Backing Steve Goodman



Continuing with our year of Bob Dylan on vacation, in mid-September 1972 Dylan played piano on two songs recorded by Steve Goodman for his third album, Somebody Else’s Troubles. Goodman, of course, was a well-known young country/folk songwriter who won a Grammy for writing “City of New Orleans”, the song made famous by Arlo Guthrie and, later, by Willie Nelson. Goodman was diagnosed with leukaemia while in college, and knew that he would not live a long life. He was only twenty-four when Dylan sat in on his session, and he would pass away at the age of thirty-six.

The two songs that Dylan played piano on are the title track of the album, “Somebody Else’s Troubles” and the minor political satire “Election Year Rag”. Of these, the latter is not particularly notable. The problem with a funny song about elections is that it probably should be genuinely funny, which this is not. This is not a topical song, and it is not a satire insofar as it has no real point of view at all. It is a pox on both their houses, and not even really that, which would give it more credit than it deserves.

“Somebody Else’s Troubles” is a full-on bluegrass tune, but it’s also not a particularly great one. It is a wry song: “As long as Fate is out there busting somebody else’s bubble/Everything’s gonna be alright”, but not a classic by any stretch of the imagination.

Goodman worked a lot with John Prine, with whom Dylan performed on September 9th of this year at The Bitter End, probably right before these sessions. I haven’t read much about Dylan’s relationship to Prine and to Goodman to be able to add much to this story, other than it is kind of interesting to see Dylan in the role of session man here. The record label promoted Dylan’s contributions, even if the songs themselves don’t exactly foreground them. Musically, we’re not going to get much more from Dylan this year.