By Lawrence Powell
Valdy, the Ottawa-born folkster whose spent much of his life on the West Coast, has always had a thing about the east -- as far back as the early 1970s when he headlined Brooks Diamond's famous Atlantic Folk Festivals in Hardwoodlands in West Hants.
The three-day event ran for seven years and drew such greats as John Prine, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, and Sunny Terry and Brownie McGee. The annual event was famous for rain, mud, and music. It was about the same time Valdy's song about the 'Rainmaker' was on the radio every few minutes and some folk fans really started thinking hard about the power of song.
But he was also performing at a handful of other small Nova Scotia venues, including King's Theatre in Annapolis Royal. He thinks it was 1974 when he first came into town -- the kind of a singer most folks could enjoy.
All these years later Valdy is still coming back to Annapolis Royal. He even phoned from New Zealand recently to say he'd be at King's Theatre November 15. That's the kind of guy he is. He stayed up in his Christchurch hotel until 3 a.m. New Zealand time just to make the call. "I've been back a number of times," Valdy said. "I love the town...the theatre. It's the real deal."
He's played "glass and concrete" but still prefers the old theatres. "They were built for sound."
Since his debut platinum album Country Man from 1971-72, Valdy has turned out 13 more albums, 22 singles, and has four gold records. Some of his best-known songs came off Country Man and the albums that followed: Landscapes in 1973, Family Gathering in 1974, and Valdy & the Hometown Band in 1976.
He's picked up a pair of Junos and for decades has been considered one of Canada's most influential songwriters. He's even been covered by Quincy Jones and John Kay of Steppenwolf.
But unlike Kay, Valdy was 'born to be mild,' writing (as he said himself) songs about freedom and joy, love, and he's thrown in a few political nuggets (halting free trade, opposing the GST, saving the environment), some blues, country -- and some of the best songs other people have written, like Sonny's Dream by friend Ron Hynes. "They stand the test of time," he said of the covers he performs.
He calls himself a dyslexic 36 yet he tours the world, including the States, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Most recently he did the the Cardrona Folk Festival in New Zealand with Graham Wardrop after being flown in by a winery. He also an oft-invited guest of the famous Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas.
But if he's known for some of his early songs like 'Play Me a Rock and Roll Song,' Simple Man,' 'Yes I Can,' and 'Peter & Lou,' Valdy hasn't been idle in the years since as his discography attests. Valdy and pal Gary Fjellgaard conspired on the 1999 album 'Contenders,' a project that went over so well they did it again in 2007 with 'Contenders Two: Still in the Running.'
In 2004 he released 'Viva Valdy: Live at Last,' a two-CD set that wasn't actually all live but contained some of his big hits, some covers, and some later songs like 'Turned Down Flat,' a song about American customs telling him he wasn't welcome in the US if he brought his guitar. There was apparently some concern Valdy had planned to take work away from American musicians.
In 2006 he released Valdy's Kids Record.
HIS CONCERNS "I worry about literacy and education," Valdy said. "The arts are the first thing on the chopping block when things get tough."
He fears right wing governments and believes they threaten culture. He sees culture as the core of a stable and healthy society -- the centre from which everything else emanates. "If you don't have culture, it creates a vacuum," he said. "Things sweep in and fill that vacuum."
And he's not talking necessarily about good things. "Right wing governments -- federally and provincially -- want to get rid of the arts," he said.
He was encouraged, however, by events south of the border. At the time of the interview, Barack Obama was leading in the presidential race and Valdy was predicting a Democrat win. He was encouraged by the prospect but less than happy with the results in Canada three weeks earlier. "I'm glad there was no majority," he said. "We were lucky."
FOLK MUSIC ALIVE AND WELL
While Valdy has been recording and criss-crossing the globe for almost 40 years, the music world has gone through numerous changes and evolutions that threaten many genres. But Valdy, a touchstone for folk, says folk is alive and well and credits young singer/songwriters with picking up the baton and spreading the words. "It's rewarding to see," he said. "People have something to say."
He describes folk as something accessible with meaning and depth. "There's no point in involving people in something that's not to their benefit," he said. He added that folk singers don't go up on the stage to preach -- "but it doesn't hurt to be meaningful."
Valdy himself was influenced at first by the likes of TV's private eye Peter Gunn and the show's accompanying music by Henry Mancini and his Orchestra. "I learned melody from him," Valdy said of Mancini.
Later It was Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, And Jerry Lee Lewis. When he took piano lessons, he played a lot of boogie woogie from the 1920s. "The British Invasion had a big musical influence on me in the early '60s," he said. "That was a cultural influence."
Through it all he credits his father, famed portrait photographer Paul Horsdal (mentor to Yosef Karsh) for his encouragement as a youngster.
Now Valdy is is the guy influencing the youngsters, and Saturday at King's Theatre he's bringing along Jessica Rhaye from Saint John, NB who had a few free weeks on her schedule. Valdy isn't bringing her along to open for him, rather Rhaye is his guest and she'll come out after he opens the show.
Tickets for the Saturday Valdy/Rhaye concert ar $22 in advance, $24 at the door, and $20 for members. The show starts at 8 p.m. For information, go to www.kingstheatre.ca
Valdy reflects on music, culture, literacy, and life
Canadian folk icon can't wait for King's Theatre gig
By Lawrence Powell
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