Arlo’s family tradition
Arlo Guthrie is part of a grand American folk tradition. He told The Scene his music isn't about protest - it's about people.
ARLO'S on a world tour dubbed Here Comes the Kid, in honour of the centenary of his father, legendary folksinger and social justice activist Woody Guthrie.
Born in 1947 in New York, Arlo grew up in the presence of such family friends as Leadbelly, Brownee McGee, and Pete Seeger, digesting the folk traditions that he champions to this day.
"The tour began on Dad's birthday last July. I've got my daughter and her husband (Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion) supporting me. I had my entire family onstage through the US and Canada, but it's impossible to bring all 16 of them out here, so this is a boiled down situation."
There's been no let-up in Arlo's career since his heyday in the '60s with such iconoclastic underground hits as Alice's Restaurant, which made him one of the pin-up boys of the anti-Vietnam war movement. His website has some 2118 daily hits and Arlo, a veteran of TV and film, has been touring all his life.
In the '80s he formed his own record company, Rising Sons Records, testament to his belief in taking charge.
"No one in their right minds in the 30s or 40s would conceive of putting their own records out - the ability to do it yourself is a significant change. It's been a trial and error process of people taking charge of their own music."
Considering his heritage, this ethic is unsurprising, but Arlo says folk music isn't necessarily about protest - it's about people.
"Guys like Leadbelly and Pete Seeger grew up in a world before recorded music. If you were getting married or hung or buried, those people were there to make music for all the occasions of life. That's the guys I grew up listening to. I admire those musicians that you don't read about in magazines or see on the TV, but who deserve credit for keeping the music going. God bless 'em.
"I never thought of myself as a professional protestor. I'm not looking for trouble - but I'm not shying away from it either. That's the kind of music my father wrote. He wasn't poking around for trouble either; he was a union guy interested in people of all persuasions and ideas and what they had in common."
Nevertheless, as in Woody's time, Arlo reckons there are always people around who think that people helping each other out isn't such a good idea.
"It's the same old battle between individuals and the corporate interests of the world - greed versus those getting through. There are companies that wanna poison your food for a profit."
But Arlo's an optimist who believes that the next generation will carry on his legacy.
"As kids grow up they don't always know what to do about what's going on. I'm older now and able to tell 'em it's not about the technique, it's passing on the feeling that counts."
As a seasoned storyteller he has his fair share of wisdom to pass on.
"A good story that makes you smile is like food. In an otherwise crazy world, someone who reminds you there's something worth laughing at is an important person.
"Find friends where you can and write about the things that make people feel good about who they are."
Arlo Guthrie plays the Star Court Theatre, Lismore, this Sunday, March 3, with Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion supporting.
Tickets are $66 from starcourttheatre .com.au/events and the show starts at 7.30pm.