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