Thu 10 Aug 2006

Arlo Guthrie

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. His mother was 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 McGee, all of whom were significant influences on Arlo's musical career.

Arlo gave his first public performance at age 13 and quickly became involved in the music that was shaping the world during the 1960s. Arlo practically lived in the most famous venues of the Folk Boom era. In New York City he hung out at Gerdes Folk City, The Gaslight and The Bitter End. In Boston it was Club 4 and in Philadelphia he made places like The 2nd Fret and The Main Point his home.

Arlo witnessed the transition from an earlier generation of ballad singers like Richard Dyer-Bennet and blues-men like Mississippi John Hurt, to a new era of singer-song writers such as Bob Dylan, Jim Croce, Joan Baez, and Phil Ochs. He grooved with the beat poets like Allen Ginsburg and Lord Buckley, and picked with players like Bill Monroe and Doc Watson. He learned something from everyone and developed his own style, becoming a distinctive, expressive voice in a crowded community of singer-songwriters and political-social commentators.

Arlo Guthrie's career exploded in 1967 with the release of his album, Alice's Restaurant, whose title song premiered at the Newport Folk Festival and helped foster a new commitment to social consciousness and activism among the '60s generation. Arlo went on to star in the 1969 Hollywood film version of Alice's Restaurant, directed by Arthur Penn.

Though Arlo’s definitive rendition of Steve Goodman's City of New Orleans may have been his only hit song in the traditional sense, he has never the less achieved international stature. The 18 minute Alice's Restaurant, while too long for radio airplay, has become an American classic. The song Coming into Los Angeles, though banned from many radio stations when first released, had become a favorite by the time he played it at the 1969 Woodstock Festival and it remains a favorite today.

Over the last four decades Arlo has toured throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Australia winning a broad and dedicated following. In addition to being an accomplished musician — playing the piano, six and twelve-string guitar, harmonica and a dozen other instruments — Arlo is a natural-born storyteller whose hilarious tales and anecdotes are woven seamlessly into his performances.

Not to be confined to the world of folk and rock, Arlo created An American Scrapbook, a program of symphonic arrangements of his own songs and other American classics. Between 1998 and 2004 Arlo performed over 40 concerts with 27 different symphony orchestras throughout the US. The show at Boston's Symphony Hall, conducted by Keith Lockhart, was recorded and aired on PBS' Evening at the Pops. In 2001, the Fourth of July celebration with the Pops was broadcast live by A&E and attracted an audience of over 750,000.

Arlo and his family rode the Amtrak City of New Orleans train in December 2006, from Chicago to New Orleans, stopping along the way to perform benefit concerts. Arlo Guthrie & Friends, Ridin' on the City of New Orleans (Benefiting Victims of Katrina) has raised over $140,000 and contributions are still coming in. Please go to to see how you can help New Orleans rebuild its music scene.

Today Arlo spends nearly ten months of the year on the road. He is usually accompanied by his son Abe, who has shared the stage with his father for over 20 years, playing keyboards and providing additional vocals. On special occasions, his daughter Sarah Lee and her husband Johnny Irion contribute acoustic guitar and supporting vocals.

In 1983, alongside his thriving performing career, Arlo launched his own record label, Rising Son Records which holds his complete catalogue. Over the years, the RSR catalogue has grown to include works by Abe's band, Xavier, Sarah Lee's self-titled debut album, Johnny Irion's recording, Unity Lodge, and Sarah Lee and Johnny’s joint projects, Entirely Live and Exploration. Arlo is also heard alongside the voice of his father, Woody Guthrie, on the 1997 re-release of This Land is Your Land. The album won several awards and a Grammy nomination for Best Musical Album for Children.

Rising Son Records has not limited itself strictly to members of the Guthrie family. Arlo and Hans Theessink co-produced Banjoman as a tribute to their late friend Derroll Adams, enlisting the help of Donovan, Dolly Parton, Billy Connelly, Ramblin' Jack Elliott and others. In addition to these projects, Arlo has recorded an album of his orchestrated material and released a live album, recorded in June 2004 in Sydney, Australia.

Guthrie’s undertakings include community projects as well as artistic pursuits. In 1991, Arlo purchased the old Trinity Church — the very location where events took place on Thanksgiving 1965 that inspired Arlo to write the song Alice's Restaurant. The church is home to The Guthrie Center, named for his parents, and The Guthrie Foundation.

The Guthrie Center is a not-for-profit interfaith church foundation dedicated to providing a wide range of local and international services. Programs include everything from providing HIV/AIDS services to baking cookies with a local service organization, from an HD walk-a-thon to raise awareness and money for a cure for Huntington's Disease, to simply offering a place to meditate. The Guthrie Foundation is a separate not-for-profit educational organization that addresses issues such as the environment, health care, cultural preservation and educational exchange.