Lost or Forgotten Oldie of the Day: 1972 Arlo Guthrie – City Of New Orleans

Arlo Guthrie was born in Brooklyn and moved to Massachusetts to finish high school and attend college. His father was folksinger Woody Guthrie, so it surprised nobody that Arlo began singing and playing guitar.

Local police arrested Arlo on a fateful Thanksgiving in 1965 when he set out to dump some garbage in the local landfill. The landfill was closed for the holiday, and he ran afoul of the law when he dumped a half-ton of garbage on somebody’s private property.

The transgression led to an arrest and conviction and later helped him elude the draft. He recorded an eighteen-minute song about the event. Alice’s Restaurant Massacree came out in 1967 and was an overnight sensation thanks to its anti-draft theme. In 1969 he also starred in a movie based on the song and sang on the soundtrack. If you’ve never heard the song you have missed a very entertaining performance that reveals a lot about society in the late sixties.

Arlo began performing live in increasingly larger and more prestigious venues. He recorded three more albums that were primarily folk songs, but the albums were ignored by radio.

Steve Goodman grew up in Chicago and played in a rock cover band in college. He abandoned college and moved to New York and began performing folk songs at a cafe. His health became a challenge, so he returned to Chicago and soon learned that he had leukemia. He remained in Chicago and built up a following by playing regularly at a local coffee house. He supported himself by also singing advertising jingles.

Steve became friends with John Prine and the two of them co-wrote You Never Even Called Me by My Name, one of the songs Steve later included on his first album.

Steve was the opening act for Kris Kristofferson at a club in 1971. Kris was impressed enough to introduce Steve to Paul Anka, and Paul took Steve to New York to record some demo songs. Buddah Records signed Steve to a recording contract after hearing the demo tapes and released his first album.

Steve recognized Arlo at a Chicago bar and asked him to sit while he played a song. Arlo agreed on the condition that Steve buy him a beer, and Steve played a song he had written and recently recorded: City Of New Orleans. Arlo recognized a good song when he heard one, and soon after recorded and released the single himself. Arlo’s version was decidedly more like a folk song and turned out to be Arlo’s second and final visit to the Hot 100 when it reached #18 in the late fall of 1972.

Arlo continued performing and recording new albums through 2014. He followed in his father’s footsteps and wrote protest songs and often performed with Pete Seeger.

Steve later had some surprising success with songs he had written when they landed on the US Country chart. David Allen Coe covered You Never Even Called Me by My Name in 1974. He prodded Steve to write an extra verse and make it the perfect Country song and it peaked at #8.

Willie Nelson covered City Of New Orleans in 1984 and his very Country version reached #1 on the Country chart and #30 on the Adult Contemporary Chart. That single also won Steve the Grammy Award for Best Country song of 1984.

Steve died in 1984 but won a second Grammy in 1987 for Best Folk Album for an album that was released a few years later.


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