Howly Slim

Howly Slim

Howly Slim dies of cancer

Man of many talents known for concerts on Peninsula

SEQUIM — Hal Gaskell, a father, songwriter, traveler, tree planter and musician known to many as Howly Slim, died Easter Sunday at the home of his friend Sally Wikstrom.

His daughter and son, Viola and Hank Gaskell, were with him, as were his beloved dog Mele and his dear friend Carol Long.

The cause was cancer, Viola said; Gaskell was 73.

Howly Slim was a lean, tan, bearded man with a Martin guitar and a hat he put out for tips.

At pubs, cafes, art galleries, community festivals, senior centers and farmers markets across the Olympic Peninsula, he played the songs of Marty Robbins, Sam Cooke and Pete Seeger — and he offered his own compositions about life and love.

“He wrote hundreds of songs, and had tremendous respect for the talented musicians he played with in Port Townsend and Sequim,” Viola, a journalist, wrote in a tribute to her father.

These artists include Sandy Summers of Sequim, Jon Parry of Port Townsend and the bassist known as Raindance Kid.

Last November, when Slim’s illness was worsening, his friend Sonny Flores urged him to come to his recording studio in Port Townsend.

“I wanted to get his music down. It’s so original,” Flores said.

“His writing style was like he was speaking to a friend. He wrote about real-life stuff,” including a woman he loved and missed, and a memory of traveling in Mexico. A cowboy troubadour, “Howly really sang the truth,” Flores added.

Flores also remembered watching Slim play guitar and sing in all kinds of settings, no song sheet in front of him, “all from memory.”

Viola noted that her father contributed a number of original songs to Tidepools, Peninsula College’s arts magazine. His tune “Boomerang” won first place in the songwriting category in 2016; in the music category, “Chicken Hawk” placed second the following year. In 2019 he took home first and second with his tracks “Fake News” and “Sweet Memory.”

In February 2014, Slim and his friend Tim Wheeler of Sequim helped put together the Pete Seeger Hootenanny, a sing-along in honor of the musician and activist who had died, at age 94, the previous month.

The event was held at the Olympic Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall in Agnew, not far from where Slim lived at the time.

Born in Los Angeles, Slim later moved to Sacramento, Calif., and then, after graduating high school in 1966, to the Olympic Peninsula. He found work in the woods: planting trees across Oregon, Idaho and Washington state, and some years later started his own business.

“Hal called sliding down clearcut mountain edges with seedlings in his belt and a pick in his hand ‘a labor of love,’” Viola said, “and took great pride in the work he did reforesting the land.”

She added that her dad made friends for life in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest.

These included Port Townsend author Finn Wilcox, planters Kevin Ames and Jim Tordoff, and a guy who called himself Pineapple. As Hal Gaskell, Slim later wrote a short story about Pineapple for the anthology “Working the Woods, Working the Sea.”

During his tree-planting era, Slim gave a woman named Julianne Sutton a job, and within a year they were living in a “driftwood shack on the beach” just outside Port Townsend, Viola remembers her father saying.

“They got cinnamon rolls every morning at the old cafe so they could warm up and use the bathrooms. Five years later they moved to Maui,” where they raised Viola and Hank, until Slim moved back to the Peninsula in 2004.

Wheeler, who used to take walks with Slim and Wikstrom along the Dungeness River, remembers him as a gentle soul.

“He had very humane political views,” Wheeler said. Slim earned a meager livelihood from his music — “he lived from one gig to the next” — so he knew hardship.

He was always generous with his music, both Wheeler and artist Jeff Tocher of Port Angeles recalled.

“Howly just would put a smile on your face, whether he was singing a song or shooting the breeze,” said Tocher, who as manager of the Landing Art Gallery in Port Angeles brought Slim in to play on Second Saturday art walks.

“He dedicated his life to writing songs and entertaining people. I remember one slow evening, asking him if it was tough to play without a crowd,” Tocher added.

He recalls Slim answering: “I made a couple new friends tonight and the fried chicken is delicious. I will play as long as you wish.”

Viola added that people on the Peninsula might remember her dad playing his music “in a button-up shirt, subdued cowboy or Hawaiian style,” at places like Salty Girls in Sequim or at the Sequim Lavender Weekend.

“I will always remember him,” she said, “on the beach in Hawai’i, coaching my brother into a professional surfing career, or pretending I had superhuman strength as I pushed him into the shorebreak at Hamoa, our favorite beach.”

Viola said her family plans an intimate celebration of her dad’s life at their home in Hana, Maui in the coming weeks, and another gathering in Agnew or Port Townsend in June or July. She’d like both to be musical.

Anyone who wants to be contacted about the celebration of life, once the date and place are set, is asked to email [email protected]

Her father’s legacy, Viola said, is in the evergreens he planted, his one-of-a-kind laugh and the songs he wrote and sang.

Flores agreed. In one of the tracks Slim recorded last fall, he sings about freedom.

“Last night I dreamt I did fly

Up over mountains and rivers …

Last night I dreamt I did fly

Up over boundaries and borders

Way on up past the sky

Way on up past the sky.”


Jefferson County Senior Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or durbanidelapaz

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