By Perry Lefko, Sportsnet.ca
Stompin’ Tom Connors is synonymous with hockey.
The 72-year-old native of St. John, N.B., released The Hockey Song, also known as The Good Old Hockey Game, in 1973 and now, 35 years later, it is as popular as ever, played in arenas in the NHL and across Canada.
Sportsnet.ca’s Perry Lefko spoke with the legendary Connors in an exclusive conversation on the eve of the Stanley Cup Final.
(Editors’s note: Lefko has an interesting connection to Connors. He lived only a few houses away on the same street in the early ’70s, but didn’t discover that until the two talked. Lefko said he and his brother and friends were playing street hockey one day and the singer walked by them. Unbeknown to them at the time, Connors happened to be renting a home on the street for a year.)
Q: You mentioned “Bobby scores” in the opening stanza. Was it in reference to any particular Bobby?
A: There was so many Bobbys out (in the National Hockey League) that I thought if I was going to put a name in the song at all that somebody was going to score, it just had to be a Bobby. If I had said Pete or Harry or something like that, I wanted to cover as many bases as I could.
Q: Artists such as Avril Lavigne, the Good Brothers, the Hanson Bros. and the Corb Lund Band have done covers of The Hockey Song. What does it mean to you to have a new generation of musicians do covers of it and have you heard any of the versions?
A: I’ve heard the Good Brothers version – I thought they had a really good version of it – the Hansons and I think I’ve heard maybe one more. I think it’s great because when I was younger myself I used to sing a lot of songs of other people that I really liked. I was a Hank Williams and Hank Snow fan and Wilf Carter and those guys. In my younger days, I honoured them, the people I looked up to, so I suppose it’s par for the course when somebody comes today and they want to sing a song that’s become popular and away they go with it. It makes me feel great they would do it. It’s just a thing that happened.
Q: Were you surprised that some 20 years after its release, The Hockey Song suddenly enjoyed a second coming when the Ottawa Senators played it at home games?
A: It didn’t take off overnight either. I didn’t even know the Senators were playing it. I heard the same as anybody else. I hadn’t even heard it watching the games. People were telling me they’re playing your hockey song (at Senators games). That’s how I got wind of it. It became a sleeper and what I mean by that is radio didn’t care to know anything about it, I guess. They still don’t play it.
Q: Why is that?
A: (Laughs). You tell me. They don’t play Stompin’ Tom unless it’s two o’clock in the morning anyway. I’ve never been played on commercial radio and I don’t know why. I never knew the answer to that one.
Q: But when the Senators started playing it, the story goes Leaf coach Pat Burns heard it and wanted it played at Leaf games. True?
A: Some of the Leafs when they were younger had heard the song, too, in their local arena and they said, ‘Hey, the Senators have a great idea here.’ So then the Leafs started playing it and before you know it, American teams were right on it and they started playing it.
Q: Where does the song rank among the many you’ve written and recorded? Is it among the top five or top 10? It means so much to Canadians, but what does it mean to you?
A: That’s kind of a tough question because when you ask the writer…I put everything into every song that I write, so I don’t know if I can say I like one song better than another. I have a lot of what I consider good songs or I wouldn’t have put them on albums. I don’t hold preferences like that, but it’s up there with the Bud The Spuds and Sudbury Saturday Night and Tillsonburg’s. It’s right up there with all of them.
Q: This was a song that as soon it started playing regularly at the Air Canada Centre everyone started singing it, kind of like Take Me Out To The Ball Game, and it arguably is now the anthem of hockey. Would you agree?
A: I have heard the expression and, yeah, I’m honoured they would think of it that way.
Q: This song has gained a lot of different traction in a lot of different places as it has continued to develop a life of its own. Are you surprised?
A: As far back as five or six years ago, there was even a German version of it and different countries around the world, either Finland or Sweden, have a version of it. I could be wrong, but I think there’s even a Spanish version of it.
Q: When U.S. talk-show host Conan O’Brien came here in 2004 to do a week’s worth of shows, you were invited one night to play The Hockey Song. What was that like?
A: It was a pretty hectic day and it was a hard work day appearing because I normally don’t those kind of shows. I had a good reaction from it. The crowd was mostly young people. It was I suppose pleasant in a way the reaction was concerned, but it was just another gig.
Q: One last thing, who do like in this year’s Cup?
A: I cheer for any Canadian team to win the Cup. This year I’m out of luck.