Born Arlo Davy Guthrie on July 10, 1947, in New York, NY; son of Woody (a folksinger) and Marjorie Mazia (a dancer; maiden name, Greenblatt) Guthrie; married Jacklyn Hyde, October 9, 1969; children: Abraham, Cathyalicia, Annie Hays, Sarah Lee. Education: Attended Rocky Mountain College, Billings, MT. Addresses: Agent--c/o Harold Leventhal Management Co., 250 West 57th St., Ste. 1304, New York, NY 10019. Record company--Rising Son Records, 10741 US Highway 1, Sebastian, FL 32958, website: http://www.risingsonrecords.com.
In November of 1965, Arlo Guthrie and a group of friends, after finding that the local trash facility in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, was closed, were arrested for dumping garbage onto private property. Two years later, Guthrie, son of legendary American folk singer Woody Guthrie, described the incident in "Alice's Restaurant," a rambling eighteen-minute "talking blues" song which related his arrest, conviction, and later denial by the U.S. draft board for military service. The song, which began as a underground hit and eventually sold over $1 million worth of records, catapulted the 20-year-old singer to instant fame and launched his own career as a folk artist.
"Symbolic of the clash between traditional values and the rebellious hippie culture," according to Janet Enright in Maclean's, the song became an anthem for the protest movements of the 1960s, and was the basis for the 1969 hit movie, Alice's Restaurant, which also starred Guthrie. Based on 95 percent fact, according to Guthrie, the song "Alice's Restaurant" drew a connection between his littering misdemeanor and his later being turned down for service in the U.S. Army. "Guthrie's musical conclusion," as Enright explains: "Was he not moral enough to join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after bein' a litterbug?" A contributor to the New Yorker described the song as "funny, personal, deft, surprising, and wild."
That Arlo Guthrie would become a folk artist was no surprise. The Guthrie house was always full of music, and Arlo grew up surrounded by the musical influences of not only his famous father, but frequent music guests such as Cisco Houston, Bob Dylan, and Leadbelly. He was playing harmonica by the age of three, and by six had learned the fundamentals of the guitar. He naturally turned to music as a career. As he told Kristin Baggelaar and Donald Milton in Folk Music: More Than A Song, after graduating from high school he realized he "really couldn't do anything else" and "decided to continue playing music for the fun of it." Arlo did attend college briefly, but dropped out to perform in small coffeehouses and clubs around the country, particularly along the East Coast.
"Alice's Restaurant" first became popular on New York City radio station WBAI, where Guthrie performed it in the spring of 1967. The radio station was swamped with listener-requests for the song, and it soon caught on with other disc jockeys. The summer of the same year, Guthrie performed the rambling song at the Newport Folk Festival, and in the fall his hit album, Arlo Guthrie, was released. Guthrie commented to Baggelaar and Milton on the effect of the recording on his exposure as a folk artist: "I didn't change my style very much, but it sure made it possible to work a lot! It also made it possible to entertain a whole new audience, normally middle-of-the-road or country & western.... We started to generate interest among a broader range of folks."
Over the next decade Guthrie matured as an artist, displaying what Debra Rae Cohen in Rolling Stone described as a "distinctive folksy mixture of conscience, comedy, and virtuoso story telling." A contributor to the Encyclopedia of Folk, Country, and Western Music wrote that "Guthrie closed out the 1960s and came into the 1970s commanding growing respect as both an interpreter of new and old songs (mostly folk, but with forays into country and rock on occasion) and a writer of new ones, usually with a strong strain of humor." Among his more popular songs were "The Motorcycle Song" and "Pause for Mr. Clause"; in 1969, he secured his reputation as a performing artist when he was featured at the now-legendary Woodstock music concert. Throughout the 1970s, Guthrie "maintained his momentum, building up a following that cut across generation and stylistic lines," wrote the Encyclopedia of Folk, Country and Western Music contributor. And in 1972, he had a hit recording with his version of the Steve Goldman song, "City of New Orleans."
Guthrie's career reached a peak with the success of "Alice's Restaurant," yet he still maintains a loyal following as a folk artist, composing and recording new folk sagas in addition to old standards. From the late 1970s onward, he performed concerts and recorded with his band Shenandoah, and frequently toured with Pete Seeger and his group, The Weavers. Baggelaar and Milton noted that "traditional and contemporary folk interpretation" find common ground in Guthrie. "Despite the transformation of folk music with the advent of electric instrumentation, some artists have maintained an authentic and personalized style of musical expression. Arlo Guthrie successfully bridges the gap between this era and the days that belonged to his folk-poet father Woody Guthrie."
Guthrie has continued to record on his own Rising Son label, and he also tours and performs regularly. His son Abe, his daughter Sarah Lee, and his son-in-law Johnny Irion play in his band, extending the family's musical legacy to a new generation. He no longer sings "Alice's Restaurant," even though it's still his best-known song; as he told Ralph Berrier, Jr. in the Roanoke Times, "There's just no way to do it because I can't remember it all. I can dust off the song, but I can't dust off my brain." At concerts, he often invites audiences to sing along; Bill White wrote in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that Guthrie told one audience, "Music used to be a part of living. It is only recently that it's become entertainment."
In addition to performing and singing, Guthrie operates the Guthrie Center, an interfaith charity located in a church made famous in "Alice's Restaurant." The church, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, remains a tourist destination for fans interested in the song and in Guthrie, but many don't know that Guthrie is there. He told Berrier, "Folks come with their cameras and they don't know we're in there. They're usually glad to know we're still there, doing good work."
Present throughout Guthrie's career has been the threat of Huntington's Disease, the hereditary nerve disorder to which his father succumbed and which Arlo has a 50 percent chance of developing. With his mother, Arlo helped to establish the Committee to Combat Huntington's Disease, and he remains determined not to let the possibility of contracting the disease interfere with his music. As he told Enright: "The way that I deal with it is to live my life so it doesn't matter."
by Michael E. Mueller and Kelly Winters
Arlo Guthrie's Career
Singer, songwriter, early 1960s--. Appeared in film Alice's Restaurant, United Artists, 1969; formed band Shenandoah, late 1970s; founder of Rising Son Records; publishes quarterly newsletter, Rolling Blunder Review. Coestablished Committee to Combat Huntington's Disease.
- Selected discography
- Alice's Restaurant Reprise, 1967.
- Arlo Reprise, 1968.
- Running Down the Road Reprise, 1969.
- Washington Country Reprise, 1970.
- Hobo's Lullaby Reprise, 1972.
- Last of the Brooklyn Cowboys Reprise, 1973.
- Arlo Guthrie Reprise, 1974.
- (With Pete Seeger) Pete Seeger/Arlo Guthrie Together in Concert Reprise, 1975.
- Amigo Reprise, 1976.
- The Best of Arlo Guthrie Warner Brothers, 1977.
- Arlo Guthrie with Shenandoah Warner Brothers, 1978.
- Outlasting the Blues Warner Brothers, 1979.
- (With Seeger) Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger: "Precious Friend," Warner Brothers, 1981.
- Power of Love Warner Brothers, 1981.
- Someday Rising Son, 1986.
- Hard Travelin' Rising Son, 1986.
- Woody's 20 Big Grow Songs Rising Son, 1991.
- All Over the World Rising Son, 1991.
- Son of the Wind Rising Son, 1992.
- Alice's Restaurant: The Massacre Revisited Rising Son, 1995.
- Mystic Journey Rising Son, 1996.
- BanjoMan: A Tribute to Derroll Adams Rising Son, 2002.
- Baggelaar, Kristin, and Donald Milton, Folk Music: More Than a Song, Crowell, 1976.
- Cronkite, Kathy, On the Edge of the Spotlight, Morrow, 1981.
- The Encyclopedia of Folk, Country, and Western Music, 2nd edition, St. Martin's, 1983.
- Miller, Edwin, Seventeen Interviews, Macmillan, 1970.
- Okun, Milton, Something to Sing About, Macmillan, 1968.
- Albuquerque Journal, October 17, 2003, p. 14.
- Maclean's, March 17, 1986.
- News and Record (Piedmont Triad, NC), March 20, 2003, p. 2.
- New Yorker, January 6, 1968.
- People, September 7, 1987.
- Roanoke Times, November 14, 2003, p. 1.
- Rolling Stone, September 6, 1979; February 11, 1988; August 24, 1989.
- Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 27, 2003, p. E3.