Feature

Congratulations, Valdy!

The Canada Day long weekend offered a special moment for celebration this year for folk and roots music fans.

Between the flag-waving and the fireworks came the welcome news that that beloved singer-songwriter Valdy is to be admitted as a Member of the Order of Canada.

Few are more deserving of the honour than this tireless performer who has been a shining example, mentor and friend to so many in our community.

Although he lives on the West Coast now (when he’s home!), Valdy was a son of Ottawa who shed the uniform of a blueblood private school for the faded jeans of an itinerant musician, way back in the sixties. He’s never looked back. No one has lived the life of the independent Canadian musician more authentically.

During the 1970s his songs rang over the airwaves across the country, part of a burst of recorded Canadian folk that included Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Anne Murray and Murray McLauchlan.

For many of us, Valdy’s tunes were among the first Canadian songs we’d ever heard on the radio, and his contribution to the scene looms even larger than his half-million albums sold.

Valdy has been an influence and a mentor to many, many folk and roots artists and fans in Canada. His breakout hit, “Rock & Roll Song” was the first song I learned when I picked up a guitar at age 17 – by coincidence, my first guitar teacher had been in a band with Valdy, and I still have a copy of the sheet Valdy wrote out for him to teach us the tune.  

Getting to meet Valdy, then later to do shows and hang out backstage with him was a magical privilege. I know dozens of musicians on the folk circuit who will say the same. Everyone treasures their “Valdy moments,” because we’re all big fans.

Valdy has won many awards, including two Junos. He picked up a couple of what are now known as Junos before they were even called by that name – and characteristically carted them around behind the seat of his truck. He claims he used them as chucks when changing tires! His list of awards and accomplishments is as lengthy as his reaction to them is humble.

There is no more generous spirit, more open heart, more positive preacher of the roots gospel than Valdy. Love songs, protest songs, sad songs, funny songs… any and all ways of touching the audience with music, laughter, and harmony are tricks of this troubadour’s trade – as much as his outrageous chord changes, his bright suspenders, his red sneakers and his soft-shoe shuffle.

Valdy’s immense talent is a reflection of his incredible human spirit. He remembers people. He cares about people. He blesses people by being around them. He dedicates himself to causes – whether saving blue herons, celebrating other musicians or striking down hypocrisy on the golf course – with passion and commitment.

Festival volunteers will attest to that commitment: Valdy’s been known to wander into the hospitality tent, don an apron, and cheerfully take his turn at doing dishes.

Valdy appears to live in a state of joy. He brings a sense of amiable dignity to the noble and often thankless pursuit of sharing music in real ways, with real people at every turn along the long and winding road.

No one is more deserving of this great honour. Congratulations, Valdy: chalk one up for the Scruffy Dude! Can’t wait to watch you perform next – with the the Order of Canada pinned to your stretchy suspenders, of course. You’ve earned it.

Photo credits: 8×10 handout, courtesy Hughsroom.com; Performance picture by David Sheffield, courtesy Shelter Valley Folk Festival.

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7 comments

  1. avatar
    Steve Lacey 4 July, 2011 at 21:16

    In February 2010 Valdy came to Yellowknife with Gary Fjellgard to be the special guests at the annual The Gumboots concert. We referred then to The Gumboots Blessing: anyone who comes to Yellowknife to be The Gumboots’ guest wins a Juno within the year. It’s worked for several years for our guests. But now it appears Valdy’s upped the bar: an Order of Canada after guesting for The Gumboots! Congratulations, Valdy–it looks good on you!

  2. avatar
    Christine Donnelly Ross 5 July, 2011 at 00:34

    ……it seems I have known Valdy forever, well for a long long time….my favourite lines in your write of our beloved Valdy is “Valdy appears to live in a state of joy…………” that sums him up.
    thank you

  3. avatar
    Michael Wrycraft 5 July, 2011 at 22:50

    I’m sporting a face-splitting grin and couldn’t be happier. The order of Canada for one of my favourite musical heroes. A hearty congratulations to you my friend. In the early 70’s when I was a 17 year old overly-earnest guitar-slingin’, chevy van-drivin’, art college-bound singer-songwriter…whew… Valdy was one of my musical gods and along with Lightfoot and Cockburn spent a lot of time wearing out my van’s 8-track player. He was a hipper hippie than most, he was earnest, he had very catchy singable songs on the radio and could hold a Massey Hall crowd of 2,800 people in the palm of his hand. He was also a wicked yet underrated guitar player.

    Being an album designer over these last 18 years has brought this rabid music fan some extraordinary blessings in getting to work with or become friends with some wonderful musicians. A la Nick Hornby, my Top 20 Special Musical Moments of my life include three events with Valdy (also one of the Worst Musical Moments of my life but I’ll save it for another post.)

    I’ll mention two. In the early 90’s Valdy was assigned to our dorm “suite” at Laurentian University for the Northern Lights Festival in Sudbury. I was there with Oliver Schroer & Soozi Schlanger. Over the course of the weekend I got to come to know one of my musical heroes. On the Saturday night Jian Ghomeshi, Valdy and I ended up back at the dorm at the same time and headed down to the “party room” for the after party. We sat down, Valdy pulled out his guitar and we 3 sat there singing harmonies for about a half an hour before anyone else showed up (I was holding my own singing harmonies with Valdy!!!. The three of us ended up leading a massive sing-along until we were hoarse and the sun was just coming up.

    A few years later Richard Flohil and I were performing our hi-larious Folk Quiz at the Stan Rogers Festival in Canso, NS. We were sitting in the main building on the Sunday night, gorging on Egg Salad Sandwiches and Clam Chowder when Valdy came over, sat down and asked me for a favour. He wondered if I could gather a few other singers together and join him onstage for his last 3 songs that
    night. So I found Lynn Miles, Jenny Whiteley and October Browne and we excitedly ran off to practice our parts as “Valdettes.” That night Valdy was next to last, just before headliner George Fox (they should have switched acts.) We walked out onto the mainstage for the last 3 songs and looked out into what appeared to be a hurricane. The audience were soaked to the bone and standing, leaning, buffered against howling winds, pea-soup fog and horizontal rain. But they were under Valdy’s spell swaying and singing as if it were a balmy summer evening. We stood there singing harmonies to Peter & Lou, Simple Life and Rock and Roll song while fog swirled around our heads and we were pelted by freezing rain. It remains a favourite musical memory.

    Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to hang out with Valdy a lot at folk festivals, concerts, conferences and the like and become pals. I think most would agree with me that he should be cloned, asap, so no festival will ever have to go without a Valdy ever again. I haven’t bumped into him in a couple of years and I really need a fix!

    Keep spreading love and joy brother.

    Congratulations to Canada’s Patchouli Prince of Song.

  4. avatar
    Paul Mills 5 July, 2011 at 22:51

    In or around 1965 I was invited to join a group called the London Town Criers. Turns out I was replacing a fella named Valdimar Horsdal. We had a rehearsal, he taught me his parts and went on his way. His way led him to national fame and ultimately the Order of Canada. Wow!

    Valdy, you’ve been a friend of mine and a friend of Canadian folk for almost 50 years. I am so proud of you and so honored to know you. Congratulations!!!

  5. avatar
    KITT 18 July, 2011 at 15:32

    Congratulations Valdy ! You have warmed the hearts of so many during these many years. We love you truly, dearly and well.

  6. avatar
    John McWilliam 20 August, 2011 at 13:41

    My first Valdy concert was way back in 1972 at a Victoria Secondary School. It was supposed to be a noon hour concert that soon turned into an hour and a half concert with a heart warming group rendition of “Rain Rain go Away”! There was something about his spirit and his message that you knew he was bound for glory!! Have enjoyed many performances at such venues as Duncan Garage and the Filberg Festival. A real character who defines Canadiana!

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