FAYETTEVILLE -- It's 1977 and singer Anne Murray is searching for material to include on her next album. She's sorting through a box of cassettes filled with tracks pitched to her by songwriting hopefuls when one in particular catches her ear.
"I heard this song and I put it aside to listen to it again later," Murray says last month from her home in Nova Scotia. "When I went back and listened to that song, I had to actually sit down. I was so moved by it."
The track, "You Needed Me," was written by Hot Springs native Randy Goodrum. It appeared on Murray's 1978 album "Let's Keep It That Way," reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, spent months on the Adult Contemporary chart and earned Murray a Grammy for best female pop vocal performance.
It was a breakout song for Goodrum, who had spent a decade up to that point honing his songwriting talent.
If you have listened to country, pop or adult contemporary radio at any point since the late '70s, you have likely heard his compositions.
There's England Dan & John Ford Coley's "It's Sad to Belong"; "Bluer Than Blue" by Michael Johnson; Gene Cotton's "Before My Heart Finds Out"; "Broken Hearted Me," another track recorded by Murray; "What Are We Doin' in Love" by Dottie West and Kenny Rogers; "Who's Holding Donna Now" by DeBarge; "I'll Be Over You" by Toto; Jo Dee Messina's "Lesson in Leaving" and more.
When singer Steve Perry of Journey recorded his first solo album, 1984's "Street Talk," he called Goodrum, whom he had heard about through a mutual friend. The pair would end up co-writing most of the record, including the hits "Foolish Heart" and "Oh Sherrie."
"I got a good feeling from him immediately on the phone," Perry says in an email. "Randy is an honest person and an honest songwriter. He doesn't have a jive hack bone in his body."
Goodrum, ranging from his early hits in the '70s through Irish pop singer Ronan Keating's "All Over Again" in 2006, has the distinction of having cracked the Top 10 at least once in each decade.
In late 2020 he released "Red Eye," an album of jazz-pop originals that he calls his "bucket list solo project."
On a pleasant, bright day in early March, the 73-year-old Goodrum is sitting at a piano at Crisp Recording Studio in Fayetteville. He and his wife, Gail, moved to the city in 2014 -- after years of living in Nashville; Westport, Conn.; and Los Angeles -- to be closer to family and the Arkansas Razorbacks basketball team.
"We're season ticket holders," Goodrum says. "We'd been coming here for years and always had our sights set on moving here."
He is slim, wears round glasses and is dressed smartly in jeans, oxfords, a gray blazer and a black crew-neck sweater over a white T-shirt. Every now and then, he will play something on the piano to illustrate a point as he talks about his life and career.
Goodrum grew up in Hot Springs, the son of Winnie and Dr. W.A. "Bud" Goodrum. His first musical memories are of his father, "a wonderful musician," playing standards on a Gibson four-string tenor guitar.
His older brother Buddy would plink around on the family's piano, which also had an impact on young Randy.
"He was really into the blues," Goodrum says before playing a bluesy run on the piano.
The two would listen, enthralled, to AM radio stations from across the country at night to hear blues music.
He sings about it on "The Hub," a track from "Red Eye."
"KMOX, WNOE, clear channel sounds streaking through the sky ev'ry night
"John Lee, Jimmy Reed, Buddy Rich, Frank and Dean
"Like a mid-South lullaby till the mornin' light"
He took piano lessons, but the pull of the outdoors -- golf, water skiing, "just being a kid" -- was too great and he stopped. He kept playing piano on his own, however, learning tunes by ear.
"I would sit for hours playing songs I heard on records. I know I drove my parents crazy."
By junior high he was taking lessons again, this time from John Puckett, a music teacher at Langston High School, the school for Black students in Hot Springs.
"He was an amazing pianist," Goodrum recalls. "The first half of each lesson would be classical, technique and all that. In the second half I could do what I wanted, jazz, blues, whatever."
You know those stories where a young person wants to pursue some crazy career and the sensible parent tries to steer him to something more practical?
Here's what happened when Randy, who was still in junior high, asked his old man for career advice.
"I told him I was thinking about being a doctor. He said, 'Are you dying to be a doctor?' And I said, well, I thought it would be a respectable profession and there would be economic security and I would have a regular life."
His father, an ear, nose and throat doctor, asked him what his other choice was. Music, Goodrum told him.
"He said, 'Are you dying to be a musician,' and I told him it was all I do. I came home and played piano and I just loved it."
His father enjoyed his work, but told his son about colleagues who were miserable practicing medicine.
"He said, 'Some people aren't in it for the same reason I am and they aren't happy,'" Goodrum remembers. "'I think you have made your decision.' He totally understood my love of music and knew it wasn't some weirdo thing."
Not long after, Goodrum was playing in Hot Springs nightspots, including the legendary Vapors club, even before he was old enough to enter legally.
"Hot Springs was this melting pot and was a very powerful influence," he says. "It was tailor-made for everything I ever wanted to do."
His mother made a deal with him that if he saved his gig money, she would match it.
"She was good with that kind of stuff and she was teaching me a practical lesson," he says.
In high school he was in a band with a saxophone player named Bill Clinton, who would go on to a career in politics. (Yes, they stayed in touch. Goodrum wrote songs for the '92 and '96 Clinton presidential campaigns and the closing theme of the '92 Democratic Convention. He also wrote the theme for Clinton's first Inaugural Gala.)
He was a piano major at Hendrix College in Conway, where he met Gail, a Little Rock native, his freshman year (they married after college and have two daughters: Julia, who lives outside Nashville, and Sarah, who lives in Berlin). His introduction to composing came while writing production numbers for the school's musicals.
"I loved the songwriting thing," he says. "The script was already there and the premise was clearly defined in the dialogue, so I knew what to write about. That sort of built the model for how I write songs from then on. The premise is the important thing in writing."
He kept writing songs on his own and was making a little progress.
"They weren't very good, but every two weeks or a month I would look back and see that I was a little better than I was before."
After graduation, Goodrum was drafted into -- or, in his words, "was invited to join" -- the Army. He played in the 4th U.S. Army Band and was stationed in Stuttgart, Germany.
After two years in the service he settled in Little Rock with Gail, who was teaching English at Wilbur D. Mills High School. His plan was to play gigs, teach music lessons and write songs.
"She knew it was going to be a risky life," Goodrum says about his wife. "But she was willing to take the risk. We didn't need to be rich, we just needed to keep the wolf away from the door."
He recorded a few demos and wanted to pitch them in Los Angeles, so he loaded up his Volkswagen Squareback and headed west.
After a few meetings, he realized "that my songs were not that good ... I felt like I still needed to find my voice."
Back in Little Rock he connected with Bob Millsap, an old fishing buddy from Hot Springs who was a songwriter, producer and music publisher in Nashville.
At Millsap's urging, Goodrum visited Nashville, though he was leery of the whole country music vibe.
He played organ on a jingle session with Millsap and others and was smitten with the idea of studio work as soon as he heard the playback of his part. Soon, the Goodrums left Little Rock for Nashville.
Millsap told him he liked his songs, and though he wasn't sure how to classify them or if anyone would ever record them, he would publish a few of them and pay to have demos produced.
It was in Millsap's little basement studio, far off Music Row, that Goodrum first tracked future hits "Sad to Belong" and "You Needed Me."
He got a gig in Roy Orbison's touring band and later became a session player. He played piano for Jerry Reed ("he was a genius," Goodrum says), through whom he met Chet Atkins.
The legendary guitarist and producer wanted Goodrum to teach him some jazz licks and the two became friends, with Goodrum playing piano in Atkins' band.
Goodrum was also learning, especially after Atkins professed his love for the song "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
"I thought he was pulling my leg," Goodrum says. "But I listened to it objectively and analyzed it and realized it's a perfect song. That's probably why everybody knows it. He had an exceptional mind. He taught me how to see things essentially and not to have any prejudice, just look at what it is."
HIT AFTER HIT
As a songwriter, Goodrum was a bit of an oddball in Nashville. His tunes weren't that country, but they weren't totally pop, either. He was working in a hybrid vein of both, with a little soft rock thrown in as well.
"I did a lot of writing in my car," he says.
"It's Sad to Belong," his first hit, was written while rushing to a gig at a Nashville Knights of Columbus Hall, after he showed up at the wrong spot earlier.
Wrong place, right time. Hmm, it sounded like a good premise for a tune, as long as he didn't step on Dr. John's "Right Place Wrong Time."
"By the time I got to the gig, late, I had written the first verse and chorus," he says.
By 1977, Goodrum was gaining traction. Not only were his songs getting recorded, they were doing well on radio. England Dan & John Ford Coley's version of "It's Sad to Belong," from their 1977 "Dowdy Ferry Road" album, hit No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Other Nashville artists would follow.
When Murray found "You Needed Me," it was a bit of an outlier.
"This song did not have a chorus," she says.
"We'd been pitching that for years," Goodrum says, "and that was always the complaint, there wasn't a chorus. It doesn't need a chorus."
The singer knew she had something special.
"When we recorded that in the studio, it was magical," Murray says. "To a person, when we listened back to that, we all knew it was a hit."
She says Goodrum's songs "are so heartfelt, they are so touching. He might not like me saying it, but he writes like a woman. So many people have said to me, 'you must have written that,' but no, it was written by a man. It touched a lot of people."
Goodrum soon began to transition from studio musician to songwriting full time, although he still dabbles in session work, most recently contributing vocals on "Hearts in Phase," a song he wrote for Finnish keyboardist Tomi Malm's 2020 album "Coming Home."
By 1981, he was named ASCAP's Country Writer of the Year and would eventually be inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Association Hall of Fame. There were solo albums and he co-wrote the theme to the soap opera "One Life to Live" with composer Dave Grusin.
Perry heard about Goodrum from drummer Andy Newmark. When the singer called about possibly working together for his first post-Journey project, Goodrum thought he was talking to Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry.
His oldest daughter, Julia, ran to her room, pulled her Journey poster off the wall and showed it to him as Goodrum was still on the phone with Perry.
"'It's this guy,' she said," Goodrum remembers with a laugh.
He flew to L.A. from his home in Connecticut the next day and met Perry for the first time.
"I was wearing a sport coat and corduroy pants," he says. "I looked like a guy who lived in Connecticut. Steve opens the door wearing a fire-engine red jumpsuit with his hair down to his knees."
The two connected instantly and Goodrum had brought a little piano vamp, which he plays while telling the story, that became "Foolish Heart."
They started writing at 11 a.m. and had the song done that afternoon, Goodrum says. They wrote four songs over the next four days and Goodrum shares songwriting credit on eight of the album's 10 tracks.
Working with Goodrum is "Fun. We have fun," Perry says. "It's such a huge component to writing good songs. During the 'Street Talk' session Randy saw I was getting a bit neurotic so he said, 'Hey Steve, the most fun thing about making records is when you're making them.' I love that to this day."
In 1984, Goodrum moved his family to Los Angeles, where he built a studio behind his house and "was working all the time," writing songs and producing albums.
Along with acts like Al Jarreau, George Benson, El DeBarge, Toto and others, he was part of a soft rock, R&B-and-jazz-tinted subgenre called the Westcoast Sound popular not only here but in Japan and Europe -- especially the Scandinavian countries.
"Red Eye," his latest solo project, is a bright, soothing collection of smooth jazz that Goodrum co-produced with his pal, Grammy-nominated producer, composer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist Larry Williams, who has recorded with Michael Jackson, Sheila E., Frank Sinatra, Pink Floyd, Green Day and Quincy Jones Jr., just to name a few.
"It's so easy to work with him," Williams says. "We just started writing. We're both well-traveled, experienced guys who have played with a lot of different people. There are certain guys, not very many, that I've written with where it is just effortless and there are none quite like Randy. I'll start an idea and he will complete it. It's perfect confluence of experiences, taste, the way we hear music and think about it."
"I'm really pleased with how the album turned out," Goodrum says.
Goodrum has been making music for most of his life now. It's not an easy career path, but he kept plugging away, learning songcraft, constantly practicing, networking, meeting new people and pitching his tracks. He learned how to be available at a moment's notice when he was a session player, and he applied that blue-collar ethic to writing.
And he's still engrossed in music. He is working on a project for GIG, his band with Dave Innis of Restless Heart and guitarist-producer Bruce Gaitsch and is mixing the latest from JaR, his collaboration with Grammy winner Jay Graydon.
"I still love it the same way," Goodrum says. "I still listen to the same Miles Davis records and Bill Evans records that I listened to in 1959. They still bring me something new. It's like classical literature. It never loses its shine because there is so much depth and sincerity and correctness about it."
DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: July 7, 1947, Hot Springs
MY EARLIEST MUSICAL MEMORY: Hearing my Dad play guitar.
AS A STUDENT, I WAS: OK in most subjects, especially music, however deplorable in penmanship.
MY FIRST CAR WAS: 1967 Chevrolet
THE BEST PART OF WRITING A SONG IS: Discovering a new fresh angle or premise.
I AM HAPPIEST WHEN: I’m spending quality time with family and friends.
THE SECRET TO WRITING A HIT SONG IS: Don’t try to write a hit, just do the best you can at what you do and time will tell if it’s a hit or not.
THE LAST BOOK I READ WAS: “The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America's Forgotten Capital of Vice” by David Hill
MY FAVORITE MEAL IS: Sea scallops
GUESTS AT MY FANTASY DINNER PARTY WOULD BE: Miles Davis, Mark Twain and Richard Feynman
A PHRASE I OVERUSE THE MOST IS: I’m just sayin’…
MY FAVORITE SONGWRITER IS: Johnny Mandel
ONE WORD TO SUM ME UP: Hybrid