When Arlo Guthrie performs, there's always some music involved -- but his act is 100 percent storytelling.
His father, iconic folksinger Woody Guthrie, used his music throughout the 1930s, '40s and '50s to attack injustice and share stories about the plight of poor Americans. Arlo has made that theme a family legacy, starting with "Alice's Restaurant Massacree," his legendary introduction to the music and social justice world in the late-'60s, through today with his "Alice's Restaurant Tour."
The show is coming to Albany and The Egg on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Joining Guthrie onstage will be his son, Abe, (keyboards, vocals) and longtime collaborators Terry Hall (drums), Steve Ide (guitar, vocals) and Carol Ide (vocals, percussion). Guthrie's daughter, Sarah Lee Guthrie, will open the show.
Last week, Guthrie found time in his busy schedule to respond to a short list of questions emailed to him by The Gazette. Here is the conversation:
Q: What did you think of the 1976 move "Bound for Glory" with David Carradine that told the story of Woody Guthrie's early days as a vagabond folksinger?
A: Personally, I did not think the movie was very good, and David Carradine was not the best choice for the character. The best part for me was the scene of the dust blowing, as it was probably the first time anyone could see that kind of disaster in color.
Q: How did you happen to record the "City of New Orleans" in 1972, your biggest billboard hit and a song you did not write?
A: I met the songwriter, Steve Goodman somewhere back in around 1970 when I was playing in Chicago. He gave me the lyrics and a tape of the song. Eventually, we recorded it in Los Angeles for an album we were doing at the time. A radio station in the Atlanta area began playing it on the radio, directly from the album. At that time, if a company had hopes for a song to get air play, they made a single. But they didn’t believe the song was top-40 material. So, Warner Bros. was taken by surprise when other stations picked it up and added it to their rotation. Eventually, it was released as a single, but by that time the radio stations had moved on to other stuff.
Q: You were only 22 when you filmed the movie "Alice's Restaurant." What do you remember about the whole process and did you enjoy the final product?
A: I can’t remember a lot, as it was so long ago. But I was excited about everything happening at the time. I was 22 when the movie came out in 1969, but I didn’t really like the film at the time. In fact, it took many, many years for me to get in front of a camera again. It was kind of like when you hear or see yourself for the first time -- you see yourself as others see you. I remember feeling very uncomfortable with all that. Even after all these years, I can’t sit through the entire movie.
Q: Your daughter, Sarah Lee, is performing with you. What's it like to have children who love their music as much as their father and grandfather?
A: I have my son, Abe, and daughter, Sarah Lee, on the road with me now. They’re just terrific to work with. And Abe’s son, Krishna, is with us too, helping out with the lights, etc. Krish is pretty awesome on his own as a performer as well, and he’ll get back to that soon. But for now it’s great having a few generations of us on the road.
Q: How often do you tour these days? Does it get old?
A: Over the past few years, we’ve averaged about 80 shows a year, some as high as 100, others down into the 70s. The shows never get old, but the traveling from place to place can get weary.
Q: What really ticks you off these days?
A: LOUSY COFFEE.
Q: Could you talk a little about your father and Pete Seeger, and their musical legacy?
A: Both my dad and Pete Seeger believed that common songs from everyday people were important. If you really want to know about people, you can learn a lot from their music and songs. And the more you know about others, the more you discover about yourself and your people. There’s a power in people singing their own song together. I love those kinds of songs! I also love the history and traditions that come through the songs we all know. Songs are the soundtrack of our lives. It has nothing to do with how well a song is constructed, or anything like that. Most people remember the songs that were playing the day they fell in love, or their dog died, or their kid was born … or their partner took off, the truck crashed. That music and those songs become part of the events. And hearing them can trigger those thoughts decades after they happened. That’s why people still come to the gigs and enjoy being together. We get to hope and dream together, and renew it all.
WHAT: 'Alice's Restaurant Tour'
WHERE: The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
HOW MUCH: $59.50-$39.50
MORE INFO: www.theegg.org, or call (518) 473-4168