing the folowing with you. It demonstrates that no mater how famous one gets certain things stay the same.
“..it’s been over 15 years since I even took my wife on a 2 day vacation. I have no one to help me to handle all the mail I get, never mind the business affairs, tours, song writing, recordings as well as the personal upkeep of my own property.“