Arlo Guthrie – “The City of New Orleans!”

Photo Credit: Bing Images

While out running errands this morning, I happened to hear Arlo Guthrie on the 70s channel of SiriusXM Radio. I haven’t heard this song in quite some time. Honestly back when this song came out, I thought it to be a little sad as he referenced grave yards filled with old black men, and grave yards of the rusted automobiles. I could just imagine in my mind the view through his lyrics. It could leave one wondering what everything looked like and the images and thoughts that were going through the song writer, Steve Goodman’s head as he rode the train and took in the scenery. There were so many songs of that era that really touched me and left their mark upon my heart, and this is just one of them. Arlo’s voice almost reminds me of Bob Dylan; maybe it’s his story telling or just his expression in this song. I love the song and am so happy Steve Goodman wrote it and trusted Arlo Guthrie with it. Willie Nelson also covered this song and took it to #1 in 1984 on the Country Chart.

It’s touching to read how this song came to be and how Goodman wrote it as he traveled on the Illinois Central train. It just tugs at your heart and digs down deep into your soul!


Arlo Guthrie is a prolific songwriter (and the son of maybe the more prolific songwriters), but he didn’t write this one. “City Of New Orleans” was composed by the Chicago singer-songwriter Steve Goodman in 1970.

Goodman wrote the lyrics on a sketch pad after his wife fell asleep on the Illinois Central train, where they were going to visit his wife’s grandmother. Goodman wrote about what he saw looking out the windows of the train and playing cards in the club car. Everything in the song actually happened on the ride.

After he returned home, Goodman heard that the train was scheduled to be decommissioned due to lack of passengers. He was encouraged to use this song to save the train, so he retouched the lyrics and released it on his first album in 1971.
Steve Goodman released his version as a single in 1972, but it was Arlo Guthrie’s cover that same year that popularized the song and brought attention to rail lines that were vanishing across middle America. Many people who lived in rural areas relied on them to travel.

Steve Goodman died on September 20, 1984 at the age of 36 after a long battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. That same year, Willie Nelson covered this song and made it the title track of his album. Nelson’s version was a #1 Country hit and won the Grammy Award for Best Country Song, which is a songwriting category and thus an honor bestowed posthumously to Goodman.

Nelson was one of many high-profile fans of Goodman, who released 11 albums in his lifetime. Diagnosed with leukemia in 1969, Goodman underwent chemotherapy and his cancer stayed in remission for 13 years thanks to an unpleasant regimen of drugs and treatment. When his cancer returned, Goodman continued performing and stayed in high spirits. This song, written after he was diagnosed, is a great example of his positive outlook, demonstrating a mindfulness and vitality of someone who appreciates the time he has left.



“City Of New Orleans”

Riding on the City of New Orleans
Illinois Central, Monday morning rail
15 cars and 15 restless riders
3 conductors, 25 sacks of mailAll along the southbound odyssey, the train pulls out of Kankakee
And rolls along past houses farms and fields
Passing trains that have no name, and freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles

Good morning America, how are you
Said don’t you know me, I’m your native son
I’m the train they call the City of New Orleans
I’ll be gone 500 miles when the day is done

Dealing card games, with the old men in the club car
Penny a point ain’t no one keeping score
Pass the paper bag that holds the bottle
Feel the wheels, rumblin’ ‘neath the floor

And the sons of Pullman porters, and the sons of engineers
Ride their fathers’ magic carpets, made of steel
And mothers with their babes asleep, are rockin’ to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel

Good morning America, how are you
Said don’t you know me, I’m your native son
I’m the train they call the City of New Orleans
I’ll be gone 500 miles when the day is done

Nighttime on the City of New Orleans
Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee
Halfway home, we’ll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness, rolling down to the sea

But all the towns and people seem, to fade into a bad dream
And the steel rail still ain’t heard the news
The conductor sings his songs again, the passengers will please refrain
This train got the disappearing railroad blues

Good night America, how are you
Said don’t you know me, I’m your native son
I’m the train they call the City of New Orleans
I’ll be gone 500 miles when the day is done

Written by: Steve Goodman –

6 thoughts on “Arlo Guthrie – “The City of New Orleans!”

      1. He really does. He is one artist I would love to see. I never want to meet artists but if I could…I would like to meet him. He seems like a really laid back person.