Born Paul Valdemar Horsdal in Ottawa in 1945, Valdy was already adept at both the guitar and the piano when he moved to Montreal in 1964 with barely two nickels to rub together.
He joined the London Town Criers in 1964, a popular up and coming folk group that toured from Montreal to Regina, and all the coffeehouses in between. But before anything major happened with them, he joined The Prodigal Sons, a folk/country hybrid. From there he drifted to Toronto in 1965 and landed the bass player gig for rising country star Blake Emmons.
He moved to the west coast a year later, where he studied orchestration at the Victoria Conservatory of Music. After graduating, he began working the local circuit and hooked up with manager Keith Lawrence. He scored a deal with Haida Records in early ’71, whose distribution was handled by A&M Records. They shipped Valdy off to their studios in Hollywood that summer with producer Claire Lawrence (Collectors, Chilliwack), his manager’s brother.
His first single, “Rock & Roll Man” was a crossover hit, scoring in the top 30 on both the pop and contemporary charts. His debut album, COUNTRY MAN, was released the next spring with “A Good Man” peaking at #9 on both charts. Along with the title track and “Hello Mr Record Man” (a cynical tale of what it takes to ‘make it’), other noteable tracks included his choice of covers, a pair from Bruce Cockburn – “Goin To The Country” and “Goin Down Slow,” and Harry Nilsson’s “Rainmaker.” By the time the album broke the top 40, it turned gold and had nearly reached platinum (100,000 units).
The same year, he found his works in the Steve McQueen film, “The Getaway.” “Quincy Jones put “A Good Song” and “Country Man” in the movie, and then recorded “A Good Song” under the name “Just A Man” on his BODY HEAT album, singing it himself,” he explained.
He followed it up with LANDSCAPES in ’73, again recorded in Hollywood and produced by Lawrence. On the backs of the singles “Simple Life,” charting as high as #16, and the title track, as well as other songs like “Gypsy Ways” and the cover of Robert Lind’s “Roads of Anger,” it resulted in his second straight gold record. 1973 also marked his first Juno Award, winning for Outstanding Folk Performance of the Year.
1974 saw the release of FAMILY GATHERING, featuring material recorded live at Toronto’s Massey Hall on side one, including his earlier hits – “Rock n Roll Song” and “Hello Mr Record Man.” He also paid tribute to one of his earliest country influences with “Ode To Wilf Carter,” as well as the traditional “Johnny,” and the cover of Cindy Walker’s “Blue Canadian Rockies.” The only single, “Renaissance,” peaked at #23 on the Canadian pop chart. He picked up his second straight Juno Award that year, for Folksinger of the Year.
Producer Paul Rothschild (The Doors) was brought in for his first American release, SEE HOW THE YEARS HAVE GONE BY in ’75. Recorded at A&M’s studios in Hollywood, it was basically re-recordings of previous material, along with the new single “Simple Life.”
After switching managers and now with Cliff Jones, he surrounded himself with a new “makeshift” backing group that happened to be friends and some of the west coast’s top artists, including Claire Lawrence (again as producer as well), Shari Ulrich, Doug Edwards on bass, and Dave Sinclair on guitars and accordian. He released VALDY AND THE HOMETOWN BAND in ’76. Marking the first time he’d recorded at Little Mountain Sound in Vancouver, “Yes I Can” and “Peter and Lou” were released as singles. Both cracked the top 20 on the Canadian AC chart, but didn’t chart in the US.
By this time he was second only to Gordon Lighfoot in Canadian folk record sales. High profile folk festivals were still gaining ground globally, and Valdy had established himself as one of our biggest exports. One of his career highlights happened that August, when he represented Canada at the International Song Festival in Sopot, Poland.
Always experimenting, he returned in 1978 with HOT ROCKS, produced by Elliott Mazer in San Francisco. With more of an edgier sound than in previous offerings, the title track was the first single, and saw him voicing his environmental concerns (about nuclear power and what we’re going to do with the used nuclear rods). “Sister I Love You” followed up the charts and also made its way into the top 40 amid a massive road schedule.
He signed a new deal with Sloth Records a year later, with A&M still handling distribution. PASSPORT – BEST OF VALDY was released in the summer of 1980, which also contained the new track “Streets of Whitehorse.”
A pair of collaberations with Bob Ruzicka – “Leavin’ Ain’t The Only Way To Go” and “Easy Money” were featured on his next record, 1001, released a year later. “Easy Money” peaked at #17 on the Canadian AC chart, and was followed by “Dirty Old Man” (#38), and then “Thank God He’s A Stranger” (#28) the following spring.
Always wanting to record a children’s album, he did just that in 1982, with the appropriately entitled VALDY’S KIDS RECORD. The album had a mix of kids’ standards like “Working On The Railroad” and “Finders Keepers,” a toned down pop song (“Lollipop”), and some new material he’d written specifically for the project like “Daddy’s OK,” as well as a cover of one of his earlier tunes “Dat Dere.” The work earned him a Juno nomination for Best Kids Album.
A new deal with Duke Street Records in 1985 resulted in NOTES FROM PLACES that same year. Recorded at Little Mountain as well as at Le Studio in Morin Heights, Quebec, the record was more in the country vein than folk – more so than possibly any of his other offerings. The only single released was his cover of Ron Hyne’s “Sonny’s Dream.” Although it didn’t chart on the AC or pop charts, it did peak at #17 on the Canadian country list, and his name came up that year for a Juno for Country Male Vocalist of the Year, his 12th nomination.
By this point he was a steady draw at several prominent folk music festivals throughout North America, including the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas, and also dabbled in collaberating with symphony orchestras on occasion. Although concentrating on farm and family, he was still doing 200 shows per year, though not recording. During this period, A&M released THE CLASSIC COLLECTION in 1988, a compilation of his biggest hits throughout his career.
After signing a new deal with Peg Records, he returned in 1993 with his first new material in eight years, with HEART AT WORK, for which Dan Donahue, Bill Henderson (Collectors, Chilliwack) and Bill Buckingham all had a hand in production. Along with the anti-war tune “When Peace Came To The Valley,” the album contained the first single, “Link in a Chain,” which quickly shot up the Canadian AC chart, settling at #36. The follow-up, “Dreams About You,” also cracked the top 50. In between outside interests, he continued to tour the next few years, at home and at major music festivals across the globe.
1996’s SMORGAS BARD marked Valdy’s first album on his own newly formed label, Rack-On-Tour Records. The album was quickly a critic’s fave because it was appropriately titled, as it covered the usual folk/country cross he’d sold half a million copies of, as well as dove into his blues and jazz influences. Along with a duet with Senator Tommy Banks on “Double Solitaire,” the record contained the lead-off “Stay For The Fire” and a cover of the “Hockey Night In Canada Theme.”
He closed out the decade with the album CONTENDERS on Stony Plain Records, a collaboration with friend and cowboy singer/songwriter Gary Fjellgard. Along with “Tried and True,” “Islanders,” and the title track, it also included a cover of Roger Miller’s hobo classic, “King of the Road.” The two longtime friends had never collaberated before, and celebrated the occasion by making several appearances together and showing up at each others’ shows over the next few years.
Another greatest hits compilation appeared in 2001 in the form of Universal Music’s 20th Century Masters – The Millenium Collection. In ’03 he released the double album, LIVE AT LAST – which was actually only half live, but captured him in his on-stage glory, as well as featuring new songs with definite political statements like “Buddhists of Saltspring” and “Living Next Door To The Candy Store,” about the Canada-US Free Trade proposition.
Valdy and Fjellgard teamed up again in ’04 for CONTENDERS TWO, which featured another dozen cowboy covers and originals, including “Falcon & The Cowboy,” “Back When Billy Robbed The Trains,” “Mexican Heat,” and “One More Pony Ride.” The same year, he released VIVA VALDY – LIVE AT LAST – a double CD package featuring all his hits.
In the mid ’00s, he jumped at the chance to do a cameo in an episode of “The New Beachcombers,” playing in a jug band. Though it wasn’t an acting role, he wrote the tune “Water” for the show. He’d also co-starred in “The Beachcombers” when it originally ran in the ’70s, as well as served as a panelist on the popular CBC program “Front Page Challenge” on two occasions in the ’80s.
His songs have been recorded by other artists of all walks on the musical path, from John Kay‘s take on “Rock & Roll Man” to contributing to the Caliban Quartet of Bassoonists’ holiday album, CALIBAN DOES CHRISTMAS). An environmental activist, the subject has served as fuel for several of his songs’ fire over the years. He continues to perform regulary and has remained a constant concert draw throughout Canada, as well an energetic performer at folk and country festivals across the US, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia.
He was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005, and the Victoria Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in ’08, something he says is an honour, if not somewhat perplexing. “As a folksinger, I play it all. I was inducted into the Victoria R’n’R Hall of Fame, but I’m still a folksinger, thus cover ALL styles of music,” he commented.
In June 2012, he received the Order of Canada for his lifelong dedication and achievements in the world of music, as well as his humanitarian, philanthropic, and social work.