My Interview with Folk Uke: Amy Nelson and Cathy Guthrie


Cathy Guthrie and Amy Nelson

Amy Nelson and Cathy Guthrie, the women of Folk Yuke, kindly agreed to an interview, and I caught up with them by telephone in Austin on Friday night.  It was so much fun talking to them about their music and their musical families.  They are smart, witty and funny. 

When I transcribed the interview, I put in [laughter] every time someone laughed.  But there was so much laughing going on.  Mostly it was me, I’m afraid; I pretty much giggled my way through the interview.  So I didn’t include the [laughter]s.  You’ll know when to chuckle.

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LindaLee:  Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.

Cathy Guthrie:  Thanks for caring!

LL:  How was the show at Saxon’s on Wednesday:  Was that fun?

CG:  It was good, it was a lot of fun.  A lot of nice people showed up for the show, and they clapped in the right places.

LL:  Your set followed Pauline Reese, and then sister Paula played later?

Amy Nelson:  Yes, Paula shared her set with us.  We kind of moved in on her set.  It was really fun.  We played for about a half an hour.

LL:  Did you all sing together?

AN:  No, we got up there on our own.

CG:  We should have done that though.  Maybe next time.

AN:  Yeah, we’ll plan something next time.

LL:  You’re doing a few shows in Texas, right?

CG:  Yes, tomorrow we do a show at Buddy’s, in Dallas.  Then Amy comes back in a couple of weeks for a show on August 8th, again at Saxons, and on August 10th at the BackYard.

LL:  So, how did you two become friends?

AN:  Well, we worked at a restaurant together in San Diego.  Our parents knew each other for years before we met. Cathy knew my mom. It took us working in a restaurant together in San Diego to actually meet.  

CG:  Connie kept saying to me, “Oh, you have to meet my daughter Amy.  I can’t believe you two haven’t met yet.”  And I kept going, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

Finally Amy started working at the same restaurant where I was working, and we finally got to meet each other.  And it was like, “Wow, we have the same life!”  I couldn’t believe that she had the same life as me, and I as her.  And we were best friends immediately.  So, parents are sometimes right.

LL:  You have said that you were musical holdouts.

AN:  Yeah, that’s another thing that we shared.  We were the ones in our family who weren’t in a band.  We would sing and everything, but it wasn’t very much of an original idea to have a band in our family.

CG:  Right.  We were original by trying to be normal, trying to get jobs, and do something other than get into the music business.  But it didn’t really work out.

LL:  When you were growing up, did you feel pressure to get into the music business?

CG:  Yeah, maybe a little, and that’s probably why I avoided it for so long.  And now it’s more fun, because we waited.

AN:  Right.

LL:  Did you take music lessons when you were little?

CG:  I did, I took piano lessons.

AN:  I took piano lessons, too.  I gave it up for cartoons, though.

CG:  I hated piano lessons.  I hated practicing.  It was like homework.  I didn’t need any more homework.  I had enough of that from school.

AN:  Yeah.

LL:  You both play the ukelele now, and both play guitar?

AN:  Yeah, we both play both.  But during our set, Cathy plays more ukelele and I play more guitar.  We’ve kind of settled in to that.

CG:  Yeah, because I don’t want to carry as much.  Amy’s stronger so she plays the guitar.

LB:  At least you don’t play a big acoustic bass like Bee.

CG:  Yeah, I picked the right instrument.

LB:   So what was your family’s reaction when you finally decided to sing and perform together?

AN:  They were glad, they were happy.

CG:  Yeah, my family was too.  My dad was very proud,  They were always very supportive of whatever we did. But when we finally started playing music for other people, they realized that we were serious about it.

AN:  Well, really, they had dis-owned us.

C:  Yeah, and then they re-owned us.

LB:  When did you first perform together?

CG:  Gosh, when did we first perform, Amy?

AN:  First perform?  Was it Woodies’ Fest? 

CG:  Four years ago?

AN:  More like five, I think.

CG:  Really?  That’s a good question, we’ve never been asked that one before.

LL:  What was it like at that first Woodie Fest, getting out on that stage and performing together in front of that audience for the first time?

CG:  I think we were both pretty scared.  But, it’s the Woodie Guthrie Folk Festival.  You couldn’t ask for a more forgiving audience.  And what a great place to do our first set.

AN:  They kept liking us and applauding, even though we would mess up.

CG:  It’s called charm.

LL:  Did you play this most recent Woodies’ Fest, earlier this month?

CG:  Yeah, we shared a set with my sister Annie, and she did some of her songs.   It’s really clearly not just about our musical skills, as much as that we’re having fun.  And we get people to sing along with us. We’re having fun, and that carries into the audience.

We had this break through where we were really nervous for our first few shows, and then we had the worst show ever possible.  And after that we realized, “Well, we can’t get any worse,” and we just started having fun with it, and we decided we should just embrace the charm.

AN:  Then we would say to people, “Oh we did terrible.”  And people would say, “Yeah, but that’s your thing!”  I’d think, “Oh, that’s our thing?”

CG:  Yeah, and we’re good at it!

AN:  I don’t think God wants us to practice, either.  We were going to practice tonight, but it’s flooding around my mom’s house, and I’m flooded in here.  It’s raining in San Antonio and we’re down stream from San Antonio, and her creek overflowed.

CG:  Yeah, my pool over flowed.  It rained right up to to the top, pretty exciting.

LL:  Amy, how’s your mom doing?  So she moved back to Texas, right?

AN:  Yes, she did.  And she recently produced a record for The World’s Greatest Fishing Band.  Merle Haggard was on it, and George Jones.  I didn’t realize she was a producer, but she’s really good, and pulled it all together. And we’re happy to have her back here in Texas.

LL:  Cathy, how is your dad doing?  Are they all out on their own now, Arlo, Abe and Gordon, too?

CG:  My dad just started his new tour.  It’s called the “Arlo Guthrie Solo Reunion Tour Together at Last.”  So, it’s just him.  It’s the first time in years he’s played with just himself.

LL:  Yeah, Abe’s been playing with him a long time, 20 years or so.

CG:  Yeah, forever, Abe was 14 when he started playing with dad, and he’s like 37 now.

LL:  I love when they come through Colorado, I always see them, at the Folk Fest, or wherever.  I saw his Alice’s Restaurant 40th Year anniversary tour, he was touring with John Prine.

CG:  Yeah, so Abe and Gordon are off the hook now, they can do whatever they want for a year, and then they’ll talk about the next tour.

LL:  What’s it like being on stage and performing with your dads? 

AN:  I thought I was going to be more nervous with both of our dads up there, because there was more pressure to do well.  The first time we played with both our dads was in New Orleans.  And that crowd was so amazing, they were so appreciative after all they’d been through. There was this rush of energy from the crowd, it was amazing, and I wasn’t nervous.  I felt empowered.  And it was really fun to be up there with our dads.  And it didn’t last long enough.

CG:  I’m really proud of my dad. And proud of who I am.  It’s kind of fun being up there with both dads, and get to just be us.  And being able to do that in front of people and show them that we actually like our families.  I really love our dads.  I love our famillies.

AN:  Me, too.  It was fun standing behind them for the finale of the New Orleans show.  They were up front and Cathy and I were back by the drum sets singing.  We were watching our dads sing together, and going, “Look at them!  They’re so cool.”

LL:  They are both so hardworking, always touring.  Their work ethic must have had an influence on you. 

CG:  Yeah, we talk about that all the time.  We’re always talking about our dads, comparing what they’re doing.  Well, not comparing, really.  Well, we’re kind of comparing our dads.

AN:  Yeah, it’s like, “My dad’s better.”

CG:  “Yeah, well my dad could kick your dad’s ass!”

Both of them give their whole lives to other people, and they work so hard.

AN:  They are very similar. And they are both really silly.

LL:  Well you both inherited their sense of humor. 

CG:  I’m afraid so.

LL:  What’s it like when you write together?  Does one of you say, “We can’t say that, can we?”  Or do you both have that irreverent spirit?

CG:  I would say that we both share an irreverant spirit.  But we also both go, “Should we really say that?  Should this leave the room?”  It’s just us being silly and goofy and having fun. And we write these silliy songs.

AN:  And we kind of piss off a lot of people.

CG:  We have a song for everybody.

AN:  Yeah, we are equal opportunity offenders.

LL:  You have a couple cover songs on your album.  “I still miss someone,” is so beautiful.  You could sing anything.

CG: Thanks .  We sing a lot of cover songs. There are a lot of great songs out there, you have to give them credit.  It’s an honor to sing them.

A:  And it’s because we already have them memorized.

CG:  And it’s easier to learn them. We don’t have to write a new one.

AN:  Yeah, we go, “You know that one?  Good.”

CG:  Sometimes when we’re trying to figure out what to do next, or what song should we learn, we think about all these great cover songs.  There’s a huge list of songs we want to do. We could do eight albums of cover songs that we like.

A:  I think Cathy has a great data base of folk songs that she could teach me. She knows about folk artists that  probably everyone knows about, but me, and I say, “Teach me about them!”  Then with country, I probably know more country than Cathy.

CG: Amy brings the country, I bring the folk.

AN:  It’s kind of the same.  There’s not much of a difference.

LL:  So, what’s next?  Are you working on another album? 

AN: Well, we’re working on it in our heads.  It’s all up here.

CG:  Yeah, we’re starting to prepare mentally for it, trying to write more stuff, pick some covers to include.  We’re starting to map it out in our little brains.

LL: What about recording one of your concerts, I bet a recording of one of your live shows would make a great album.

CG:  Well, we just played the Saxon, and Joe from the Saxon offered his place for a live record.  That’s a possibility. We might have to get just a little bit better.

AN:  Or we have to be there long enough, and collect a bunch of recorded shows, and figure out the ones we like the best.

CG:  That’s a good idea.  It could be like a bootleg.

AN:  Exactly, we could bootleg ourselves.

CG:  It would be an official bootleg.

LB:  Amy, do you live in Florida?

ANP:  I live in Tennessee.  I was married in Florida, I moved out  to Tennessee to be with my husband, you know, Bee’s son.

CG:  And I’m in Texas, you probably know that, since you called me.

LL:  Yes, you have that 512 area code.

LL:  Amy, I want to ask you about the song, “A Peaceful Solution.”  I read that you and Willie wrote that song in the early morning hours on a bus bound for Coachella.  How did that song come about?

AN:  Well, it was a long time ago, before September 11, and I had this dream.  It was that I was sitting out in the audience, and it was all dark, and I could see my dad up on the stage, playing this song and he was singing something about a peaceful resolution.  And I thought, this is such a beautiful song, and I was captivated by it.  And I woke up and I couldn’t remember anything about it , except those words: a peaceful resolution.  And I told Dad about it, but it didn’t mean as much back then.  The war hadn’t even started. 

Then, more recently, I reminded him about that dream, and the song, and that I couldn’t get that song out of my head.  Then, all of a sudden he said, “Hey look what I did.  I wrote the song!”  We were on the bus on the way to the Coachella festival when he did it, and I grabbed my voice recorder, to record it so he wouldn’t forget it.  And he sang it on the voice recorder.

And then they posted it on on Willie’s Peace Research Institute Site.[ http://willienelsonpri.com ]  Have you been there?

LL:  Yes, I love all of Willie’s versions of the song, and all the other versions people have recorded, and the videos. It’s inspiring.

AN:  Yeah!  It’s so cool.  And now everybody’s doing it.  And it’s turned into so much more than I could have ever dreamed.  And dad gave me credit for the song, but I didn’t write a word of it except for that dream, when I dreamed he wrote it.  But now, everyone’s saying, “Oh, you did such a great job on that song,” and I go, “Ah, thanks.”

And then some people are adding lyrics to the song, and the added lyrics are great, too.  I don’t think anybody’s ever done that with a song, taken and given it to everyone to work with.

CG:  It’s such a good idea, that peace stuff.

LL:  Amy, I have those magazines from when you lived in Colorado, Life Magazine, and People.  Do you remember those photo shoots?  There was a picture of you all in a tee pee, and Willie and Connie are riding horses.

CG:  You are in a teepee?

KG:  Yeah, we had a tee pee in Colorado.  Actually dad has a tee pee out here in Texas, too.

CG:  Did you know we had a tee pee?

AN:  Yes, that’s one of our parallells.

LL:  You two really did live parallel lives, didn’ t you.

CG:  We used to go play in the tee pee.  My mom always thought she was an Indian princess, reincarnated.  She would be so happy if she just had two leather dresses and a tee pee.

LL:  Amy, do you have fond memories of living in Colorado?

AN:  Yeah, it was great. We had horses and a creek, and all kinds of great stuff there, little golf carts we drove around and got into trouble with.  I have great memories of living in Colorado.

LL:  How old were you when you moved back to Austin?

AN:  I was born in Austin, and we lived in Colorado from when I was 5 to 12, and then we moved back to Austin.  We lived in Austin a couple years, then to California, and back to Austin again.

LL:  So you both toured with your dads growing up?

CG:  Yeah, I did.

AN:  I grew up on a tour bus, and the Nelson people, the Nelson kids, we would go home when we got old enough for school and school started.  That’s not true for everyone, because my older sister had a different experience while she grew up.  We pretty much stayed on the road until we had to be in school, then after a while we would go out on the road for the summer.

CG:  We tried a tutor on the road, but, I rememober on one tour, we went through about four tutors.  It’s hard to travel, you know. And people thought, “Oh, it’ll be fun” and they got worn out really quickly, trying to teach us crazy kids, and be on the road.

AN:  You chased them all away.

LL: The boys from 40 points did an e-interview, and they talked about learning to walk on the bus, rolling down the highway. 

AN:  That’s funny.

CG: We had a lot of games on the bus. We would play “Alligator.”  Someone would be the alligator in the aisle, and the kids would be in the in the bunks.

AN:  That sounds like fun, I wish we’d played that.

CN:  Yeah, we were wild.  We were hanging out of the bunks, and swinging on the chairs.

AN:  Then there’s the hotel room games.  Running aound the halls and knocking on people’s doors, and running away.  Stuff you don’t want your kids to do.

LL: I’ll bet your parents had to be creative to keep you entertained when you were all on the road.

CG:  Yeah, it was like, “Here kids, here’s the hotel key.”

AN:  “Here’s a deck of cards,  We’ll be back in a few hours.”

CG:  “Order anything you want from room service.  No sugar!”  But, it was fun.  I’m really happy to have grown up the way we did. 

LL:  Are either of you working on a book?  You could tell some great stories.

AN:  Yeah, I’m going to write my tell all book one of these days.  And tell you how daddy really was!  No, not yet.  We have all kinds of writing projects that we’re working on, and someday we’ll put it all together.

[a baby cries in the background.]

LL:  Oh, Cathy, I hear your little baby.  I’m going to let you guys go now.  Thank you so much. I’m going to keep my eyes open for you in Austin  at the BackYard; I’d love to say hello.  Thank you both so much.

AN & CG:  That would be nice.  Thank you.

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They have a website at www.folkuke.com, and are on myspace at http://www.myspace.com/folkuke  where you can find out about upcoming shows and purchase their self-titled cd, along with shirts, bumper stickers, and more.  Also, you can buy their cd from www.cdbaby.com, and www.amazon.com. 
At http://www.indie911.com/folk-uke , you can hear the songs from their album, and watch a little video of two snap dragons singing their song, “Shit Makes the Flowers Grow.”

14 Responses to “My Interview with Folk Uke: Amy Nelson and Cathy Guthrie”

  1. WilliesPrayerWarrior says:

    GREAT INTERVEIW! Thanks LindaLee! I LOVE Folk Uke and really look forward to seeing them in Austin at TheBackYard! One of my fav songs they sing is ‘Shit Makes The Flowers Grow”

  2. LindaLee says:

    They are such nice people!

  3. Willietattoos(Dee) says:

    Lindalee, you are something else! So creative, resourceful and generous. Thanks so much for sharing with us!

  4. Linda says:

    The pleasure was all mine. It was so much fun to get to ask them about their dads, and growing up in those musical families.

  5. RailRoadLady77 says:

    Great interview LL!! You just about covered ALL the bases with Amy and Cathy. Those two have got it “goin’ on”~very nice of them to give an interview with you. Willie’s FAMILY is so very,very, nice and the sense of humor definitely runs in the family. I wish I knew Arlo and Family better. Have loved Arlo for years~~I JUST can’t have TWO boyfriends!!!! Hope Amy does write a book,,,,that would be GREAT!!! Wish all the kids would write one,,different view points,,highlights,,time,,well,,you know~~~
    I love seein’ Folk Uke perform,,,wish I could attend MORE shows of theirs. They are VERY talented,,,and just a WHOLE bunch of fun to see perform! Thanks for postin’ the interview!!!(you are gettin’ WILLIEPROFESSIONAL!)

  6. JoJo says:

    Thanks LL another great job!

  7. pj says:

    great interview Linda! Thanks!

  8. MissTex says:

    BIG SMILE HERE… Great interview, LL!!!!!
    I love reading your “stuff” here.

  9. LindaLee says:

    Thank you, friends. I am happy you come by!

  10. sweetheart says:

    No,
    Thank You, LindaLee!!!
    Wonderful stuff!!!

  11. […] You can find the rest of the Folk Uke interview at stillisstillmoving.com. […]

  12. Liz says:

    Love your casual style while asking a broad range of insightful questions. Thanks for a glimpse into this dynamic duo.

    Your easy going and inviting site reminds me of Willie’s warm style where everyone feels welcome and a great community coalesces and keeps coming back for more.

  13. LindaLee says:

    Oh, Liz, thank you for your kind words. You are so sweet. When are you and Jay coming to Colorado so we can meet?

  14. Mary b says:

    Wow… It great to see Amy doi g wonderful . After all these year she has done great. I miss her and remember when we were in school together. Maybe someday I will be able to reconnect with this very long time friend… God Bless her …:)

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