Goodman, Steve [1948 - 1984]
Steve Goodman was born on Chicago’s North Side on July 25, 1948, the son of a used car salesman, about whom Steve eventually wrote the song ‘My Old Man’. He started learning guitar and writing songs as a young teenager and while at Lake Forest College and the University of Illinois he began to perform in a local club, soon dropping out of college (in 1969) to make music his career. In this he was never financially successful, though he survived early on by writing and singing advertising jingles. He returned to Chicago after a short stint trying his luck in Greenwich Village and in 1971 was recorded performing live on a local album, Gathering at the Earl of Old Town. A support spot to KRIS KRISTOFFERSON that April led to a record deal with Buddah and a first album, Steve Goodman, in 1971. Typically, as soon as Goodman had Kristofferson’s attention, he insisted he go and hear another performer who deserved to be discovered too - his friend JOHN PRINE, whose song ‘Donald and Lydia’ Goodman would cover on his own début album.
That album also offers Goodman’s signature song, ‘City of New Orleans’, which was a hit not for Goodman but for ARLO GUTHRIE - and then again, the year of Goodman’s death, a hit for WILLIE NELSON. Also on Steve Goodman’s first album is the good-naturedly parody of a country song ‘You Never Even Call Me By My Name’ (which Prine had co-written but wouldn’t take credit for); this too would become a hit, a couple of years later and for David Allen Coe.
All this tells the Goodman story: he wrote songs others had hits with, and he was, as writer and performer too, much admired by big-name fellow performers. He was a fine guitarist (he plays on all Prine’s early albums, just as Prine plays on his) and it’s said that when, in solo performances, he broke a guitar string, which was often, he would keep singing while getting a new string out of his pocket, fitting and tuning it, and would then resume his playing unphased - yet he never broke through as a performer himself. In September 1972, with Arif Mardin as producer, Goodman went into Atlantic’s studios in New York to make his second album, Somebody Else’s Troubles, and a single, ‘Election Year Rag’, and for that single, and for the album’s title track, Bob Dylan was a participant. It’s said that Goodman was frustrated at Dylan’s turning up hours and hours late, and perhaps this is why he doesn’t appear on the rest of the material, but he plays piano and sings harmony vocals on these two tracks (both penned by Goodman), along with DAVID BROMBERG on dobro and mandolin, and Prine, among others. The album also included the song that Goodman would come nearest to having a hit with, ‘The Dutchman’ - the one song he didn’t write. When the album was issued, in early 1973, Dylan was credited as Robert Milkwood Thomas.
Though Buddah issued The Essential Steve Goodman in 1974 (which also featured ‘Election Year Rag’), it was 1975 before Goodman made his next album, when a label switch gave him greater encouragement and saw an increase in his output. The 1975 album was Jessie’s Jig & Other Favorites; then came Words We Can Dance To (1976), Say It In Private (1977) and High and Outside (1978), which included a duet with then-newcomer Nicolette Larson, and Hot Spot (1980). ‘Chicago Shorty’, as he was dubbed by friends, had also acted as a producer, notably of John Prine’s 1978 album Bruised Orange, and formed his own label, Red Pajama Records, for which he duly recorded Artistic Hair and Affordable Art (both 1983) and his last album, Santa Ana Winds, which reached record stores the day after his death.
Goodman had been suffering from leukemia all his adult life, and from Chicago made regular and frequent trips to New York for treatment. He moved to the West Coast (to Seal Beach, just below Long Beach, in Southern California) at the beginning of the 1980s, and received treatment in Seattle. The Artistic Hair album cover depicted him standing in front of a hairdressing salon of that name, his own head bald from the effects of chemotherapy. On August 31, 1984 underwent a bone marrow transpant. Twenty days later he died of the liver and kidney failure brought on by his leukemia in hospital in Seattle. He was 36.
[Steve Goodman: ‘Eight Ball’, ‘Chicago Bust Rag’ & ‘City of New Orleans’, Chicago 1970-71, on Various Artists, Gathering at the Earl of Old Town, Dunwich 670, Chicago, 1971, CD-reissued Mountain Railroad, US, 1989; Steve Goodman, NY, 1971, Buddah BDS-5096, US, 1971-2; Somebody Else’s Troubles, NY, Sep 1972, Buddah BDS-5121, US, 1973; ‘Election Year Rag’, Buddah BDA-326, 1973; Artistic Hair, Red Pajama 001, US, 1983; Affordable Art, Red Pajama 002, 1983; Santa Ana Winds, Red Pajama 003, 1984. Many posthumous recordings have been issued, and CD-reissues of the original LPs, some remastered and with extra tracks. There is also a video, Steve Goodman Live From Austin City Limits…And More!, including Prine, Guthrie & Kristofferson, nia, US, 2003.]