Getting to know the man behind ‘This is Slim Forsythe’

Rege Behe – Trib Live – Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Kevin “Slim” Forsythe’s resume includes stints as an oil field roustabout, apartment building concierge and typewriter cleaner. He’s published four novels and has a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh.

But his musical career didn’t take off until he had a dual awakening. About 12 years ago, the Lawrenceville resident renewed his Christian faith and his interest in old-time country music.

The result has been a spiritual and professional rebirth for Forsythe, 60, who lives at Nied’s Hotel, the Lawrenceville establishment famous for its fish sandwiches and live music.

A video, “Live From Nied’s Hotel,” filmed and produced for WQED-TV, earned a Mid-Atlantic Emmy for Arts Program nomination for Forsythe and producer and director Dino DiStefano.

Forsythe’s new album, “This is Slim Forsythe,” is available now via Get Hip Records, which will host a release party at its Pittsburgh’s North Side location on July 1.

Question: How did you get into country music?

Answer: It’s what I’m all about now, but I came to it in the middle of my life. Now, of course, growing up in the second half of the 20th century, you’re going to get some of that by osmosis: “Jambalaya,” “Hey Good Lookin’,” … It was in the air but I didn’t get hooked on it until the early 1990s. The Slim thing came along in 2004, 2005. My first gig as Slim Forsythe ­­— and I say this with classic understatement — we were Slim Forsythe and the Parklane Drifters, and I billed it as “One of Steeltown’s Finest Three-Quarter Female Hank Williams Tribute Bands.” And it was true.

Q: What was it about country music that appealed to you?

A: All I can say that the stuff that really grabbed me was some of the lesser-known works, like the old Hank (Williams) and Audrey Mae Sheppard gospel duets like “Dear Brother,” “Jesus Remembered Me,” “Lost on the River.” That stuff just grabbed me and I started learning every Hank Williams song I could.

Q: The new album is just vocals and guitar, and features tributes to your musical influences including “Mother Queen of My Heart” by Slim Bryant and Jimmie Rodgers, and Roy Acuff’s “Wreck on the Highway.” Can you talk about why you decided to record these tracks?

A: There are five songs where I pay tribute to my heroes. … I do an old song from the 1800s, “Put My Little Shoes Away,” which came into the bluegrass repertoire of the 20th century through Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers. That’s side one. On side two I follow in that tradition with my own original stuff. Including new words to “I’ve Been Everywhere” (by Johnny Cash). It’s now “Slim’s Been Everywhere.” …. It’s just me and my guitar, and it’s 100 percent live.

Q: The discovery of this music also led to a spiritual rebirth for you. How did country music connect with your faith?

A: I’ve been a Christian since I was a boy, but I do have to say finding this Slim thing and classic country music was a big part of getting me back to my faith, and on a better path. I had kind of lost my way for a decade or so, and I really gotta say it was music of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash and the Stanley Brothers that helped me find my way back. I don’t think I ever lost my faith, but I did misplace it for a while.

Q: Does your faith come out in your performances?

A: There’s a vibe to the material, it just amazing to see what happens when you throw a gospel song into the mix. I don’t do a lot of straight church work. Once in a while I do and that’s all fine. But I’m the guy that’s singing the gospel song at one a.m. in the saloon the night before. It just seems to be my path.

Q: This is a true solo album, recorded with the masterful Gregg Kostelich at Get Hip. But you’re also known for having some great musicians in your bands.

A: The focus is off that now because this record is just me and Betty, my trusted guitar. But I’ve been very lucky the past 13 years to do shows with Pete Freeman on pedal steel guitar, Tricky Mannion on fiddle. My steady bass player is Candy Mountain (Erin Snyder) who is just a fabulously talented musician. I’ve collaborated with Evan Knauer (of A.T.S.) who has played with me through the years in various iterations. On my best night I am a mediocre rhythm guitarist, but I’ve found a way to be surrounded by these fabulously talented musicians.

The CD release party for “This is Slim Forsythe” is July 1 at Get Hip Records Warehouse, 1800 Preble Ave., Pittsburgh’s North Side. Details: 412-231-4766, gethip.com.

SHOWS OF NOTE

WYEP Summer Music Festival, featuring Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, June 24, Schenley Plaza, Oakland

The WYEP Summer Music Festival is now in its 20th year, having hosted artists including Jason Isbell, Sam Roberts, Sinead O’Connor, .moe and Freedy Johnston.

This year’s lineup features Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, the Texas-based funk, soul and blues outfit known for its dynamic live shows. Also on the bill: The Marcus King Band, The Buckle Downs, Night Frog, The Fortunates, Tupelo & Jeremy. 412-381-9131, wyep.org.Allegheny County Summer Music Series featuring Orkestra Mendoza, with Beauty Slap, June 25, Hartwood Acres

There’s no easy description of Orkestra Mendoza’s sound, although its Facebook page describes the music as “mambo and cumbia-indie/electronic.” That presumes a familiarity with four somewhat disparate genres of music, so we’ll make it simple: the music is exotic, danceable and infectious, with flourishes of horns and exotic guitars not heard often in these parts. alleghenycounty.us/special-events/summer-concert-series.aspx

Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.