AUDIO: Arlo Guthrie On Steve Goodman

Audio from a new interview with Arlo on the songwriter of “City Of New Orleans”

“The fact that it came from Goodman, himselfpersonally – is what got to me.” Arlo’s sharing the secret of what led him to record “City of New Orleans” by Steve Goodman.

“It’s because I loved Goodman himself,” he said.

From an interview I did with the great Arlo this past Friday, August 14, this is audio of a small passage of that talk. During lockdown we don’t do in-person interviews, so use the phone. This one though is on Zoom, which was fun, like hanging in Arlo’s big kitchen with him. We spoke about the great Steve Goodma. But first we spoke of Arlo’s dad Woody, and also Pete Seeger, their dear friend.

Like so many, I’ve loved Arlo most of my life. As a kid growing up and seeing his summer concerts with Pete every year. What a great tradition. They’d play Ravinia, the big outdoor summer only music venue in Chicago we loved. They would switch off songs, and when Arlo played his, Pete would sit on the stage and watch, singing alone.

Pete and Arlo together was always magical and fun and heartwarming, this bridging of folk legends and generations. It was with Arlo’s father Woody that Pete fell deeply into folk music decades earlier. They even had a band back in the day, before Pete was in The Weavers – they were the Almanac Singers.

And Pete went a long way in being Woody’s champion. Before and after Woody’s death in 1967, Pete was singing and teaching Woody’s songs to the world. And teaching us about the man.

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Pete was a great songwriter – and wrote classics like “If I Had A Hammer” and “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” and even unintentional hits, like “Turn, Turn, Turn,” which became a big hit for The Byrds. But he was the rare songwriter who loved to champion those who deserved attention. And he knew Woody was a genius. He saw it first hand. Pete told the story of Woody staying over in Pete’s New York apartment. Woody had seen the movie Grapes Of Wrath, came home to Pete’s place with a jug of wine, sat down at Pete’s typewriter and got to work. Pete said in the morning he found Woody asleep in his chair, the jug empty, and in the typewriter was his epic song “Tom Joad.” Complete.

Pete was in awe of Woody’s talent, and loved the guy too.

It’s exactly the way Arlo has been with Steve Goodman. Steve wrote “City of New Orleans.” Arlo not only recorded it, he made it a hit. It changed Goodman’s short life forever.

And Steve Goodman, as his fans know, was also a champion of songwriters. He championed his pal John Prine, famously. And also the great Michael Smith. All of which brings us to Pete Seeger’s words of wisdom, which has become a mantra of sorts: All songwriters are links in a chain. All connected by song.

I interviewed Arlo long before, but never had a chance to ask him about Steve and what brought him to this song. This is his answer.

ARLO GUTHRIE: “First of all, I loved Steve Goodman personally. If he never wrote a song, I would still love the guy. If he wasn’t a great guitar player… which he never gets credit for, but he was an awesome picker. And he inspired other people.

He had this energy. I was fascinated because of his spirit. He had a spirit about him that came through in his songs, and in his performances, in his sense of humor, in his view of the world, that I just fell in love with.

I just thought, `This is a guy that is a treasure to call a friend.’ And it started with that. It went on to songs later on, but I would’ve had no interest in the songs themselves if they had come from somebody that I didn’t appreciate. The fact that it came from Goodman himself, personally, is what got to me.

That’s what made me take his demo, and put it on my piano with a lead sheet, and work through it. It was because I loved Goodman himself. “

Arlo. “It’s because I loved Goodman himself.”

We did this on Zoom, and it froze for a few second in the middle of this, during which the music rises. We did not censor or remove anything he said. It is just about six seconds.

From our interview on August 14, 2020 – which was also David Crosby’s 79th birthday – here’s Arlo on his friend Steve Goodman.

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