Contenders, still: Valdy on why he's still on the road

Valdy and Gary Fjellgaard coming to Kamloops Nov. 2

In 1981, Paul Valdemar Horsdal was in the midst of restoring a 1961 Nash Metropolitan at his home on Salt Spring Island. He redid the upholstery and brakes and fixed the car up as much as he could, but at some point he ran out of steam.

Though he gave up on the little American car, Valdy, as he is known, has never done the same for his career in music — which is nearly as old as the classic automobile he once tried to restore.

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Valdy still lives on Salt Spring Island, but has since traded his red and white convertible for a more practical Subaru Forester.

For the past 17 years, Valdy has played with Gary Fjellgaard, who he met in the 1970s while playing gigs and festivals in B.C.

Valdy opens the hood of his 1961 Nash Metropolitan — a vehicle he was working on when CBC interviewed him for a 1981 mini documentary the network aired. - CBC (via YouTube)

“We became friends at that point and did a couple of festivals — not as a duo, but on the same bill,” Valdy said.

In 1999, the two found each other on the road once again and played together in southwestern Alberta, putting out the first Contenders album that same year.

“It went so well we decided we’d go on the road and tour together,” Valdy said.

Two years later, the duo began touring under the Contenders name, which comes from a song Fjellgaard wrote when he anticipated the two would be playing together.

“He thought, we’re still contenders because we’re still in the game — and even though there’s a lot of people waiting to take the mics from us, we’re not quite ready yet,” Valdy said.

This is now the 17th year on the road for the duo. They started in the Okanagan and have been making the B.C. Interior an annual stop ever since.

Valdy’s success as a solo artist peaked throughout the 1970s, but he’s been working hard ever since with a total of 18 albums bearing his name.

Although he saw so much success on his own, Valdy said he enjoys sharing the stage with a musician like Fjellgaard.

“First of all, he makes me play better,” he told KTW. “I get to pull my socks up, play a little extra guitar, play a bass once in awhile and I get to sing a lot of harmony, which is valuable to me as an artist to keep developing that way.”

Contenders play a western, roots and folk style of music that champions the “vanishing values and frontier spirit” of the genre.

“That was Gary’s line,” Valdy said. “Basically, he loves the older style of country music, with yodelling and not necessarily pickup trucks. He’s a traditionalist and a really good songwriter. I’d put him up there with Ian Tyson.”

As far as genre goes with Valdy, he said he plays modern folk.

“I don’t go back to the pioneer songs. I’m not a Phil Thomas, who went around the province and collected songs from the millwrights and shipwrights and whatnot,” he said.

Valdy, 73, has a long history in playing folk music for Canadians. In a 1981 documentary produced by CBC, Valdy said at that point in his career he wanted a “continuation of health and happiness,” and didn’t know if, 10 years from then, he would still be playing guitar or touring — but he did know he’d still be playing music.

The end of his touring life never came and he never put down the guitar, either. The reason, he thinks, is because he’s addicted.

“I love working a room and creating a situation where the magic can creep in,” he said. “It’s lovely to be on stage and be able to help that happen.”

Along with that feeling, it’s the relationships that keep him going from place to place.

“I have family across the country — arms-length family, but people I know very well and have known for more than 40 years. Touring puts me in touch with them,” he said.

It’s not just Fjellgaard who will be accompanying Valdy on stage at an upcoming show in Kamloops on Friday, Nov. 2. On the tour this year, another duo will be joining the show. Folk, roots and country players Blu and Kelly Hopkins will mix in.

“Rather than just tacking them on like a post-it note, we’re doing it together all the way through. It’s going to be a musical variety show throughout,” Valdy said.

Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show at Sagebrush Theatre, 821 Munro St., are available at the Kamloops Live box office, 1025 Lorne St., 250-374-5483, or online at

© Kamloops This Week



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