Whiskey Jack: Stompin' Tom's Band Keeps His Music Alive
By David DeRocco
What The Band is to Bob Dylan, what the E Street Band is to Bruce Springsteen, what Crazy Horse is to Neil Young, WHISKEY JACK is to….Stompin Tom Connors!
That might seem like musical hyperbole to people who don’t know better, but who cares; Whiskey Jack is a band with a mandate to ensure Canadians young and old remember Charles Thomas Connors a.k.a. “Stompin’ Tom” – one of the greatest musical icons ever produced in the Great White North.
They certainly have the righteous mandate to wear that exhalted crown. After years of providing music on the CBC’s Tommy Hunter Show, Whiskey Jack spent over two decades recording and touring with Stompin’ Tom, helping secure a place for the legendary singer-songwriter from Saint John, NB as one of Canada’s most cherished artists. And while their star may not have risen to heights often enjoyed by a band with over four decades of history, it’s still been a great ride according to their banjo player, Duncan Fremlin.
“Very few bands have been around 41 years,” laughs Fremlin, who along with bandmates Douglas John Cameron, Randy Morrison, Al Cross and Eric Jackson remain core members of Whiskey Jack. “We’ve gotten very little recognition for our longevity. We’ve released lots of albums, CDs, and singles. We were on the Tommy Hunter show for years, we toured with Tom for years. We never had a hit record so we never got the recognition that a band like The Good Brothers would have gotten. But we’ve had a career that many bands would just die for.”
What’s been bringing a whole new generation of fans to Whiskey Jack shows is their ongoing tribute to the legend responsible for such songs as “Bud The Spud,” “Sudbury Saturday Night” and of course, “The Hockey Song.” Whiskey Jack Presents – Stories and Songs of Stompin Tom is a loving salute to the man in the black hat who in truth was one of Canada’s most prolific songwriters.
“I called the show Stories and Songs because there’s a storyline we provide with the music,” said Fremlin, whose first recording with Connors was 1993’s Dr. Stompin' Tom, Eh...? “It’s very Canadiana. It’s folk music more that it’s country music, more folk and rootsy and very heavy on the lyrics. Tom used to say he was a lyricist first and a guitar player second. I think he saw himself more as a poet than as a singer in his own way.”
While Stompin' Tom’s charm was in the stripped down arrangement and delivery of his songs, Whiskey Jack has modernized the arrangements to appeal to a more discernable audience according to Fremlin.
“If you’re listening to Tom’s version of these songs they’ve been described and hokey and simple, and they are. They’re not modern. They’re not contemporary. When you get a band, five and six players like Whiskey Jack, all ace musicians, you add a degree of sophistication to the songs and arrange them accordingly. You give them their proper due and they come alive. That’s the way we’re reaching a younger audience. Our shows are CD quality sound. The performance is slick and polished and exciting. The young people really react to that. That’s what they expect. As a result we’re able to bring the music and songs to a whole new generation of people.”
Whiskey Jack Presents – Stories and Songs of Stompin’ Tom has been playing to increasingly larger houses across the country, as fans continue to discover the rich tapestry of Canadian stories woven into Connors’ extensive song catalogue. The upcoming show at Seneca Queen Theatre September 16th is another chance for Whiskey Jack to inspire a love for Stompin’ Tom’s music, something Fremlin and his bandmates are proud to be doing at this stage in their careers.
“Somebody described us as being the curators of the Stompin’ Tom catalogue. I’ve been friends playing with Tom, recording with Tom for over 25 years. So I’ve lived with these songs for a long time. The more I look at that catalogue of songs, man there are some gems there that we haven’t even heard. We like to think that we can present those songs and give them new light and help people appreciate the genius of this guy. He didn’t just write about “Bud the Spud” and “Sudbury Saturday Nights.” He wrote poignant ballads and love songs and waltzes and really an array of exquisite material. The only thing we ever wanted as a band was an audience and here we are. We have Tom’s audience and they’re the best.”