Steve Goodman

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This article is about the folk singer. For the electronic music artist, see Kode9.
Steve Goodman
19830430 Steve Goodman.gif
Goodman in 1983
Background information
Birth name Steven Benjamin Goodman
Born (1948-07-25)July 25, 1948
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died September 20, 1984(1984-09-20) (aged 36)
Seattle, Washington, United States
Genres Folk, country, rock, pop
Occupations Musician, songwriter
Instruments Vocals, guitar
Years active 1968–1984
Labels Buddah, Asylum, Red Pajamas
Associated acts John Prine, Kenneth C. "Jethro" Burns, Jimmy Buffett, Bonnie Koloc, Steve Martin, Tom Paxton, David Allan Coe
Website www.stevegoodman.net

Steven Benjamin Goodman[1] (July 25, 1948 – September 20, 1984) – known as Steve Goodman – was an American folk music singer-songwriter from Chicago, Illinois. Goodman was diagnosed with leukemia while attending college, and he set out to make the most of the time he had left to write music. A prolific writer, Goodman is best known for penning "City of New Orleans," a song made popular by Arlo Guthrie and Willie Nelson, for which Goodman won his first Grammy Award posthumously in 1985, with a second Grammy awarded to him in 1988 for Unfinished Business. Steven Goodman is survived by his wife and three daughters.

Personal life[edit]

Born on Chicago's North Side to a middle-class Jewish family, Goodman began writing and performing songs as a teenager, after his family had moved to the near north suburbs. He graduated from Maine East High School in Park Ridge, Illinois in 1965, where he was a classmate of Hillary Rodham Clinton. In the fall of 1965, he entered the University of Illinois and pledged Sigma Alpha Mu (Sammies) fraternity where he, Ron Banyon, and Steve Hartmann formed a popular rock cover band, "The Juicy Fruits". He left college after one year to pursue his musical career. In the early spring of 1967 Goodman went to New York, staying for a month in a Greenwich Village brownstone across the street from the Cafe Wha? where Goodman performed regularly during his brief stay there. Returning to Chicago he intended to restart his education but he dropped out again to pursue his musical dream full-time after discovering the cause of his continuous fatigue was actually leukemia, the disease that would be present during the entirety of his recording career, until his death in 1984. In 1968 Goodman began performing at the Earl of Old Town in Chicago and attracted a following.[2] By 1969, Goodman was a regular performer in Chicago, while attending Lake Forest College. During this time Goodman supported himself by singing advertising jingles.

In September 1969 he met Nancy Pruter (sister of R&B writer Robert Pruter), who was attending college while supporting herself as a waitress. They were married in February 1970. Though he experienced periods of remission, Goodman never felt that he was living on anything other than borrowed time, and some critics, listeners and friends have said that his music reflects this sentiment. His wife Nancy, writing in the liner notes to the posthumous collection No Big Surprise, characterized him this way:

Basically, Steve was exactly who he appeared to be: an ambitious, well-adjusted man from a loving, middle-class Jewish home in the Chicago suburbs, whose life and talent were directed by the physical pain and time constraints of a fatal disease which he kept at bay, at times, seemingly by willpower alone . . . Steve wanted to live as normal a life as possible, only he had to live it as fast as he could . . . He extracted meaning from the mundane.

Musical career[edit]

Goodman's songs first appeared on Gathering at The Earl of Old Town, an album produced by Chicago record company Dunwich in 1971. As a close friend of Earl Pionke, the owner of the folk music bar, Goodman performed at The Earl dozens of times, including customary New Year's Eve concerts. He also remained closely involved with Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music, where he had met and mentored his good friend, John Prine.

Later in 1971, Goodman was playing at a Chicago bar called the Quiet Knight as the opening act for Kris Kristofferson. Kristofferson, impressed with Goodman, introduced him to Paul Anka, who brought Goodman to New York to record some demos. These resulted in Goodman signing a contract with Buddah Records.

All this time, Goodman had been busy writing many of his most enduring songs, and this avid songwriting would lead to an important break for him. While at the Quiet Knight, Goodman saw Arlo Guthrie, and asked to be allowed to play a song for him. Guthrie grudgingly agreed, on the condition that Goodman buy him a beer first; Guthrie would listen to Goodman for as long as it took Guthrie to drink the beer. Goodman played "City of New Orleans" (original lyrics)(Link is broken), which Guthrie liked enough that he asked to record it. Barry McGuire, however, has told concert-goers recently that he was present at that meeting and it occurred at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, according to San Diego Arlophile Rodger Hartnett.[citation needed]

Guthrie's version of Goodman's song became a Top-20 hit in 1972, and provided Goodman with enough financial and artistic success to make his music a full-time career. The song, about the Illinois Central's City of New Orleans train, would become an American standard, covered by such musicians as Johnny Cash, Judy Collins, Chet Atkins and Willie Nelson, whose recorded version earned Goodman a posthumous Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 1985. A French translation of the song, "Salut Les Amoureux", was recorded by Joe Dassin in 1973. A Dutch singer, Gerard Cox, heard the French version while on holiday and translated it into Dutch, titled "'t Is Weer Voorbij Die Mooie Zomer" ("The summer has come to an end"). It reached number one on the Dutch Top 40 in December 1973 and has become a classic which is still played on Dutch radio.[citation needed] Lyrically, the French and Dutch versions bear no resemblance to Goodman's original lyrics. According to Goodman, the song was inspired by a train trip he and his wife took from Chicago to Mattoon, Illinois.[3] According to the liner notes on the Steve Goodman anthology " No Big Surprise " ... " City of New Orleans " was written while on the campaign trail with Senator Edmund Muskie.

In 1974, singer David Allan Coe achieved considerable success on the country charts with Goodman's and John Prine's "You Never Even Called Me by My Name", a song which good-naturedly spoofed stereotypical country music lyrics. Prine refused to take a songwriter's credit of the song, although Goodman bought Prine a jukebox as a gift from his publishing royalties.

Goodman's success as a recording artist was more limited. Although he was known in folk circles as an excellent and influential songwriter,[citation needed] his albums received more critical than commercial success. One of Goodman's biggest hits was a song he didn't write – "The Dutchman", written by Michael Peter Smith. He reached a wider audience as the opening act for Steve Martin while Martin was at the height of his stand-up popularity.[4]

During the mid- and late seventies, Goodman became a regular guest on Easter Day on Vin Scelsa's radio show in New York City. Scelsa's personal recordings of these sessions eventually led to an album of selections from these appearances, The Easter Tapes.

In 1977, Goodman performed on the Tom Paxton live album New Songs From the Briarpatch (Vanguard Records), which contained some of Paxton's topical songs of the 1970s, including "Talking Watergate" and "White Bones of Allende", as well as a song dedicated to Mississippi John Hurt entitled "Did You Hear John Hurt?"

During the fall of 1979, Goodman was hired to write and perform a series of topical songs for National Public Radio. Although Goodman and Jethro Burns recorded eleven songs for the series, only five of them, "The Ballad of Flight 191" about a plane crash, "Daley's Gone", "Unemployed", "The Twentieth Century is Almost Over", and "The Election Year Rag", were used on the air before the series was cancelled.[5]

Goodman wrote and performed many humorous songs about Chicago, including three about the Chicago Cubs: "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request", "When the Cubs Go Marching In" and "Go, Cubs, Go" (which has frequently been played on Cubs' broadcasts and at Wrigley Field after Cubs wins.) He wrote "Go, Cubs, Go" out of spite after then GM Dallas Green called "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request" too depressing. The Cubs songs grew out of his fanatical devotion to the team, which included many clubhouse and on-field visits with Cubs players. He wrote other songs about Chicago, including "The Lincoln Park Pirates", about the notorious Lincoln Towing Service, and "Daley's Gone", about Mayor Richard J. Daley. Another comic highlight is "Vegematic", about a man who falls asleep while watching late-night TV and dreams he ordered many products that he saw on infomercials. He could also write serious songs, most notably "My Old Man", a tribute to Goodman's father, Bud Goodman, a used car salesman and World War II veteran.

Goodman won his second Grammy, for Best Contemporary Folk Album, in 1988 for Unfinished Business, a posthumous album on his Red Pajamas Records label.

Many fans become aware of Goodman's work through other artists such as Jimmy Buffett. Buffett has recorded several of Goodman's songs, including "Banana Republics" and "Woman Goin' Crazy on Caroline Street".[citation needed]

Death[edit]

On September 20, 1984, Goodman died of leukemia at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, Washington. He had anointed himself with the tongue-in-cheek nickname "Cool Hand Leuk" (other nicknames included "Chicago Shorty" and "The Little Prince") during his illness. He was 36.

Four days after Goodman's death, the Chicago Cubs professional baseball team clinched the Eastern Division title in the National League for the first time ever, earning them their first post-season appearance since 1945, three years before Goodman's birth. Eight days later, on October 2, the Cubs played their first post-season game since the 1945 World Series. Goodman had been asked to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before it; Jimmy Buffett filled in, and dedicated the song to Goodman. Today, the Chicago Cubs plays "Go, Cubs, Go" at the conclusion of every home game win, a song Goodman wrote for his beloved team.

In April 1988, some of Goodman's ashes were scattered at Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs.[6] He was survived by his wife and three daughters.[7]

Legacy[edit]

In 2006, Goodman's daughter, Rosanna, issued My Old Man, an album of a variety of artists covering her father's songs.

Interest in Goodman's career had a resurgence in 2007 with the publication of a massive biography by Clay Eals, Steve Goodman: Facing the Music. The same year, the Chicago Cubs began playing Goodman's 1984 song "Go, Cubs, Go" after each home game win. When the Cubs made it to the playoffs, interest in the song and Goodman resulted in several newspaper articles about Goodman. Illinois Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn declared October 5, 2007, Steve Goodman Day in the state. In 2010, Illinois Representative Mike Quigley introduced a bill renaming the Lakeview post office on Irving Park Road in honor of Goodman. The bill was signed by President Barack Obama on August 3, 2010.[8]

Discography[edit]

Albums[edit]

Date Title Label Number Comments
1970 Gathering at the Earl of Old Town Dunwich 670 Various artists including Goodman, Jim Post, Ed Holstein, Fred Holstein, Ginni Clemmens
1971 Steve Goodman Buddah BDS-5096
1972 Somebody Else's Troubles Buddah BDS-5121
1975 Jessie's Jig and Other Favorites Asylum 7E-1037
1976 Words We Can Dance To Asylum 7E-1061
1977 Say It in Private Asylum 7E-1118
1979 High and Outside Asylum 6E-174
1980 Hot Spot Asylum 6E-297
1983 Artistic Hair Red Pajamas RPJ-001 Live
1984 Affordable Art Red Pajamas RPJ-002
Santa Ana Winds Red Pajamas RPJ-003 First posthumous release
1987 Unfinished Business Red Pajamas RPJ-005 Second posthumous release, Grammy award
1996 The Easter Tapes Red Pajamas RPJ-009 18 live cuts from WNEW-FM 1970's broadcasts, liner notes by host Vin Scelsa
2000 Live Wire Red Pajamas RPJ-015 Live at Bayou Theater, early 1980s
2006 Live at the Earl of Old Town Red Pajamas RPJ-017 Live, August 1978

Compilations[edit]

Date Title Label Number Comments
1976 The Essential Steve Goodman Buddah BDS-5665-2 2 LP compilation, 20 cuts from Steve Goodman and Somebody Else's Troubles
1988 The Best of the Asylum Years, Volume One Red Pajamas RPJ-006 Compilation
The Best of the Asylum Years, Volume Two Red Pajamas RPJ-007 Compilation
1989 City of New Orleans Pair Records (Buddha)[9] PCD-2-1233 Single CD compilation, 19 cuts from Steve Goodman and Somebody Else's Troubles
The Original Steve Goodman Special Music (Buddha)[9] SCD-4923 Compilation, 8 cuts from Steve Goodman and Somebody Else's Troubles
1994 No Big Surprise – The Steve Goodman Anthology Red Pajamas RPJ-008 2 CD compilation (1 studio, 1 live)
2008 The Baseball Singles Red Pajamas RPJ-018 Compilation EP with 4 baseball-themed cuts

Videos[edit]

Date Title Label Number Formats Comments
2003 Steve Goodman: Live From Austin City Limits Red Pajamas RPJ-500 VHS, DVD 1977 & 1982 live shows with John Prine and Jethro Burns, plus interviews

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Eals, Clay (2007). Steve Goodman: Facing the Music. Toronto: ECW. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-55022-732-1. 
  2. ^ The Steve Goodman Backpage
  3. ^ "Steve Goodman Concert". Wolfgang's Vault. March 30, 1977. Retrieved March 29, 2010. 
  4. ^ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-j-elisberg/steve-goodman-and-the-sur_b_123206.html
  5. ^ Eals, 558–59
  6. ^ Eals, 725-6.
  7. ^ Berkshires Week
  8. ^ Skiba, Katherine (August 3, 2010). "Obama signs law renaming post office after singer Steve Goodman". Chicago Tribune. 
  9. ^ a b The spelling of Buddah Records changed to "Buddha" around this time

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]