Steve Goodman
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Why Steve Goodman Was One of Country's Most Underrated Songwriters

The man who wrote "the perfect country and western song" was not a member of the Grand Ole Opry or the Country Music Hall of Fame. But anyone who's listened to David Allan Coe's 1975 hit "You Never Even Called Me By My Name" has heard the name, Steve Goodman.

Coe humorously mentions Goodman as the song's writer, right before introducing the infamous final verse.

"Well, a friend of mine named Steve Goodman wrote that song and he told me it was the perfect country and western song/I wrote him back a letter and I told him it was not the perfect country and western song because he hadn't said anything at all about mama, or trains, or trucks, or prison or gettin' drunk/Well, he sat down and wrote another verse to the song and he sent it to me and after reading it I realized that my friend had written the perfect country & western song and I felt obliged to include it on this album"

Goodman wrote the song with John Prine, who had befriended Goodman at Chicago's legendary folk club Earl of Old Town in the late 1960s.

Prine and Goodman's version of the song includes a different, but equally hilarious final verse.

The song was a satirical send-up of the country music industry. But that didn't stop it from reaching the Top 10 on the country charts. Prine refused to take writing credit for the song so Goodman gifted him a jukebox in return for helping write it.

The forthcoming collection It Sure Looked Good on Paper: The Steve Goodman Demos (out May 14) features 20 previously unissued recordings of Goodman, including "You Never Even Call Me By My Name" and "City of New Orleans," which Wide Open Country is premiering today.

The album contains new liner notes by Lee Zimmerman, and photos from the Goodman family archive, provided by Steve's daughter, Rosanna.

Hear Goodman's previously unheard version of "City of New Orleans" below.

Omnivore Recordings · Steve Goodman - City Of New Orleans (Band Demo)


Steve Goodman's Legacy

Steve Goodman's contribution to country music stretches beyond "You Never Even Called Me By My Name."

Born in Chicago in 1948, Goodman started singing and writing songs as a teenager. After graduating, he stayed for a month in New York's Greenwich Village, where he performed contemporary folk music regularly at Cafe Wha?, a popular club where several musicians and comedians got their start. Goodman was already earning a following for his music when he was diagnosed with leukemia. Knowing he may not have much time left, Goodman put all his energy into songwriting and performing. After moving back to Chicago he increased his following through performances at The Earl of Old Town.

He quickly became friends with fellow folk and country singer-songwriters like Prine, Kris Kristofferson, and Arlo Guthrie. Goodman brought Kris Kristofferson to see Prine perform in Chicago, which helped boost Prine's career. Kristofferson also introduced Goodman to Paul Anka, which helped him secure a record deal with Buddah Records.

Goodman's songs were introspective, funny and heartbreaking — sometimes all at once. His commercial success led him to open for comedian Steve Martin when Martin was at the height of his stand-up career. And he was so revered by his fellow songwriters that Bob Dylan sang backup on Goodman's third albumSomebody Else's Troubles.

Jessie's Jig and Other Favorites followed in 1975. Goodman's Asylum Records debut featured Jethro Burns of Homer & Jethro fame on mandolin Vassar Clements on fiddle.

Goodman's most famous work is the stunning "City of New Orleans," which he wrote while traveling by train with his wife. Recorded by folk legends like Arlo Guthrie and Judy Collins, the song has become an American standard. Of course, for many country fans, the definitive recording of "City of New Orleans" is Willie Nelson's 1984 recording for his album of the same name. Nelson's recording of the song won a Grammy in 1985. (Jimmy Buffett also recorded several of Goodman's songs, including "Banana Republics.")

A lifelong Cubs fan, Goodman wrote songs for his beloved underdog team. "A Dying Cub Fans Last Request" is Goodman's a heartfelt and tongue-in-cheek final goodbye to the Chicago Cubs.

The video below shows Goodman performing the song from the rooftop of Wrigley Field in Illinois.

The folk singer also penned "Go Cubs Go," which is still sung at every Cubs' game.

Goodman died in 1984 at the age of 36 in Seattle, Washington, eleven days before he was scheduled to sing the National Anthem at the Cubs' first post-season game since the 1945 World Series. He left behind his wife, Nancy, and three daughters.

Santa Ana Winds and Unfinished Business were released posthumously from his Red Pajamas label, the latter winning a Grammy. In 2019, Omnivore Recordings released expanded editions of Artistic Hair and Affordable Art.

In 2006, Goodman's daughter Rosanna issued My Old Man: a Tribute to Steve Goodmanfeaturing various artists performing his classic songs.

Steve Goodman died too soon, but the wit, humor, and heart that he exuded will live on forever in his songs.

This post was originally published in 2017. It was updated on March 31, 2021. 

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