- Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion
Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion
Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion
Background information Origin South Carolina, United States Genres Folk, country-rock, singer-songwriter Years active 2000—present Labels Ninth Street Opus, New West, Rt.8/RCAM Website sarahleeandjohnny.com Members Sarah Lee Guthrie
Notable instruments Voice, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, harmonica, tambourine
Sarah Lee Guthrie (born in Massachusetts on 17 February 1979) and Johnny Irion (born in Columbia, South Carolina on February 3, 1969) are a musical duo. Guthrie and Irion were married on October 16, 1999 and began performing together as an acoustic duo in the fall of 2000. Their music combined Irion's love of pop music, rock and blues with Guthrie's roots of folk and country.
Guthrie is the youngest daughter of folksinger Arlo Guthrie and the granddaughter of Woody Guthrie. As a child she was involved in theater and dance. Her interest in music was sparked when she worked as her father's road manager on the 1997 Further Festival tour and saw other members of the tour group having fun at late-night jam sessions. She picked up an acoustic guitar and started playing as a way to join in on the fun. "I always wrote poems, so it wasn't that far off for me to turn that into songs." 
"My dad was absolutely thrilled, of course, and would teach me stuff every day when we were on the road together. That was a really cool way to get to know my dad, because I'd never known him that way. And that's another thing that made it easy: my dad was so supportive."
Irion originates from a family of artists. His grandmother, Rubilee Knight is a classical violinist. His late grandfather, Fred Knight sang tenor in numerous venues, and there were some fiddlers on his father’s side of the family from Paris, TN. His aunt is married to author Thomas Steinbeck, the son of iconic author John Steinbeck. Ironically, Woody and John did correspond at points, and in time the two families have been brought together through the marriage of Sarah Lee and Johnny.
Irion's music career began with his junior high bandmates Zeke Hutchins (married to Tift Merritt) and guitarist Ryan Pickett (front of house engineer, My Morning Jacket). They established the band Queen Sarah Saturday. They started playing in the triangle area centered around Chapel Hill, NC and were a part of a vibrant indie rock scene featuring other bands such as Archers of Loaf, The Connells, Superchunk, Dillon Fence, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Queen Sarah Saturday signed with Sony Music Entertainment affiliate-label Thirsty Ear Recordings in 1994, and shared the stage with Charleston's UK, Redd Kross, The Ramones, and toured extensively throughout the South. They released their debut album, Weave, in 1994, and an EP entitled June German, in 1995. Queen Sarah Saturday disbanded in 1996.
In the late '90s, Dillion Fence's lead singer Greg Humphreys approached Irion about joining his band for the Black Crowes’s European "Amorica" Tour, which Irion joined and sang and played guitar in. The band performed at venues such as Royal Albert Hall and Le Zenith in Paris. Upon returning back to North Carolina, Irion was approached by Chris Robinson to play guitar in a band he was producing in Los Angeles, called Freight Train. After months of recording and playing shows in LA, drummer Mike Stinson (also a songwriter for Dwight Yoakam) and Irion left the band and continued to play around LA from 1997 - 2000 under several different band names. Around this time, Irion met Mike Brenner, and co-wrote "Wicked Son," which appeared on Slo Mo's first record produced by Tom Rothrock. Irion co-wrote the Roman Carter single, "Just A Little Too Fast," shot super 8 footage and appeared in the music video. Irion has appeared in various films and documentaries including Ghost World, Dennis Leary's The Job, and Sarah Lee and Johnny put music to the song "Flowers," which appeared in a documentary on Peter La Farge.
During this 3 years period in LA, Irion met Sarah Lee Guthrie and they started singing harmonies at late-night jams and began a burgeoning career. Upon leaving LA in 2000, Irion and Guthrie moved back to the East Coast, to Columbia, SC. They each released a solo record: Unity Lodge and Sarah Lee Guthrie. The duo toured together across the US, and with independent record label Yep Roc releasing Unity Lodge in 2001, the duo was asked to play the Blue Highways Festival. The duo has now toured Europe six times. Following the release of the two solo albums, and four years on the road, their first daughter Olivia was born.
In 2004, Sarah Lee and Johnny approached Gary Louris (of The Jayhawks) about producing their debut full-length album. They subsequently traveled to Minneapolis to record the album at Flowers studio. Exploration, engineered by Ed Ackerson, was released by New West Records in 2005. The duo performed several shows with The Jayhawks, toured with their good friend Kevin Kenny (of Drivin N Cryin fame), and appeared at Strawberry Music Festival.
After failed relations with New West, the duo decided to start their own record company, Route 8 Records, which in turn released Irion's solo record, Ex Tempore (2007). The album received critical acclaim from many press outlets including Uncut ("...Its soft, tremulous roll owes as much to Neil Young's After the Goldrush as it does the early-'70s cheese cloth'n'denim of James Taylor's Sweet Baby James..."), MOJO magazine ("...An intriguing, appealing mix of Americana influences and tempos, excellently played and sung in a high, sometimes Neil Youngesque voice..."), and music critic Don McLeese praised the album by saying, "Though Johnny Irion's music has been closely tied to that of his wife, Sarah Lee Guthrie, on Ex Tempore he makes a bold step toward asserting his own artistic identity. The results are often surprising, occasionally stunning." To this day, the duo still performs songs from the album in their live sets.
While touring as a duo shortly after Ex Tempore was released, Sarah Lee and Johnny filmed a show at Tales from the Tavern in Santa Barbara, which led to a live HD DVD, called Folksong. Jason Hill (songwriter for Louis IX, New York Dolls, The Killers) mixed Folksong. They continued to tour with their daughter Olivia on the road with them, and began to stockpile original children's songs. Sarah Lee Guthrie was approached by John Smith, from Smithsonian Folkways, to make a children's record in their home studio. In 2009, the children's album Go Waggaloo was released. On the release, Sarah Lee is joined by Irion and their two daughters, as well as numerous friends and family members including Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Tao Rodriguez-Seeger. The album includes three songs featuring lyrics by Woody Guthrie never before put to music and eight songs written by Sarah Lee and family. In January 2011, Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion were nominated for the 10th Annual Independent Music Awards in the Children's Music category for their song "Don't Fit In My Daddy's Shoes?", and they also won the Dr. Toy Award. Since the release of Go Waggalo, they have performed with their two daughters under the monarch of Sarah Lee Guthrie and Family, at such venues as Royce Hall and The Getty Center. The duo sometimes does "family" and "grown-up shows" at music festivals around the country.
In 2010, while backstage at Gary Louris's show at Town Hall during his tour supporting Vagabonds, Irion met Andy Cabic (lead singer-songwriter for the indie-folk band Vetiver). Irion soon after asked Cabic to co-produce their latest album, Bright Examples, with Thom Monahan (Devendra Banhart, Vetiver). The album was recorded at Dreamland Studios in Woodstock, NY. Sarah Lee and Johnny signed a record deal with Ninth Street Opus, and they released Bright Examples on February 22, 2011. Bright Examples includes 12 original songs showcasing an entirely new electric sound for Sarah Lee and Johnny. Special guests include Gary Louris and Mark Olson of The Jayhawks (background vocals), Vetiver's drummer Otto Houser, singer-songwriter/guitarist Neal Casal (guitar, album photography, he is the photographer featured in the book Ryan Adams: A View of Other Windows), Kevin Barker and Charlie Rose (pedal steel, flat picking guitars), and Rad Lorkovic (piano).
Sarah Lee and Johnny made their national TV debut in March 2010 when they appeared on Last Call with Carson Daly. Their CD release party at Hotel Café in Los Angeles, CA was filmed and several songs were broadcasted on Last Call with Carson Daly. Also in March 2011, the duo took their band to Austin, TX to perform at SXSW. In June 2011, Sarah Lee and Johnny and the band appeared at Wilco's Solid Sound Festival at MassMoCa in North Adams, MA. The duo sat in with Wilco on the song, "California Stars". Currently, the duo is working on a covers record with the Rondo Brothers.
Guthrie and Irion have appeared at the Newport Folk Festival, The Philadelphia Folk Festival, Solid Sound, Song School and Folks Festival, Winnipeg Folk Festival, Bumbershoot, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, MerleFest, This Land is Your Land (featuring Sheryl Crow and Pete Seeger), Clearwater Festival, Lake Eden Arts Festival, as well as theatres nationwide including [[Carnegie Hall[[and The Getty, listening rooms, performing arts centers, and schools. When not performing their own shows they tour nationally with Arlo Guthrie, opening the show, then joining him onstage in their family concert series. They recently accompanied Arlo at Carnegie Hall with Pete Seeger and The Dillards. Sarah Lee also joined Arlo Guthrie in the 2010 Macy's Day Parade, and they sang "This Land Is Your Land."
Sarah Lee and Johnny have toured with Autumn Defense, Vetiver, Ray LaMontagne, Martin Sexton, Jayhawks, John Prine, and Guy Clark; and they have shared the stage with Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Pete Seeger, Steve Earle, Wilco, Neil Young, Joan Baez, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, and Chris Robinson. Sarah Lee performed at the World Equestrian Games in 2010, singing her grandfathers song, “This Land Is Your Land” and Hoyt Axton’s “Young Girls Mind.” Her performance was televised with a live broadcast.
For the 9th year in a row, Johnny Irion joins the band Chatham County Line for an annual Christmas show for several concerts in the Southeastern United States. It is a show that Chatham County Line plays electric instruments. In 2012, Sarah Lee and Johnny will perform on the Cayamo Cruise.
Year Title Artist Label 2011 Bright Examples (full length) Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion Ninth Street Opus 2010 Bright Examples EP Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion Ninth Street Opus 2009 Go Waggaloo Sarah Lee Guthrie & Family Smithsonian Folkways 2009 Folksong [DVD and CD] Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion Rte. 8 2007 Ex Tempore Johnny Irion Rte.8/RCAM 2005 Exploration Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion Rte. 8 2004 Entirely Live [EP] Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion Rte. 8 2002 Sarah Lee Guthrie Sarah Lee Guthrie Rising Son Records 2001 Unity Lodge Johnny Irion Yep Roc Records 1994 Weave Johnny Irion / Queen Sarah Saturday Thirsty Ear
- ^ Internet Movie Database. Biography for Sarah Lee Guthrie. Retrieved Nov. 19, 2007.
- ^ Nelligan, Tom. Three generations of Guthries: an American musical family. Dirty Linen, June/July 2002, p. 36-43.
- ^ Alarik, Scott."The Guthries & Seegers Are At It Again!" Sept. 21, 2006. Originally appeared in Elmore Magazine.
- ^ a b Biography for Johnny Irion. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2009-08-28
- ^ Smithsonian Folkways. Go Waggaloo: Sarah Lee Guthrie & Family. Retrieved October 22, 2009.
- American folk musical groups
- Musical groups from South Carolina
- Guthrie family
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