'Slim' Forsythe marks a decade singing like Hank Williams in Lawrenceville
Forsaking the law for the creative life, and living above the bar at Nied's
January 11, 2014 12:15 AM
The Slim Forsythe Quartet performs classic country, mountain gospel and western swing at Nied’s Hotel in Lawrenceville.
Julia Rendleman/Post-Gazette photo
Kevin Clark “Slim” Forsythe takes a break from performing Nov. 15 at Nied’s Hotel in Lawrenceville, where he lives upstairs. The hallway to his room is decorated with mementos of his singing career. His law school diploma, from the University of Pittsburgh in 1984, is hung on the wall in the same unceremonious fashion.
“Slim” Forsythe cleans the snow off his school bus before dawn Dec. 17. To pay the bills, Mr. Forsythe works as a school bus driver. Every morning and every evening, he walks across the 62nd Street Bridge to Etna, where he picks up his bus.
By Robert Zullo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
He has been told it's the "honeymoon suite."
That said, there's not a lot of romance to Kevin Clark "Slim" Forsythe's roughly 12- by 20-foot room on the third floor of Nied's Hotel in Lawrenceville. It's accessed by a stairway featuring severely listing steps that double as the "Slim Forsythe Museum," decorated with old posters, his law degree from Pitt, photos and other memorabilia.
Inside the room, there's a bed, a new pair of sneakers to go with his cowboy boots, a clothes rack for his beautifully embroidered Western shirts and two acoustic guitars: a Fender named Mary for his stepmother and a solid mahogany Martin named for his mother, Betty, who died when he was 4.
Gone Country: Becoming Slim Forsythe
After 20 years as a City Hall attorney, Kevin Forsythe quit his job to pursue his dream being a musician. Today, he goes by "Slim" and lives above a bar -- his dream come true. (Video by Julia Rendleman; 1/11/2014)
And there's nowhere he'd rather be.
"I thank the good Lord for every day of health and strength I've been given, for landing in such a wonderful place as Nied's," said Mr. Forsythe, a former lawyer and rock band manager who worked in Pittsburgh city government for nearly two decades. In 2008, he moved into Nied's, known for its famous fish sandwich, and now, for Mr. Forsythe's Hank Williams Sr. tribute act.
Mr. Forsythe will celebrate his 58th birthday with a performance at 7 tonight at the hotel on Butler Street, where he will be joined by the Stillhouse Pickers and The Turpentiners. But the spotlight will be on Slim and his guitar-slinging alter ego that has slowly but surely taken over his life.
"When it first started out, it was kind of an act," he said. Mr. Forsythe said he had just finished writing "The Three Boys," a novel set in his hometown of Bradford that he considered the sequel to Fyodor Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov."
The next thing to do seemed clear as day: Start an all-female Hank Williams tribute band, with himself in the starring role as the lanky, legendary country-western hell-raiser.
"I always wanted to be a singer in a band," said Mr. Forsythe, who managed the Pittsburgh rock group A.T.S. and really began to explore Mr. Williams' catalog with the guidance of A.T.S. guitarist Evan Knauer.
"I just wanted to do Hank Williams and be a good-time party band," said Mr. Forsythe, never thinking "Slim" would start writing his own tunes one day. "On my best night, I am a mediocre rhythm guitar player. I don't consider myself a musician. I consider myself an entertainer."
Though it seems obvious, given Mr. Forsythe's lean build, his nickname actually comes from stories his father, Frank, a Pittsburgh nightclub singer, told him about sharing the stage with Hoyt "Slim" Bryant and His Wildcats, a pre-eminent Pittsburgh country act of the 1940s and 1950s.
Frank Forsythe also was one of several models for a Duquesne beer ad campaign, and now the son of the "Prince of Pilsener" can see his father's face reflected in the Duquesne tap behind the bar at Nied's.
"He took me in like a stray dog," he said of owner Jim Nied. Mr. Forsythe has been married three times and has two adult sons. For a time, he lived with his second ex-wife -- still a close friend, he says -- to stay close to one of his sons, then 12. When his son left for college six years ago, he had to start looking for a place to hang his hat, which in this case is a Western-style Dorfman Pacific.
"The deal was, when he left, I had to leave," Mr. Forsythe said. "I had always had this idea of living above a bar."
His search for a new home led him to a third-floor room at Nied's, where Slim had become a familiar face for Mr. Nied, the third-generation owner of the family restaurant and bar, which has been on Butler Street since 1941.
"My wife's very particular about who I let up there," said Mr. Nied, who lives on the second floor. "Slim has enriched our lives here."
Mr. Forsythe, who had been working construction, got a job driving a school bus for A-1 Transit, which at the time had a lot just across Butler Street from the hotel.
"It's a wonderful job if the kids are behaving," he said. "For the most part I've had real good kids."
With its resident singing cowboy, Nied's Hotel has become a place where old, working-class Lawrenceville and its hip modern incarnation meld, said Lauren Byrne, executive director of Lawrenceville United, a neighborhood nonprofit.
"He's sort of just become part of the character of the neighborhood," Ms. Byrne said, adding that Mr. Forsythe and Nied's are always the first to help at various neighborhood events.
"I think people are drawn to Lawrenceville because of its unique character, and Slim and Nied's are part of that," she said.
"Everyone feels comfortable there."
Robert Zullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3909.
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