Valdy was engaged in an activity Tuesday morning that has eaten up a large portion of his 40-year career.
The storied singer-songwriter, who in 2011 was named to the Order of Canada, was in the process of driving between Alberta and B.C. when I caught up with him by phone; ever the road-savvy veteran, the Saltspring Islander talked (hands-free, of course) as he commandeered his tour van down British Columbia Highway 5. Having just finished a string of sold-out shows in Alberta with his current tourmate, New Zealand guitarist Graham Wardrop, he was heading back in the direction of the Saltspring property that has been in his family since 1941.
Valdy, 68, first laid eyes on the parcel of unlogged land in 1960, when he was 15. His family had driven across the country from Ottawa, where Valdy was born and raised, to see it for the first time. By the time of his next visit, Valdy was 21 and eager to start a life of his own. Though it wasn’t at the top of his list at the time — his initial plan was to work in the “oilpatch” of Northern B.C. — it had a strange, seductive control over the nascent hippie.
When he arrived in 1966, Saltspring Island was a community of 2,500 residents. A lot of the buildings were the same then as they are now, he said, although the core of Ganges wasn’t as “chi chi” as it is today. “The island felt very much as it does now. The only difference is that there are more vehicles and more drivers.”
Valdy talked excitedly about his performance Saturday at the University of Victoria’s Farquhar Auditorium. He has played many concerts at the university over the years, from shows at the Student Union Building in the 1960s to a rare gig at McKinnon Gym with Chilliwack. Valdy said he even acted at the Phoenix Theatre once, in a production of Megan Terry’s Keep Tightly Closed in a Cool, Dry Place.
By his count, Valdy has played an average of 200 shows a year for four decades — approximately 8,000 concerts all told. “I enjoy it still,” he said. “I like to make music, and I can’t make it sitting still in one place for very long.”
Born Paul Valdemar Horsdal, he achieved considerable success with the folk-rock hit, Rock and Roll Song, in 1972. A series of successful songs and albums during the early 1970s led to a career that includes two Juno Award wins and work with some of the best names in Canadian music. He is touring to support 2012’s Read Between the Lines, his 17th outing under the stage name he adopted long ago.
He said the only people who call him Paul are the agents at WestJet, “because that’s the name on my passport. My dad was Paul Valdemar, and so am I; he got the Paul and I got the Valdemar. But I love it. Valdy fits on the marquee just perfectly.”
You live on Saltspring Island but were born and raised in Ottawa. At what point did you know the city was not for you in the long term?
I chose to leave because I got the wanderlust. I didn’t go back because I landed on the West Coast. There was no point going back to Ottawa — this place is as close to the promised land as it gets.
When did you arrive on the West Coast?
We came straight to Saltspring [Island] in 1966. Two of us drove across the country in an MG, with a guitar sticking out the back.
What brought you here?
I was heading for the oilpatch. I was going to go and make some money, but I decided to keep going to the coast.
What is your favourite thing about Saltspring Island?
The weird combination of humanity that lives there. It is a difference of opinion surrounded by water. And I love that about it.
What is your greatest accomplishment as a person?
The fact that I’m still upright and eating solid food at 68. The way that this lifestyle treats a human, I think I am very fortunate to still be doing what I’m doing. One would call that survival, but perhaps accomplishment and survival should be synonymous at this point.
And as a professional?
Having been able to touch a many lives as I have. I have kids coming up to me who say their grandmothers turned them on to my music, and they’re still listening. That kind of longevity and depth is my greatest accomplishment.
First album you purchased?
Music from Peter Gunn, by Henry Mancini.
Music From Big Pink, The Band.
First concert you attended?
The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem in Ottawa at the Capitol Theatre. I think I was 13. It blew my mind to see guys who could sing and play and looked like they were having fun.
Favourite concert you attended?
Van Morrison opening for Joni Mitchell opening for Bob Dylan[in Vancouver]. I had to buy my tickets from scalpers.
If you had one motto, or rule to abide by, what would it be?
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Valdy performs Saturday at UVic’s Farquhar Auditorium with Graham Wardrop and Lindsay May. Tickets are $28.50 (adult), $23.50 (senior), and $18.50 (student) at tickets.uvic.ca or 250-721-8480. Show is at 8 p.m.