Northern Michigan Music: When Arlo Guthrie decided to become a singer and songwriter, he had some pretty big shoes to fill. His famous father, Woody Guthrie, had set the bar high with his numerous political, traditional and children’s songs (including “This Land Is Your Land”) and his status as a founding father of folk music. Such songwriters as Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Pete Seeger, and Tom Paxton have acknowledged Woody Guthrie as a major influence.
Son Arlo took up the mantle in the mid-60s, and by 1967 was a hit-maker in his own right, with “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.” It was made into a movie (starring Guthrie) and he landed on the the cover of Time magazine in September 1969. He’s recorded and performed ever since.
On Oct. 4 he will be performing at the City Opera House in Traverse City. He took a few minutes from his schedule to answer some questions about him and his music.
Why did you decide to become a musician? Did you consider any other careers?
I wanted to be a bartender, or a forest ranger. It didn't work out.
How much did having a famous father help your career? Hinder it?
I've probably hindered his career more than having been hindered by his.
Your political stance has changed over the years. How has that affected your music and your fan base?
I haven't actually changed my political positions on anything for over 50 years. Maybe I'm just stubborn but I still believe in the same ol' stuff – Liberty, Freedom, Justice – Stuff like that. I have changed bumper stickers occasionally but don't let that fool you, and don't let others tell you what I believe. If someone wants to know, I've written extensively about a whole lot of things and it's all online, so you can see for yourself. In that sense, my music hasn't had to change very much. Same ol' same ol'.
How has your musical style changed over the years?
I've actually improved as a musician, the style is the same, it's just distilled.
How have the changes in the music industry affected you (starting your own label, recording technology, etc.)?
I left the music industry because I didn't want to be industrialized. I began my own company so we could do things our own way. Now of course, technology continues to change everything, but the music remains what it always was – a reflection of my heart and mind.
Do you still enjoy touring and performing? Any thoughts on retirement?
I do love traveling, although as I get older I'm enjoying down time as much as working. I look at my dear old friend and mentor, Pete Seeger, who is 94 and still playing. Any hopes of retirement at this point (at a mere 66) is silly.
What can an audience expect at an Arlo Guthrie show?
Well, Arlo Guthrie for one.
Arlo Guthrie performs at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4. For tickets or more information, go to CityOperaHouse.org.