Canada’s Surviving Troubadour

Paul Valdemar Horsdal a/k/a Valdy is enjoying a massage in his tiny dressing room on the second floor of Hugh’s Room. No Mrs Horsdal, not that kind of massage! He is the subject of Christine Sutherland who specializes in massage for performing artists. As a video camera records the event, Sutherland demonstrates special techniques of working the jaw and neck muscles to loosen up performers’ vocals as well as a series of stretching exercises to keep them limber for extended periods on stage. The clip will be part of an instructional video series on her special massage techniques.

Understanding that the 67-year old Valdy has just launched a busy 200-date Canadian itinerary which sees him zigzag from one coast to the other and all points in between, Sutherland is quizzing him on his diet and fitness regime. Yes, he’s given up eating wheat and yes he executes a basic yoga routine daily, explains the Salt Spring Island B.C resident as he prepares to entertain a sold-out dinner theatre crowd at one of Toronto’s most musically-eclectic venues.

I initiated our interview at the Metropolitan Hotel, where he checked in and gallantly battled a dysfunctional iron before taking care of his stage wardrobe with a last-minute replacement. Then we hopped into his customized Mercedes Sprinter van, nicknamed Bluebell for a drive across town to the venue. Bluebell will serve as his home-away-from home as he transverses the country, save a number of cross-Canada air flights he will need to execute to fulfill a gruelling schedule.

Hugh’s Room, Toronto. 2013.
Photography by: Ted Van Boort

“I love travelling and performing,” noted Valdy as he tackles Toronto’s late afternoon traffic. “I like to do at least 200 dates a year – which is not a lot of work when you consider the average working man does 250-260 days a year. I’m not tired of it – it feeds my soul. You don’t retire in this business – you just start playing to empty halls.”

Valdy has the added incentive of promoting a new cd, `Read Between The Lines’, his first release in seven years. “I am always collecting musical ideas but I need a producer to take charge of the recording sessions. Encouraged by Karel Roessingh who arranged and produced the sessions, Valdy worked with both rock and jazz musicians to get the right groove, recording the tracks in various studios in Toronto and Victoria B.C before finishing off the sessions at Woodshop Recording Studios at Duncan B.C. The result is an eclectic collection of 14 songs, some original, some co-written and some supplied by local B.C composers.

“Read Between The Lines” focuses on a number of issues close to Valdy’s heart. `Broughton Archipelago’ reflects on the damage fish-farming has caused B.C’s wild salmon stocks, `As The Waters Fall’ is a song in aid of Manitoba’s flood victims while `Saviour’s Place’ and Ragged Band Of Angels’ feature a more spiritual connotation. `Cottonwood Memory’ is co-performed with fellow B.C artist Gary Fjellgaard who often performs with Valdy and has co-starred on two previous albums. On the lighter side is Valdy’s musical contribution to the New Beachcomber’s movie; `It’s In The Water’ a song performed by Valdy in the movie as part of a jug band that also featured the late Long John Baldry and `The Day They Shot Ginger Down’, a historical song about a B.C labour activist, Ginger Goodwin who was shot in 1918 for rubbing some of the locals the wrong way.”

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Valdy will test out much of his new material tonight at Hugh’s Room. As he starts to assemble his set list, I suggest his encore will be `Rock N Roll Song’. “Why would I do that”, he recoils in mock horror.” Whoever saves their best song for the encore!” he laughs. “No I couldn’t do that, that’s cheating my audience.”

True to his word, Valdy performed his classic hit just before the end of his first set and by that point he was preaching to the converted. His audience is comprised of old fans, some who had seen him on several previous visits to Hugh’s Room including no less than four birthday celebrators. It’s true that the majority of Valdy’s recording success came in the early seventies; `Rock N Roll Song’ was his first ever hit single. Yet other nuggets like `Peter And Lou’, `Hot Rocks’, `Yes I Can’ and Renaissance’ also bring back memories and even the new material goes down well with Valdy spinning stories about each track, at one point proudly displaying the Order Of Canada medal he received in 2011.

Valdy is also a savvy entrepreneur. When manager Kathy Hahn asks him about his plans for the intermission he points to the merchandise table. “That’s where I’m going. You sell CD’s during the intermission. At the end of the show, everyone bolts for the door!” And true to his word, Valdy spends so much time autographing CD’s and posing for pictures that Hahn literally has to push him back on stage.

Even though he had performed most of his big hits during the first half, Valdy kept the crowd entertained with several new and not so new tracks and paid homage to his mentors; Stan Rogers (who died during a plane fire accident at Cincinnati Airport in 1983) by performing `The Wreck Of The Atlas Queen’ and Ron Hynes (who is currently battling throat cancer) with his cover of Hynes’ famous `Sonny’s Dream’ before sending his fans home with a sing-a-long version of Roger Miller’s` King Of The Road’. And yes he shook hands and posed for pictures with virtually everyone in the room because Valdy knows the same familiar faces will be back in the room next time he plays but they might also bring a friend or two along with them.

With the recent loss or Stompin Tom Connors, Valdy is probably Canada’s only surviving troubadour and he acknowledged the work of both Connors and Rita MacNeil who had both recently passed on. “Stompin Tom represented a part of Canada that many Canadians didn’t want to recognize,” explained Valdy. “He was so true to himself and his lyrics were an honest reflection of his own experiences. And Rita was an incredible performer – she had so much going against her but she won people over with her sheer talent. These people were the true musical fabric of Canada.

So Mr Horsdal, in between getting neck massages from Ms. Sutherland, will continue burning up the asphalt in Bluebell as he motors through the year, occasionally racking up air miles when air travel is the only way he can complete is insane travel schedule. Yes he has appeared on TV, as Halibut Stu in the Beachcombers, and he is an accomplished chainsaw sculptor, which comes with pruning 15 acres of Douglas Fir on his idyllic Salt Spring Island home base – but his one true love is performing before an appreciative audience.

One final question, and it’s one I am sure he’s been asked a thousand times, but just for posterity, “what were the circumstances behind him writing `Rock N Roll Song”?

“I was performing as a folk singer when I got booked to play at the Aldergrove B.C rock festival,” related Valdy. “People didn’t want to hear my type of music. They weren’t polite at all. They didn’t give me the time, they just told me to buzz off. So I played until I heard someone clap and then I ran off stage. I got a hit song out of that experience though – come to think of it, I got a whole career out of that song.”

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