The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #87007   Message #1622200
Posted By: wysiwyg
07-Dec-05 - 05:27 PM
Thread Name: A link for all Steve Goodman fans
Subject: RE: A link for all Steve Goodman fans
Here's the article.



Entertainment Archive

'City of New Orleans' rides again
December 4, 2005

"City of New Orleans" is the train song that resounds with every heartbeat of America. Popularized by Arlo Guthrie, the rambling ballad has since been recorded by many, including Willie Nelson. Johnny Cash, who knows his railroad metaphors, called it "the best damn train song ever written." But the song -- with its recognizable chorus, "Good mornin,' America, how are you?" -- has gained such immortality that its origins often are forgotten. It was composed in 1970 by Chicago singer-songwriter Steve Goodman.

This week, as Guthrie and several musical friends play a concert here and launch a Chicago-to-New Orleans fund-raising trip riding the City of New Orleans train, the song's roots are even more special.

Goodman wrote "City of New Orleans" while riding the old Illinois Central "Monday Morning Rail" to southern Illinois. He was traveling with his wife, Nancy, to visit her 93-year-old grandmother in Mattoon.

Southern Illinois being Southern Illinois, Nancy fell asleep.

Nancy was seated next to the window. Goodman was on the aisle. He liked the aisles because it gave him easy access to people.

Goodman died in the autumn of 1984 after a 15-year battle with leukemia. He was 36. His wife Nancy has since remarried and is a nurse practitioner on New York's Upper West Side. In a rare interview earlier this week, she retraced the journey that shaped the "City of New Orleans."

"Whenever we traveled or did anything, Steve was always talking to everybody," Nancy Tenney recalled. "He liked to know everything. He'd be wandering around, come back and sit for a bit and scribble. He wrote most of 'City of New Orleans' on the way down. He brought along a guitar. He wrote most of his songs within a few hours or in one night. It wasn't something he carried around. Sometimes a song would just pour through him."

During a 1981 backstage interview at ChicagoFest on Navy Pier, Goodman told me, "Everything in the song really happened." Arlo Guthrie recorded "City of New Orleans" in July 1972, and Goodman said he felt validated. "It was the first time I felt there was room for me in this circle in terms of doing this until I couldn't anymore."

"He was right," she added. "'City of New Orleans' is still taking care of the girls [their daughters Jessie, Sarah and Rosanna]. It is the most incredible legacy, the pride of that. Here was a guy who wanted everything and knew he was only going to have a certain amount of time to get it. To have somebody like Arlo Guthrie recognize that early on was amazing."

Guthrie first heard "City of New Orleans" in 1970 at Richard Harding's now-defunct Quiet Knight nightclub on Belmont Avenue in Chicago. (In a fitting coincidence, the "Ridin' on the City of New Orleans" kickoff concert Monday is right around the corner at the Vic Theatre.)

In a separate interview from his home in Massachusetts, Guthrie recalled that night. "In those days you played until 2 or 3 in the morning," he said. "When I was done that night, I was packing up all my guitars and walking out the door when a little guy stopped me and says, 'I want to sing you a song.' I said, 'Come on, I don't want to hear no song. I hate songs, I just want to get out of here.'"

But Goodman wouldn't give up, and Guthrie relented. "I told him to buy me a beer," Guthrie said. "And as long as it lasts, you can do whatever you want. He said, 'That sounds like a good deal.' Turned out to be the best beer in my life because I got to meet Steve Goodman. We became friends that night and stayed friends until he passed away."

When Guthrie recorded "City of New Orleans" for his "Hobo's Lullaby" album (1972), he elected to slow down the tempo from Goodman's original composition. "I just wanted to follow along with it," Guthrie said. "It wasn't intentional. I changed a few words I thought suited me better. About six months after I met Steve, we recorded it in L.A. And I didn't like it. It was too rock 'n' roll. We recorded that song seven times. Every version we did was different."

Session players included guitarist Ry Cooder, drummer Jim Keltner, Memphis legend Jim Dickinson on piano and Flying Burrito Brothers bassist Chris Ethridge. Producer Lenny Waronker (also known for signing Rod Stewart and Curtis Mayfield to Warner/Reprise) settled on the simplest version of "City of New Orleans."

"We thought, 'This song doesn't need anything like electric guitars,'" Guthrie said. "We brought in three black female singers and four white barbershop-type singers and put them together. We put a little accordion in there. It had a feel to it that was different than anything I ever heard. But nobody ever thought it was going to do anything."

"City of New Orleans" turned out to be the biggest hit of Guthrie's career, riding into the Top 20 pop singles chart in 1972. It was a greater commercial success than anything ever recorded by his late father, Woody Guthrie.

"And you've got to understand, 'City of New Orleans' is probably not the best song Steve wrote," Guthrie said. "He was an incredible songwriter. He was an incredible performer. An amazing guitar player, and this was years before guitar players were something special. Steve was a bundle of energy that was absolutely a joy to behold. He just had it. I really loved the guy."

The daughter of a minister, Nancy met Goodman in autumn 1969. They were married in February 1970, even though Goodman was diagnosed with leukemia the year before. The "City of New Orleans" songwriting experience was their first train ride together.

"We thought it would be cool," she said. "It wasn't with the intent to write a song. Steve had gone to school for a brief time at University of Illinois. At that time, the train stopped right in Mattoon.

"As soon as we got off the train [in Chicago], we went straight to the Earl [of Old Town, folk club on North Wells Street] -- because he had a new song. If he had a new song, he had to play it for somebody. It was late at night. I think Fred [Holstein] was there. A sweet folkie guy named Richard Wedler, who since moved to California, was in Earl's office. He said, 'Steve, there's nothing about what's going on inside the train.' That's when Steve wrote about what happened inside the train [dealing cards to the old men in the club car]."

In a weird twist of fate, Amtrak discontinued the City of New Orleans route in 1971. But in part due to the popularity of Goodman's song, Amtrak restarted the City of New Orleans train line exactly 10 years later.

Over the years, Tenney has removed herself from the music scene. "That was an incredible time in my life," she said. "But it was also a very, very difficult time. Some things are hard to revisit, some things are great. But Steve was an incredibly intense, fascinating person to be around. So it was also very, very magical."

Good mornin,' America, how are you?
For 11 days, Arlo and his folksinging friends will ride the rails, playing shows along the way to raise money and awareness for victims of this year's Gulf Coast hurricanes.

All proceeds, through his Guthrie Foundation, are aimed at benefitting small music venues in New Orleans that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. The New Orleans-based Tipitina's Foundation and the MusicCares arm of the Recording Academy will aid the restoration of the musical infrastructure in the Crescent City.

When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield
Tickets: $36-$51
Phone: (773) 472-0449 or (312) 559-1212

Monday's Chicago show, which kicks off Guthrie's trip on Amtrak's "City of New Orleans" train from Chicago to New Orleans, features Arlo's son Abe Guthrie with his band Xavier, daughter Sarah Lee Guthrie and her husband Johnny Irion, Cyril Neville, Ramsay Midwood, Kevn Kinney with Drivin' and Cryin', the Burns Sisters and John Flynn.

Guthrie and his entourage then will depart from Union Station at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Benefit concerts along the way include:

*Wednesday at the Lincoln Cultural Center in Kankakee.

*Saturday at the Canopy Club in Urbana/Champaign.

*Dec. 11 in downstate Effingham.

*Dec. 13 at the New Daisy theater on Beale Street in Memphis.

*Dec. 17 at Tipitina's in New Orleans, with Willie Nelson and his harmonica player Mickey Raphael.

Guthrie began thinking about the train benefit after losing his own home in south Florida to one of last year's hurricanes.

"After working with FEMA and others, I found they weren't going to be able to do anything," he said. "When I saw the disaster unfolding in New Orleans, I knew people were going to be in for a rough run.

"I also noticed that just before Katrina hit, Congress was trying to stop funding Amtrak's great runs like the City of New Orleans. Anybody who saw the aftermath of 9/11, when the planes were grounded and traffic was at a standstill, the only things running were trains. It didn't make any sense to me why we wouldn't afford ourselves as a country every opportunity to keep goods and services and people moving. I wrote some letters and did some stuff for Amtrak, but those two events were the background for this."

Dave Hoekstra