By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
Want more top stories? Sign up here for daily or weekly newsletters with our top news.
HOWLY SLIM AND Sandy Summers will host a Valentine's Day edition of Second Friday Art Rock, Port Angeles' monthly art-and-dance party also known as 2FAR. Slim and Summers, along with Jon Parry on fiddle and the Raindance Kid on bass, will get the love songs started at 8 p.m. Friday at Bar N9ne, 229 W. First St. Also Friday night, photographer and artist Trey Hensley will set up a photo booth “for lovers, old and new, permanent and temporary, fancy and free,” according to the 2FAR invitation.
The cover charge for 2FAR is $3 to support the musicians and artist; for more details see the Second Friday Art Rock page on Facebook or phone Bar N9ne at 360-797-1999.
Remembering Pete Seeger
TWO EVENTS CELEBRATING the life and legacy of Pete Seeger are planned this month in Port Angeles, starting with a movie and sing-along this afternoon.
“Pete Seeger: The Power of Song,” a public television documentary, will be shown at 4 p.m. in the Raymond Carver Room at the Port Angeles Library, 2210 S. Peabody St. Admission is free to the 90-minute film, along with the sing-along afterward.
Then comes the Pete Seeger Hootenanny on Saturday, Feb. 22, at the Olympic Unitarian Universalist Fellowship hall, 73 Howe Road just east of Port Angeles. The gathering starts at 1 p.m.; singing of Seeger songs follows at 2 p.m. with lyric sheets provided. Cake, coffee, juice and cookies will be served until 5 p.m.
Everyone is invited to sing songs of freedom, workers' rights, world peace and love for the land at the U.U. hall; for directions and details visit olympicuuf.org or phone 360-775-9234.
PORT ANGELES — Hal Gaskell, 12, did not take voice lessons. He did go to Boy Scout camp, where he got to go horseback riding in the country.
That's when he started to sing.
With his peers riding beside him, Hal let it out, a cappella: “El Paso,” Marty Robbins' country classic.
“I couldn't believe the other guys didn't laugh at me,” he remembers, smiling his easy smile.
Gaskell, better known nowadays as Howly Slim, has been singing ever since he was a Southern California kid.
Naturally, he was swept up first in the 1960s wave of surf music. But when his family relocated to Sacramento, the Golden State's inland capital, he moved into blues, country and rock 'n' roll.
After graduating from high school in 1966, Slim went north with his girlfriend, and found work in the woods of the Olympic Peninsula. He set chokers for a logging company — a precursor, in a way, for his long career as a tree planter.
And whatever work he's found, Slim has kept the soundtrack going. It's a wistful one of songs traditional and original, played on the 1961 Martin D-18 guitar he bought at a Sacramento pawn shop.
These days, Slim is riding a fresh wave of inspiration, gained from his collaboration with Sandy Summers, another performer whose life is stitched through with musical threads.
Summers grew up in Salt Lake City and remembers belting out Buddy Knox's “Party Doll” for a junior high school assembly as one of her first performances. The audience was a bit stunned, she recalls, at the big voice pouring out of this wisp of a girl in a homemade dress.
Summers married, moved to California, raised two children and worked various secretarial jobs. She also learned to play the hammered dulcimer and guitar, and to sing and yodel.
She and her husband, John Summers, later escaped the San Diego area and moved to the North Olympic Peninsula, where their band, the Dream City Ramblers, gigged for a good decade.
John died about 10 years ago, and Summers moved to Sequim, where she happened to cross paths with Slim at Dungeness Bay Wine and Cheese, the now-shuttered shop in downtown Sequim.
Slim had heard that Summers could yodel, so he handed over his guitar and let her go to town.
They didn't start playing together then, though. Years passed before the two met again at a song circle, where Slim heard Summers sing Lefty Frizzel's “That's the Way Love Goes.” Soon they were trading songs by their favorite writers: Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams and Iris Dement, “who just knocked me out,” said Slim.
Summers, at the same time, was and is knocked out by Slim's songs.
The two at last became a performing duo, with a Valentine's Day gig full of songs by Sam Cooke, Donovan and Howly Slim this Friday night at Bar N9ne.
Joining them will be two of Slim's favorite players from Port Townsend, fiddler Jon Parry and the bassist known as the Raindance Kid, for an exploration of love songs.
But hold on now. Slim and Summers are not a romantic couple. They are good friends, mutual admirers who don't miss an opportunity to rib the other a bit.
“She says I'm her therapist,” Slim deadpans.
“He makes me need a therapist,” is Summers' retort.
Seriously, though, Summers marvels at Slim's ability to put joy, pain, sorrow and love into words.
“I'm a little bit jealous,” she said. “His songs are so good.”
“I've got tons of love songs,” said Slim, “about good love, bad love, hard love.”
“If you go to this show,” Summers said of the Valentine's Day gig, “you're going to want to marry this guy.”
At this point in the conversation, Slim switches to talk of other songwriters. On Friday night, he'll feature Donovan's “Catch the Wind” and Sam Cooke's “Wonderful World,” as well as a Pete Seeger song or two.
He easily recalls the first songs he learned some five decades ago: “House of the Rising Sun,” “Hide Your Love Away” and “Mr. Tambourine Man,” which were closely followed by Merle Haggard's “Mama Tried.”
Young Slim kept developing his playing, but had to find better-paying work. Which he did in the classified ads in a Portland newspaper.
“Arduous work in steep mountain terrain. Bring rain gear and rubber boots,” said the ad for a tree planter. But he still describes reforestation work as a labor of love.
Out in the woods, Slim met the wanderers and thirsty men who were the tree-planting work force, and who provided him with rich stories for his songs.
Together, they planted hundreds of acres of trees across Oregon, Idaho and Washington, including the slopes of Mount St. Helens before and after the volcano erupted in 1980.
After years of planting, though, Slim was ready for somewhere new. He's a traveler, after all. He took off for Maui, Hawaii, where he found work on a macadamia nut farm.
Already the father of a son, Kasey, he had two more children, Hank and Viola — and became Hank's surfing coach. He played music on the island of course, and even took part in a benefit concert put on by Kris Kristofferson. But he was primarily known as “Hank's dad.”
Hank Gaskell, now 27, is well into a professional surfing career, while Viola is a photographer who recently traveled to India. She too has found other work to support her art: serving as a nanny for a Seattle family.
Slim's name, it turns out, is a mainland version of haole, the term native Hawaiians use for Caucasians. With another smile, he says he was called that, sometimes with an expletive modifier, many a time.
Slim left Maui after his marriage came apart, and moved back to the West Coast. He found work in Port Angeles, pruning trees in winter and playing music whenever he could.
Writing songs is therapeutic in a way, he said — and cathartic. While many of Slim's compositions are lighthearted love stories, his repertoire includes “Chicken Hawk,” a song about George W. Bush.
Slim was not an admirer of the 43rd president. And toward the end of his second term, the song “finally gushed out of me,” he said.
“It's a six-minute song. It felt so good.”
Slim is on to new songs in 2014. He's not a man afflicted with writer's block, and recently submitted two of his compositions to Tidepools, Peninsula College's art and literary journal: one with his own vocals and the other featuring Summers.
One of the songs showcases her singing and her yodeling, and Slim is delighted with it. The tune bears a story told from the point of view of a woman — “my first transgender song,” Slim quipped. The hook line goes all the way back to a morning on his Uncle Ernie's farm in Valley Center, Calif.
“All my life,” said Ernie's wife, “I've been playing second fiddle to a bunch of cattle.”
Summers, meantime, says she's grown as a performer since teaming with Slim.
“I love harmony,” she said, adding that she wants to develop her songwriting prowess, so that — like her performing partner — she can turn some of her life experiences into music.
“That's what makes a good song, don't you think?” Summers asked.
Slim, for his part, says he'd like to produce another CD; he has just one, “Tunes of Howly Slim,” so far.
Then he seizes the opportunity to express gratitude for a long-running gig that's just come to an end.
“The folks at the Landing Art Gallery,” including founder Sharon Shenar and manager Jeff Tocher, hired him to play during downtown Port Angeles' Second Weekend art walks for about five years.
“Sometimes I had nothing else in the winter,” Slim said. “I met a lot of people there, and I will miss them.”
The Landing Art Gallery, inside The Landing mall on Port Angeles' waterfront, has been sold to artist Sky Heatherton and renamed the Heatherton Gallery.
Slim paid tribute too to “all the great musicians I've had the good fortune to play with, both out and in the studio . . . who over the years have given support and friendship.”
He'll be getting together with those friends later this month, in the name of a musical hero.
On Saturday, Feb. 22, Slim and a group of fellow musicians will host a Pete Seeger Hootenanny at the Olympic Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall, 73 Howe Road just east of Port Angeles.
The gathering will go from 1 p.m. to
5 p.m., with singing to start at 2 p.m., in honor of the folk singer who died Jan. 27 at age 94.
Admission to the Hootenanny will be free, and song sheets provided.