A licence to celebrate: Whiskey Jack keeps fans Stompin’
By Angela Long
August 2, 2016
It was 1993 – the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup. It was Canada Day. Duncan Fremlin, band leader of Whiskey Jack, stood on the steps of Parliament with music legend Stompin’ Tom Connors.
“We were looking out at humanity as far as you could see,” says Fremlin in a phone interview from Toronto. “Someone brought in the Cup from Montreal. It was a surprise.”
Stompin’ Tom held it high above his head.
“Then he picked up his guitar and played The Hockey Song,” he says. “The crowd went wild.”
Twenty-three years later, and crowds are going wild for Whiskey Jack’s Stories and Songs of Stompin’ Tom.
“They turn age old Stompin’ Tom songs into contemporary masterpieces,” reports the Toronto Star.
Since the death of Connors in 2013, the seven-member band has been playing the show to packed houses, sometimes including Connors’s wife and son, throughout cottage country and the GTA.
Whiskey Jack’s stories come from a history of nearly 30 years of gigs with Stompin’ Tom and invitations to house parties as legendary as his music.
“He was a Maritimer,” says Fremlin, “and threw good old-fashioned kitchen parties.”
Fremlin was 27 when he founded Whiskey Jack in the late ’70s. It was something people just did back then, he says.
“You could just quit a good job and get another one a week later.”
The band toured for 10 years, recording several albums, starring on CBC’s The Tommy Hunter Show, The Nashville Network. But when the recession hit in the ’90s, the band hit pause.
“I got a job as a real estate agent,” Fremlin says, “and the band became part time.” That is until Stompin’ Tom invited Whiskey Jack to hit the road. Fremlin didn’t hesitate.
“I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said.
The band got to know the performer, on stage and off.
“We had a unique contract that stipulated one of us stay up all night with Tom,” he says. “Tom didn’t sleep much. He was a creative go get ‘em kind of person.”
They’d play chess, cards. They’d listen to Connors’s stories of growing up poor in Saint John, running away to hitchhike across the country, sleeping in ditches.
“A lot of who he became was born on the road,” says Fremlin.
Who Tom Connors became, says Fremlin, is “Captain Canada.”
The Canadian Encyclopedia describes our captain as “a working-class, salt-of-the-earth troubadour and perhaps the most overtly nationalist songwriter that Canada has ever produced.”
Fremlin couldn’t agree more.
“He gave Canadians licence to celebrate their country,” Fremlin says. “He coined phrases that will be in our narrative forever.”
Bark Lake Cultural Developments presents Whiskey Jack – Stories and Songs of Stompin’ Tom at the Lloyd Watson Centre in Wilberforce on Saturday, Aug. 6. Tickets are $25. On July 29, Universal Music Canada re-released a 1993 album Stompin’ Tom recorded with Whiskey Jack. This CD, along with the band’s other recordings, will be available for purchase. For more information about Whiskey Jack, check out whiskeyjackmusic.com.