Interview with Arlo Guthrie

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arlo guthrie
Arlo Guthrie

Interview and Photos by Scott Preston

Arlo Guthrie was born with a guitar in one hand and a harmonica in the other, in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York in 1947. He is the eldest son of America’s most beloved singer/writer/philosopher Woody Guthrie and Marjorie Mazia Guthrie, a professional dancer with the Martha Graham Company and founder of The Committee to Combat Huntington’s Disease.

He grew up surrounded by dancers and musicians: Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert, Fred Hellerman and Lee Hays (The Weavers), Leadbelly, Cisco Houston, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, all of whom were significant influences on Arlo’s musical career. Guthrie gave his first public performance at age 13 and quickly became involved in the music that was shaping the world during the 1960s.

Over the last four decades Guthrie has toured throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia winning a wide, popular following. In addition to his accomplishments as a musician, playing the piano, six and twelve-string guitar, harmonica and a dozen other instruments, Arlo is a natural-born storyteller, whose tales and anecdotes figure prominently in his performances. (source – arlo.net)

Cincy Groove: Are you working on any new projects?

Arlo Guthrie: We will be recording a new project in June/July of new material and there’s this record we recorded some years ago that we never had a chance to actually mix. We have been working on it for many years. The record I did was of my dad’s songs (Woody Guthrie) with The Dillards. I just love those guys and I thought they were way ahead of their time back in the 60’s and 70’s. They were doing stuff long before The Eagles and other bands like that. So finally I said before we get too old here lets get together, so I went to Branson, Missouri and made a record with them. We just sat down, sat around the microphone and played the songs. No studio magic, nothing like that. That record was scheduled to come out when there was a postage stamp that was coming out of my dad. The name of the record was called “32 Cents”. At this point its called “32 Cents, Postage Due”. So thats finally done and I think we are just working on some artwork. It will be coming out ASAP, because we don’t want it to conflict with the record of new songs that will be coming out later this year.

Cincy Groove: What brought about you touring with different symphony orchestras?

Arlo Guthrie: Most of the symphony shows we have done over the years, I think I have played with about 40 at this point, I started doing it a few years back. Every year we try to do a few shows with an orchestra. We recorded a number of those shows. Somehow something always got screwed up. Finally in June of 2006 we started working with the University of Kentucky, with their student orchestra. They played so well, we had a live concert and recorded it. We just happened to have one of those great nights. That night was that one in a thousand nights where everything turned out perfect. That recording came out in July of 2007.

Cincy Groove: What is the Guthrie Foundation all about?

Arlo Guthrie: There’s a whole lot that goes on there, but its a pretty small operation. The foundation is based in the old church that I wrote Alice’s Restaurant in and where we filmed the movie back in 1968. It came up for sale about 15 years ago. Wee bought it and began a number of not for profit organizations. There is a free lunch once a week at the church. There are yoga classes and music events during the summer. There are some hoot an nannies that take place on Thursdays in the small part of the church that is heated. Puppet shows go on all summer for the kids. Those are the kinds of things that go on there.

I was talking to Pete Seeger about a week ago, and he said that any organization that tries to get really big to do something, is at risk of being stopped by bigger entities. There’s no government or corporations that can stop the millions of people doing little things everywhere. So if there is going to be hope for the world its going to be from what people are doing on the local level, on their own without waiting to see who the president is going to be or what the policy is. I think Pete is right.

We see it over and over again, you get sucked into believing that you need a bigger more important more impressive organization to be something to say something or to affect policy. Its really just the opposite. You have to believe in yourself and go out and do something yourself. If enough people do that it will change the policy more surely and more quickly than the years it takes to build a national organization. When you get hundreds or thousands of people who are doing those small things, they share information and interests with each other. It builds on itself organically. You don’t have to structure it or think it through. You don’t have to finance it or plan it through. Just go ahead and do it.

Cincy Groove: What was your Woodstock experience like?

Arlo Guthrie: That was a pretty big experience, mostly I remember standing backstage and somebody yelling “Arlo you have to get up there and play because Richie has been up there for days” (laughing). Somebody has to relive him. Because they couldn’t get the bands in, so those of us who were actually there got to spend a lot of time on stage until they could find somebody else. Richie Havens has been an old buddy of mine for going on 40 years now. We are actually hoping in 2009 to get together with some of the Woodstock veterans and maybe do some shows together. I think it would be a lot of fun.

Cincy Groove: Are you going to be playing with any members of your family?

Arlo Guthrie: I’m going to be doing a few shows this summer with my son Abe and grandson Krishna, so that will be a lot of fun. We did a family tour about a year ago and had so much fun doing that. I think we are going to do a family reunion tour in 2009/2010.

Cincy Groove: I had a chance to see you perform with Abe and Sarah Lee at Spring hookahville 2000. That was a lot of of fun to see that.

Arlo Guthrie: Now their kids are getting old enough to be playing themselves. Sarah Lee’s daughter Olivia has been playing with her and she is only 5. She grabs the mic like a pro at this point. Krishna (Abe’s son) is 16 now and what a picker , he can really play. In the next few years my grandkids are going to start getting through high school and when they do look out world. They aren’t looking to be professional, they are just looking to play. If they are make it professionally thats fine. Its the love of the music that counts.

Cincy Groove: Was there a defining moment that led you to create your own record label, Rising Sun Records?

Arlo Guthrie: There was, we were making a record with Warner Bros at the time. I had been with them for 15 years. My producer at Warners was also the president of the company. His name was Lenny Warnker. One day we were working on a record and they said you know what? we don’t like it but we will put it out. I said “Your not doing me any favors, look at what you did with the ones you did like.” I said why don’t we just part company, and go our own ways because they said they didn’t know how to market folk music anymore. So I got that record we were working on and started the company. Within a few years I had gotten back the catalog of my songs from Warner Bros, they were very gracious. We had the catalog so now we could make records without anyone looking over our shoulders. I think the best records we have made have been in the last 15 years.

Upcoming Arlo Guthrie tour dates:
for complete show details visit arlo.net
04-24-2008 Flagstaff, AZ, USA The Orpheum Theater
04-25-2008 Scottsdale, AZ, USA The Scottsdale Center for the Arts
04-26-2008 Tucson, AZ, USA The Fox Theater
05-01-2008 Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA EPCOT
05-02-2008 Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA EPCOT
05-03-2008 Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA EPCOT
05-08-2008 Hartford, CT, USA The Lincoln Theater
05-09-2008 Princeton, NJ, USA The McCarter Theater
05-10-2008 Patchogue, NY, USA The Patchogue Theater
05-15-2008 Springfield, IL, USA Sangamon Auditorium
05-16-2008 Bloomington, IL, USA The Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts
05-17-2008 Dowagiac, MI, USA The Dogwood Festival
05-29-2008 Melbourne, *, Australia The National Theater
05-30-2008 Adelaide, *, Australia The Norwood Theater
05-31-2008 Perth, *, Australia The Octagon Theater
06-03-2008 Katoomba, *, Australia The Clarendon Hotel
06-04-2008 Katoomba, *, Australia The Clarendon Hotel
06-06-2008 Lismore, *, Australia Lismore Workers Club
06-08-2008 Brisbane, *, Australia Judith Wright Centre
06-12-2008 Wollongong, *, Australia Bruce Gordon Theater
06-13-2008 Canberra, *, Australia Southern Cross Club
06-14-2008 Sydney, *, Australia The Seymour Centre
06-19-2008 Telluride, CO, USA Telluride Bluegrass Festival
07-04-2008 Housatonic, MA, USA The Guthrie Center
07-05-2008 Housatonic, MA, USA The Guthrie Center
07-06-2008 Housatonic, MA, USA The Guthrie Center
08-01-2008 Bayfield, WI, USA Big Top Chatauqua
08-03-2008 Empire, MI, USA The Dunegrass Festival
08-09-2008 Akron, OH, USA Lock 3 Live
08-10-2008 Columbus, OH, USA Lifestyle Communities Pavilion
08-22-2008 Bridgeport, CT, USA Beardsley Zoo – Summer Concert Series
08-23-2008 Lowell, MA, USA Boarding House Park
08-24-2008 Rockport, ME, USA Bay Chambers Music Series