Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Arlo, you legend

ARLO GUTHRIE has done tours before. Damn, this man has been touring for more than 40 years. The last time the iconic folk-singer - son of the equally iconic singer Woody Guthrie - was in town, he was here with his son and grandson.

For almost the first time since the early '60s however, Guthrie is coming to town, and he is alone.

This is the "Solo Reunion Tour: Together at Last", offering Limerick music fans the chance to see Guthrie live and flying solo.

"I really haven't toured solo since the early '60s," confirms Guthrie. "When you have other people to work with, it is obviously a little more complicated, and this is so much easier. On the other hand I have to actually play. When you have great guitar players on stage with you, you tend to let them do everything. But if it is just me I have to reach back and remember the chops that I learned over the years."

Niceties dispensed with, I jump in with both feet, unable to contain my enthusiasm at this chance to pick the brains of a genuine Woodstock legend. I'm a fan - both of Guthrie's and that festival - and, while I'm not of an age to remember it or say I was there, I have devoured every frame, scene and tune on the DVD.

One of the most iconic moments from the Oscar winning documentary of the festival is Guthrie arriving by helicopter and speaking to the crowd - "I was rapping with the fuzz earlier, there is a million and a half people here, can you dig it?" - before launching into the classic tune Coming Into Los Angeles (which contains the memorable lines "Coming into Los Angeles / Smuggling a couple of keys / Don't check my bags if you please, Mr Customs man").Arlo takes it all in his stride.

"Well if I was to do it over again, I probably wouldn't have smoked that joint before I went on stage," laughs the singer.

"There are two sides to it; on the one hand it was great to know that I was never going to play in front of that many people again in my life, and on the other, I should have had my act a little more together."

"Any other day of my life, that song would have been played better, except for that one time at Woodstock. It is not entirely my fault, there was nothing to drink, no water, there wasn't even beer, all they had was cases of Champagne backstage, so we drank that all afternoon. So with everything that was going on, it is no wonder that my performance was what it was."

As a result of the song he still receives suspect stares on passing through customs.

"Still to this day when I am coming back home to the US from overseas, there is always one customs guy who looks at me and says (adopts a stern tone) "Arlo, are you bringing in a couple of keys?" - The truth is I could bring in anything these days and no one would stop me," he laughs.

1969 was a groundbreaking year for Guthrie; he performed at Woodstock, married his wife Jackie (still together), and released the classic album 'Alice's Restaurant', which contains the same title track - a free-wheeling, 18-odd minute anti-war song that he is chiefly remembered for.

While '69 was an important year, it seems dwarfed by the consequences of the year he took the decision to found his own record label, one which holds his complete back catalogue. That was Rising Son Records, and the year was 1982.

"We decided we were not going to be a part of the entertainment industry, we were going to make music and not worry about whether it was played on the radio or on tv - just do it ourselves.It has been great for us, and not just for me, but my kids and even my grandkids are all playing music, and we all have a family company we can work with so that the material gets out there and you don't have to sell your soul to anybody."

The involvement of his family is important to him - he will take all 17 family members on tour later in the year - as is keeping his father Woody's considerable legacy alive, that, and touring, whether by himself or with anyone else.

"Yeah, not just his legacy and his politics, but I think his heart, which is the most important thing. Songs that are hopeful have always been important in our family. They were important to my father, they were important to the guys that I grew up with, like Pete Seegers, and they are important to my kids and grandkids. After that, I just want to keep on playing and touring, because that is the only thing I know how to do."

Arlo Guthrie plays in Dolan's Warehouse this Wednesday, January 21.

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