"I got tired of doing three-chord country and western songs. I needed a change,” says Valdy, the enigmatic king of what one acerbic critic dubbed “compost country.” After a three-year hiatus from composing, Valdy has decreed “there’ll be no more laying back.” With his image renovated but his zeal intact, he’s back on the road again with a new sound that he calls “folk disco.” Fans who thought they had found the messiah of the woodlot life will now have to boogie to keep pace.
“I had begun to feel like a well run dry,” he says of the extended case of writers’ block which afflicted him only after he had won two Juno Awards for folk-singing, and recorded six critically acclaimed albums in the early ’70s. Concert dates from Poland to the Chilli£ wack Food Co-op paid the bills but his personal life floundered into “domestic dissolution.” Regrouping, Valdy moved § from his small farm on Woody Island in ^ Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, to Salt Spring Island, 30 miles southwest of Vancouver. There, with his neWly “legalized sweetheart” Penny and her two young sons, he rested, danced, chopped wood and did some scuba diving and sailing. But this sybaritic lifestyle had to end. “I listened to all of my previous recordings, and let me tell you, it hurt.”
So last summer Valdy went to San Francisco where he wrote eight new songs, hooked up with electronics-wiz producer Elliot Mazer (Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot are amonghis credits) and recorded an album at the fancy Automatt studio. The result is what Valdy calls his “dance album,” complete with a hip anti-nuclear energy anthem, Hot Rocks. “It’s awareness-raising music,” he says of the eerie title song. “It concerns the world, not the lover or the homeowner or the fella looking for a job. It goes beyond saving whales and
it’s saying more than ‘be careful.’ It’s asking ‘what’s happening?’ ”
Inspired and energized, he couldn’t wait to get back to Canada to unveil the new Valdy. “The hippie is dead,” proclaims the man who had become something of a patriarch to the survivors of the barefoot, back-to-the-land movement. Accordingly, he bought three suits during his San Francisco summer, his first such acquisition in 12 years. “It’s just another kind of costume. I still wear on stage what I put on in the morning,” he says. “Besides, I always wanted a spiffy suit.”
Though now a Beau Brummelized radio-activist, Valdy still believes in the country life as the good life. “My next project is designing a solar house with a wind-powered, gravity-fed watering system for the organic garden,” he says enthusiastically. The difference is that now he no longer feels the need to con-
vert the whole nation to his way of living. As he admits in one of the album’s new songs, I can hear the city better now, having lived without it / Don't make my living off the land, more in songs about it.
One of the things about Valdy that hasn’t changed is his Pete Seeger style of playing wherever the people are. His current tour, an ambling circuit that began in November and will zigzag across the country throughout March, includes an 804-seat gymnasium in Guelph, Ontario, and the cavernous Place des Arts in Montreal. He won’t be dusting his chest with glitter yet, but now he sees performing as something that should have an economic as well as spiritual reward. In 1977, his tour with the Hometown Band grossed $250,000 after
73 shows before 95,000 fans. “Everyone thinks I got all that money, but after everything settled I only got about $14,000,” he says, shaking his now-thinning mane of brown hair. Although $14,000 isn’t bad for 72 days’ work, it hardly puts the two-time Juno winner in the same ballpark with the other Mr. Juno, Dan Hill. On this tour Valdy hopes to make “some real money,” so he’s paying attention to costs and “hardening up on the business side.” He claims he hasn’t ■mi made a cent on his previous albums, which have sold over 200,000 copies. It got so bad that when he wanted to buy land for his house, he had to“scrounge all over the country” retrieving capital from his scattered investments in things like health food stores, into which he had put an average of $1,500. At 33 (not to press the agricultural metaphor too much longer) Valdy would like to begin reaping what he has sown.
So far it seems to be working. Most of the concerts are sellouts, the album is “playlisted” on all of the country’s FM radio stations and the single, Hot Rocks, is doing brisk business on AM stations. His fans, however, are of two minds about the new and improved Valdy. At the Sydney Academy in New Brunswick, over 1,000 fans filled the auditorium and most of them were hearing Valdy for the first time. “He was great, everyone got off on him,” enthused one 14-year-old who had never heard of Valdy before his older sister’s date cancelled out, leaving a spare ticket. But the scene was different at the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland. A hard core of older fans, who date back to his twoyear residence in the province, turned up to inspect the revamped Valdy and it was another case of Dylan-gone-electric: with roughly half the audience enjoying themselves and the other half disgruntled, the polarized concert erupted into a heckling contest after intermission. At first Valdy subdued the crowd with a few old pieces strummed out on his solo acoustic guitar, but then it was role-reversal time and he
and the band swung into the jazziest version of his 1972 hit Rock ‘n ’ Roll Sony that St. John’s has ever seen. That song, which won him the Moffat Award for Best Record of the Year and helped launch his career, was written in the aftermath of a music festival in Aldergrove, B.C., which had seen Valdy booed off stage because he sang folk-songs to an audience that wanted rock. No doubt the aggressive symbolism of his gesture was missed by some of the audience; one fan leaving the hall was indignant about it all. “He’s finished. He could say what he has to say much better, and quieter, the way he used to sing. He sounded better the old way.” Characteristically philosophical, Valdy was prepared for the resistance to change, he says. uHot Rocks will surely surprise a few folks. Not enough
to alienate my friends, I hope, but enough to give me an entire new audience too. It’s up to all of us to accept change as opposed to riding a horse that rode well in days gone by.”
Reconciling the past music with the present may not be easy, but few of Valdy’s reconciliations have been. When he left his family’s conservative downtown Ottawa home 15 years ago after dropping out of university in favor of a vagabond musician’s life, his Danish father requested that the young Valdemar Horsdal refrain from using the family name in his show-biz career. Valdy’s 81year-old father died during the early part of his tour, but any rift between father and son had finally been healed. With his father’s blessing, Valdemar Horsdal takes all the credit on the Hot Rocks album jacket.
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