“Have you seen Jim Valley’s garden? You really need to see his garden.”
This wasn’t the first time I’d heard Jim Valley’s name. I was standing at a party in Seattle, in a gathering of people who’d just seen “Her Aim is True,” an independent film about former Gig Harbor resident and renowned rock photographer Jini Dellaccio. In the film, several members of the local bands she’d photographed in the 1960s talked about her singular talent and the magic way she had of working with the sometimes rough-around-the-edges band members who showed up on her doorstep.
Jim Valley was one of those interviewed for the film. Valley first met Dellaccio when he was singing with a group called Don & the Goodtimes, and their bond was instantaneous.
“She was what all the flower children wanted to be. She was beautiful, gentle and peaceful,” Valley told me later. “And she brought that out when she photographed you.”
Valley went on to sing with Paul Revere & the Raiders, and there are many people locally who still remember him as “Harpo,” a nickname given to him by his bandmates.
After Valley left the Raiders, he drifted for a while, playing in other bands and even working for the railroad for a time. But in 1980, he found himself in Gig Harbor and even living for a short while with Dellaccio and her husband, Carl.
“She’s the reason I’m here,” Valley told me. It was Dellaccio who introduced Valley to Dick Russell, who in turn invited Valley out to the Cromwell area in Gig Harbor where he would find the property he has so lovingly tended and transformed for the past three decades.
And it was Dellaccio’s husband, Carl, who would give Valley the job teaching music in the Tacoma Public Schools that eventually became the genesis for “Rainbow Planet.” Fast forward 30-plus years, and Valley has entertained literally thousands of children (and their parents and teachers) across the globe.
When I first went to interview Jim Valley at his home in Cromwell, I could see immediately what the challenge would be for me as a writer. Soft-spoken, given to frequent smiles, and with wide-ranging interests, Valley seems almost instantly like your new best friend, someone you’d like to sit down and talk to for a few hours.
Which we did. Twice. We talked about books, philosophy, the personal journeys that had brought us each to Gig Harbor and, of course, the connection through Jini Dellaccio that crossed our paths. Some of it made good interview notes, some of it didn’t.
In the end, I had to go back three times to get the information I needed to write the article. In that time period, Dellaccio, whom Valley considered a second mom, died at the age of 97. Valley was with her in the days before she died, singing to her and holding her hand.
A week after she died, he sent me a song he’d written for her years ago and these words: “It is such a tender morning … Jini is everywhere … the sky … the beautiful clouds … her seagull perched on the boat house below … the zinnias smiling…”
Gardens like Jim Valley’s have the power to heal the heart and inspire the soul, and I like to envision him walking through the tranquil beauty of his gardens, remembering his friend Jini.