Editor’s Note: It was such a nice time to talk with John McCutcheon, who has 40 albums under his belt! He has recently released “Ghost Light” and it has already achieved some rave reviews from various critics! This man is a legend in the world of storytelling, songwriting, and he also remembers those who have paved the way before him. Here are some of his thoughts on Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and unions. Fans can check out his Facebook page here and find his website here!
Madness To Creation: How has the response been for “Ghost Light”?
John: The reviews have been very kind, many marveling that I’ve done 39 albums, others saying that I’m still kicking it. Concert audiences always enjoy new material from an old horse like me and the stuff from Ghost Light has been extremely well received. So, over all, I’m pleased.
Madness To Creation: A lot of studio albums released in your career, what has been a big change in the evolution of your songwriting?
John: I feel as though I understand story much better and my lyrics are leaner and tighter. Things seem to be firing on all cylinders right now.
Madness To Creation: Tell us about your experiences at the National Storytelling Festival.
John: I first went there in about 1990, figuring that, as a musician, I was simply sonic relief from all the talking. I found out that a lot of what I was doing, both in my narrative introductions and in my songwriting, was in fact storytelling. I started going there more regularly about 10 years later, made many wonderful friends, met my wife there, and find it a kind of spa for my love of words.
Madness To Creation: Tell us about your role with the Industrial Workers of the World.
John: I have no role with the IWW. I’m not a member, though I researched and released an album of music in honor of the 100th anniversary of the death of their most famous songwriter, Joe Hill. Performed a one-man play about him, as well. I’m a lifelong union member, of the American Federation of Musicians (AFL-CIO), Local 1000 and Local 148-462 (Atlanta). I am one of the co-founders and was the long-time president of Local 1000 and serve on the Executive Board of 148-462. I had a long and close relationship with Utah Phillips, probably the most well-known Wobblie (IWW member), though he was also a member of Local 1000.
Madness To Creation: You’ve been involved in multiple genres and have taken different approaches to your songwriting. In some songs, there are political overtones, some depict small town life, what inspires you with some of the songs that you write?
John: Well, the imagery is what I use to write about the different tales I try to tell. I’ve found that all big things start as small things and the stories about small things often are telling big truths. Take the song “Christmas in the Trenches” for example. Oh, you could write a song that says “war thrives on anonymity so that the rich can get the poor to kill other poor people for their purposes. It’s always been the story.” And people would roll their eyes. Or you could simply say, “My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool” and suddenly everything is real.
“Christmas In The Trenches” by John McCutcheon
Madness To Creation: Tell us about the influence of Woody Guthrie in your music career.
John: This is too big a question to answer simply. I stumbled on a Woody Guthrie songbook in our local library. I checked it out thinking it was a guitar instruction book. In the process of learning my first chords I was also learning great songs about just about everything: kids songs, love songs, historical songs, topical songs. All written by this one guy. He had a gift for voice and directness that taught me how to go about writing my own songs. He was relentless, driven, expansive, and courageous, all things I’d like to think I adopted from his example.
Madness To Creation: Love the song “The Machine” off of “Ghost Light”, can you take us into that song?
John: I lived in Charlottesville, VA for 20 years, raised my children there. When the events of this past August unfolded, like most people, I was horrified. I was playing at the Philadelphia Folk Festival a week or two later and was part of a political music workshop. I thought I’d write something new for the workshop and decided to tackle Charlottesville. I thought of my father, a WWII vet, who’d died a couple of years ago and realized that, for the first time since his death, I was glad he was gone, so that he didn’t have to live to see that day. Once I had the voice of the song, the rest was easier.
“The Machine” by John McCutcheon
Madness To Creation: What does 2018 have in store for John McCutcheon?
John: Touring behind Ghost Light, recording my 40th album, in honor of Pete Seeger’s 100th birthday next year, playing with my grandkids, taking my wife to England to research a book she’s writing, eating peaches.
Madness To Creation: Anything else you would like to add, and thank you for your time!
John: I think I’ve covered a lot. So, no. Happy to do it Madness To Creation, thanks!
And there you have it! Check out John McCutcheon on tour at the following locations listed below.
Thursday, March 1st- Traditions in Olympia, Washington
Friday, March 2nd- 1st Presbyterian Church in Corvallis, Oregon
Saturday, March 3rd- Alberta Rose Theater in Portland, Oregon
Monday, March 5th- Triple Door in Seattle, Washington
Friday, March 23rd- Auburn UU Fellowship in Auburn, Alabama
Saturday, March 24th- Westminster Music Centre in Westminster, South Carolina
Saturday, April 7th- Bartlett Aboretum in Belle Plaine, Kansas
Sunday, April 8th- Lied Center of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas
Monday, April 9th- Lied Center of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas
Tuesday, April 10th- West Center Auditorium in Green Valley, Arizona
Thursday, April 19th- The Barns of Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia
Friday, April 20th- Tin Pan in Richmond, Virginia
Saturday, April 21st- Pocahontas County Opera House in Marlinton, West Virginia
Thursday, May 3rd- Nighttown in Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Friday, May 4th- Lakeside Performing Arts Center in Ashtabula, Ohio
Friday, May 18th- The Art Center in Carrboro, North Carolina
Saturday, May 19th- Isis Music Hall in Asheville, North Carolina
Friday, June 22nd- Backwoods Beat Singer Songwriter Festival in Sparta, North Carolina
Saturday, June 23rd- Heritage Hall Theater in Mountain City, Tennessee
Friday, June 29th- Kate Wolf Memorial Festival in Laytonville, California
Saturday, June 30th- Kate Wolf Memorial Festival in Laytonville, California
Sunday, July 1st- Firehouse Arts Center in Pleasonton, California
Thursday, August 2nd- Nottoway Park in Vienna, Virginia
Saturday, August 4th- Oak Grove Music Festival in Verona, Virginia
Saturday, September 8th- Wheatland Music Festival in Remus, Michigan
Sunday, September 9th- Wheatland Music Festival in Remus, Michigan
Friday, September 14th- Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas
Saturday, September 15th- Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas
Friday, September 28th- Grove Theater in Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Thursday, October 4th- Ashe Civic Center in West Jefferson, North Carolina
Friday, October 5th- National Storytelling Festivall in Jonesborough, Tennessee
Saturday, October 6th- National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee
Sunday, October 7th- Muddy Creek Music Hall in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Friday, November 2nd- Court Square Theater in Harrisongburg, Virginia
Thursday, November 8th- Matilijia Auditorium in Ojai, California
Friday, November 9th- San Dieguito United Methodist Church in Encinitas, California
Saturday, November 10th- Beckman Institute Auditorium in Pasadena, California
Thursday, November 15th- Old Sloop Coffeehouse in Rockport, Massachusetts
Sunday, November 18th- Woods Hole Community Hall in Woods Hole, Massachusetts
Thursday, January 10th, 2019- Moke Hill Town Hall in Mokelumne Hill, California
Friday, January 11th, 2019- Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, California
Saturday, January 12th, 2019- Devil Mountain Coffeehouse in Walnut Creek, California
Sunday, January 13th, 2019- Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California
Monday, January 14th, 2019- Sebastiani Theater in Pomona, California
Tuesday, January 15th, 2019- Modesto Church of the Brethren in Modesto, California
Thursday, January 17th, 2019- UU Church of Fresno in Fresno, California
Friday, January 18th, 2019- Pilgrim Congregational Church in Redding, California
Monday, January 21st, 2019- St. James Episcopal Church in Fremont, California
Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019- Resource Center for Non-Violence in Santa Cruz, California
Sunday, March 24th, 2019- Fripp Island Community Center in Fripp Island, South Carolina
For tickets and further information for any of the shows listed above, click here!
*Photo credit goes to Irene Young
ICYMI: Check out our review of “Ghost Light” by John McCutcheon here!