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NIGHT LIFE

Arlo Has Kept in Tune With Family Legend : The son of the legendary Woody Guthrie has stuck to the kind of music that made him famous in the '60s.

March 24, 1994|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sometimes central casting gets it right. Need a guy who can always get the bad guy? Get The Duke. How about someone who can stare down a tank? Get Clint. Need an "aging hippie?" There's Arlo. That's the description for Guthrie's character, Alan Moon, on the new TV show "Byrds of Paradise."

Equally at home on the boob-tube, in a crossword puzzle or on the road, Guthrie will bring his wry folk songs to the venerable Ventura Theatre on Friday night. He'll be the hippie-type individual singing about Alice, and other things. Beforehand, blues harmonica dude Charlie Musselwhite will blast the parsley off the plates of the diners.

Guthrie's dad, Woody, who chronicled Depression-era America with a keen wit and a populist attitude, got Arlo started early in the music biz. Through Woody, Arlo met everybody.

The younger Guthrie's career took off after an appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1967, and he had a couple of hits with "Coming Into Los Angeles" and "City of New Orleans." Guthrie was at Woodstock, and his anthem-like "Alice's Restaurant" became a movie of the same name.

A few years ago, Guthrie purchased the Trinity Church in Great Barrington, Mass., of "Alice's Restaurant" fame. It's now the home of Rising Son Records.

Guthrie's own words from his "oughtabiography" pretty much cover what came next: "I married Jackie Hyde (a former Miss Malibu) in 1969, helped raise four strange kids and wrote lots of songs on my farm. I continue my mission even today."

From Hawaii, the folk singer discussed the life and times of an infinitely patient Red Sox fan.

Did you know you're a legend to every crossword puzzle fan in America because seemingly every day there's a clue that says "Woody's boy"?

Yeah, that's one of my more recent accomplishments.

Are you on that never-ending tour?

I was up until November of last year. But right now I'm a recurring character on this new ABC show, "The Byrds of Paradise." I used to be on the road nine or 10 months of the year. Right now, though, things are up to ABC as to how the show does. I was just starting to get good on stage, too. It only took me 20 years.

Most people can't wait to get rid of their kids, but you took yours on tour. What's up with that?

Yeah, we did a family tour last summer with my three daughters and my son Abe, and his band, Xavier. It was great.

What's the secret to surviving on the road?

Wow, no one's ever asked me that one. Let's see, I'm only on my second cup of coffee . . . a sense of humor, I guess.

Why did you start your own record label?

About 15 years ago, Bonnie Raitt, Gordon Lightfoot, myself and a lot of other folk artists got axed by Warner Bros. We didn't really know what to do, but we knew we still wanted to make records, so we started our own record company. Later, we were able to reacquire all of our old records from Warner Bros. and reissue them. The company is doing really well and I'm very happy about it. I'm able to make the kind of music I've wanted to make for 20 years. They won't sell a million copies and you won't hear them on the radio, but they do well. In 1992, we put out a children's album called "Woody's 20 Grow Big Songs." I sang along with my dad on some of his old recordings, plus my daughters were on it. The record was nominated for a Grammy. Also, I put out an album of old cowboy songs and, just this week, we released an album of myself and Pete Seeger recorded live last summer called "More Together Again."

Is folk music getting bigger, smaller or staying the same?

I think it's kind of staying the same. In every town, there's always a place where people can just sit around and play music. Folk music just seems to go on and on, and it's kept me working for 20 years.

Who goes to your shows, old hippies?

Yeah, I think so, except now they're disguised as normal people. Some of them bring their kids, but a lot of younger people just show up on their own.

What was it like being a music star in the '60s?

Oh man, I was 18; I had a hit, and I wasn't married. It was great. I highly recommend it. It was an entirely different world then, very innocent, very fun.

What was it like having a famous father?

You'll have to ask my kids. Oh, you mean my dad? It was great for me. I got into places I was too young to get into. I got to hang around with people that were a lot older than me just because I was Woody Guthrie's son. I mean, I got to play with Bill Monroe, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. I just had the opportunity to learn a lot from a lot of different people.

You've played with everybody--anything you haven't done?

Yeah, there's a couple of things I'd like to do. I'd like to go on tour with the Dead, and I'd like to tour with Dylan. I played a few shows with him a few years ago, but never a whole tour. I think in these days where shows are costing more and more, it would be an attractive package.

Can music change the world?

It did. It does. And it will.

Who do you listen to when you're just hanging out?

I listen to everything, even the old guys like Bach and Beethoven, on up to my own peers. I also like a lot of the new bands.

What advice would you give aspiring musicians?

Don't do it for the money. If you love it, you're gonna do it anyway.

Details

* WHAT: Arlo Guthrie, Charlie Musselwhite.

* WHEN: Friday night, 9.

* WHERE: Ventura Theatre, 26 Chestnut St.

* COST: $18.50.

* FYI: 648-1888.

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