Guthrie Family Biographies
Folk music icon Arlo Guthrie is a legendary artist who shares timeless stories and unforgettable classic songs as he carries on the Guthrie Family legacy. With his singular voice as both a singer-songwriter and social commentator, he has maintained a dedicated fan base that spans the globe. A celebrated figure in American music, Arlo connects with communities far and wide leaving a lasting impression of hope and inspiration. His artistic ventures help bridge an often-divided world through his powerful spirit of song, and his inimitable musical ingenuity forges to new creative heights as he perseveres through the times.
Arlo Guthrie left the major record label system in 1983 to fully embrace life as an independent artist, bringing his thriving career into the hands of a family-run business with the launch of his own label Rising Son Records. Currently operated by his two daughters, Annie and Cathy Guthrie, Rising Son debuted with the release of Arlo’s Someday (1986). Since its inception, Rising Son has served as a family label housing Arlo’s complete catalogue as well as albums by Pete Seeger & Arlo Guthrie, Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion, Abe Guthrie and his band Xavier, Folk Uke (Cathy Guthrie and Amy Nelson, daughter of Willie Nelson), plus the soundtrack to Woody Guthrie Hard Travelin’ and a tribute CD to the influential banjo player Derroll Adams.
In Times Like These (2007), one of Rising Son’s most recent releases, features Arlo alongside the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra. The album marks the culmination of his work with 27 different symphony orchestras and more than 40 live concerts. His show at Boston Symphony Hall, conducted by Keith Lockhart, was recorded and aired on PBS’s Evening at the Pops. In 2001, the Fourth of July celebration with the Pops was broadcasted live by A&E. A compelling collection of original songs and select American classics performed by Arlo and the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, In Times Like These will be released on vinyl in the fall of 2009.
In celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock, Rising Son released Arlo Guthrie: Tales of ’69 (August 18, 2009). Recorded just prior to Woodstock, the recently discovered lost tape highlights Arlo live in concert in Long Island, NY and features nine tracks including an epic 28-minute talking blues tale as well as three previously unrecorded songs.
In 2005 as part of a Guthrie Foundation sponsored tour, the family rode the Amtrak City of News Orleans train from Chicago to New Orleans, stopping along the way to perform benefit concerts. Arlo Guthrie & Friends “Ridin’ on the City of New Orleans” has raised more than $140,000 in cash and garnered hundreds of replacement instruments for musicians suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Arlo’s ambitions have always included various community projects in addition to his artistic pursuits. In 1991, he purchased the old Trinity Church near Stockbridge, MA, which is now 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. 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. Visit www.guthriecenter.org for more information.
To commemorate Arlo and his family’s imprint on American culture and ongoing social and musical influence, the Guthrie Family was featured in the November 2007 issue of Vanity Fair as part of the “Music Portfolio Series on Folk Legends,” a series featuring leaders in different musical genres.
If you’ve been to an Arlo Guthrie concert in the past 20 years, it’s likely you’ve seen Abe’s great smile, and heard his adept and tasteful keyboard accompaniment along with his powerful supporting vocals. In a recent interview Arlo said of his son, “Abe is a great musician and covers the bass for me, and whatever else I need.” It is rare to see an Arlo show without Abe by his side. A natural musical talent, Abe at age three traded another neighborhood boy his Big Wheel for a keyboard. At age 11 he was kicked out of a piano lesson for playing rock music. Abe’s first paying job at 15 was as David Bromberg’s guitar tech.
Abe started performing professionally with his father in the early ’80s, playing transformative keyboard solos during his father’s concerts with Shenandoah. Displaying his sense of humor, Abe would occasionally show up on stage wearing spikes and chains. In the ’80s, he founded Xavier with fellow band mates Randy Cormier and Timothy Sears. Over the years, various forms of Xavier have backed up Arlo on the road. Their first full-length CD, Full Circle, was released on Rising Son Records in 2000, and Xavier is currently at work on a follow-up album.
A multi-faceted artist, Abe Guthrie has demonstrated his versatility by having a hand in many music projects worldwide. His varied roles have ranged from performance and studio musician, engineer, producer, graphic artist and of course, Arlo’s right hand man on-stage and off. Abe has recently worked with such artists as David Bromberg, Rory Block, Bobby Sweet, Folk Uke (Cathy Guthrie and Amy Nelson’s band), Johnny Irion, Sarah Lee Guthrie, David Grover and many others. Against his will and better judgment, Abe has also found himself performing with his sisters Cathy, Annie, and Sarah Lee as the G Babes. This unique family ensemble can be heard each year at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah, OK.
Cathy Guthrie always knew she’d be in the music business but never thought she’d be a musician. In some ways, she could be considered the Guthrie radical… Right after high school, she moved to San Diego, CA to attend college, then spent several years pretending to be normal working at various normal jobs, although she just didn’t feel normal. In June 1996 her dad called her and asked her to come home and help run the family business… and she accepted. Cathy came home and dove head first into the shallow end of the folk music business, learning as much as any Guthrie could in six months — maybe a little bit more. She then moved to Los Angeles where she set up a satellite office while her sister Annie anchored the main office in Massachusetts. Together they run Rising Son Records as well as the affiliated companies that sustain the “family business.”
In 2000, Cathy paired up with Amy Nelson (daughter of Willie) to form Folk Uke. With Amy on guitar and Cathy on ukulele they began writing songs and playing for friends. In no time they were getting offers for shows and they couldn’t believe it. They weren’t very good, but they were funny and quite charming. In 2005, they released their self-titled debut CD, which has earned them a cult following. Their vocal harmonies and melodies are sweet and contagious, and their lyrics are explicit.
Annie Guthrie runs the family record label Rising Son Records, and is Arlo’s personal manager. Annie is also a prolific songwriter and versatile musician, playing acoustic guitar, bass, and autoharp. Her songs are a pure reflection of her life— as Woody says, “You can only write what you see,” and she has taken that to heart writing songs that tell it like it is. Guthrie has been singing ever since she can remember, even appearing at the age of four on Arlo’s album Someday, and later on Woody’s 20 Grow Big Songs, and More Together Again. Previously she has performed with her siblings as The G Babes, with Folk Uke, and with The Guthrie Family Rides Again Tour. In June 2011 she released her song “Lullaby” as a single on Rising Son Records.
Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion:
A lot can happen in five years, and for the husband-and-wife duo Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, the time between Exploration, their first album together in 2005, and Bright Examples (Ninth Street Opus Records, Feb. 22, 2011), their new, full-length collaborative project featuring producers Andy Cabic (lead singer/songwriter in the band Vetiver) and Thom Monahan (Devendra Banhart, Vetiver), has been one nonstop whirlwind of activity. Not only has the couple toured extensively both as a duo and as part of the “Guthrie Family Rides Again” tour (with Sarah Lee’s dad, Arlo Guthrie), they’ve also released the children’s album Go Waggaloo (Smithsonian Folkways), a live DVD entitled Folk Song, a solo album by Johnny (Ex Tempore), parented their two young daughters and moved from South Carolina to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, near where Sarah Lee was raised.
“We’ve been working really hard,” confirms Guthrie. “We even built a house. We felt very creative in South Carolina but we’re in a totally different space now. We had started another album together before we moved but it just wasn’t right. This one is.”
Bright Examples finds Guthrie and Irion taking their patented country-rock sound and tilting it in a direction Guthrie describes as “more atmospheric or psychedelic, sort of dreamy but colorful.” Recorded at Dreamland Studios near Woodstock, N.Y., the album features a dozen original compositions, chosen from more than 50 they’d accumulated over the past five years. “It was really great to have that many songs,” says Guthrie, “but at the same time, what do you do with the rest? They weren’t any less good. We just picked the songs that we thought went together well.”
Bright Examples was co-produced by Andy Cabic, the prime mover behind the San Francisco pastoral psych-rock band Vetiver, and Thom Monahan, who has worked with Vetiver as well as Devendra Banhart, the Pernice Brothers and Jayhawks vocalist Gary Louris, who just happened to have produced Exploration for Sarah Lee and Johnny. Members of Vetiver provide the instrumental accompaniment on Bright Examples as well as special guest artists including Louris (vocals), Mark Olson (The Jayhawks, vocals), Otto Houser (Vetiver, drums), Neal Casal (guitar), Kevin Barker and Charlie Rose (pedal steel, flat picking guitars), and Rad Lorkovic (piano).