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Steve Goodman

Most music aficionados from outside Steve’s loyal fanbase might’ve heard of him through ARLO GUTHRIE’s take of his classic `City Of New Orleans’ hit, but there was much, much more to the two-time Grammy-award winner.
Drawing as much inspiration from country icons HANK WILLIAMS and JIMMIE RODGERS as folkies WOODY GUTHRIE and PHIL OCHS, singer-songwriter STEVE GOODMAN (born July 25, 1948, Chicago, Illinois) was the product of, as he put it himself, “a Midwestern middle-class Jewish family”. Picking up the acoustic guitar, he subsequently formed “frat” covers band The Juicy Fruits before finding work writing advertising jingles.
Finding heart through a visit to NY’s Washington Square in ‘69, Steve began regularly performing at Chicago’s Earl of Old Town, a venue that later supplied his first recordings on a various artists LP, `Gathering At The Earl Of Old Town’. This pivotal period in ’69 also saw drastic changes in his lifestyle when he was diagnosed with leukaemia, although it was balanced somewhat with the love and support of his good lady, Nancy Pruter, whom he married the following February; on reflection, his songs had a introspective combination of pathos and irony, understandable for a man going through the painful process of remission and life-threatening cancer.
A chance meeting with PAUL ANKA through KRIS KRISTOFFERSON (whom he supported at Chicago’s Quiet Knight) led to the signing for Buddah Records, and in turn the release of the eponymous STEVE GOODMAN (1971) {*8}. Marking the second appearance for `City Of New Orleans’ (it’d seen the light along a version of DIANE HILDEBRAND’s `Chicago Bust Rag’ on the live “Gathering At…” set), the tag of “folk” was not immediately apparent on something lying closer to Nashville or old-timey jazz. Of GOODMAN’s other originals, `Eight Ball Blues’, `Turnpike Tom’ and `The I Don’t Know Where I’m Going, But I’m Goin’ Nowhere In A Hurry Blues’ struck a chord, while there were versatile renditions of JOHN PRINE’s `Donald & Lydia’, Donnie Fritts/DAN PENN’s `Rainbow Road’, HANK WILLIAMS’ `Mind Your Own Business’, Otis Williams’ `So Fine’ and Ed Holstein’s `Jazzman’.
Opening with Michael Smith’s reflective `The Dutchman’, GOODMAN’s Arif Mardin-produced sophomore set SOMEBODY ELSE’S TROUBLES (1973) {*6} was again pro-Nashville, seeing as how it comprised AREA CODE 615 in backing (Kenny Buttrey, Charlie McCoy, et al) plus guest spots for DYLAN (as Robert Milkwood Thomas), BROMBERG and MARIA MULDAUR. `Song For David’, `Lincoln Park Pirates’ and the folk a cappella `The Ballad Of Penny Evans’ (angst the Vietnam War), this was prime GOODMAN; the other choice cover with Victoria Garvey’s `The Loving Of The Game’; for CD buffs, check out the comic Homer & Jethro-penned live addendum, `I’m My Own Grandpa’.
Subsequently inking a deal with David Geffen’s Asylum Records, Steve’s hard work paid off when his self-produced third LP, JESSIE’S JIG & OTHER FAVORITES (1975) {*6} found its way into the Top 200 (No.144, to be exact). Featuring five country-cloned GOODMAN originals (including the JIMMY BUFFETT co-penned cut, `Door Number Three’), the record’s highlights came by way of JOHN PRINE’s melancholy `Blue Umbrella’, Michael Smith’s `Spoon River’, and the jazzy, uptempo Sammy Cahn hoedown, `Mama Don’t Allow It’.
Always turning in eclecticism as if it was going out of fashion (Steve was indeed on borrowed time), the poignant WORDS WE CAN DANCE TO (1976) {*6}, was un-pigeonholeable, with its good-humoured nostalgia plus (country &) western swing rolled into one, but it was hardly folk or rock, possibly with the exception of `Death Of A Salesman’.
The old-fashioned theme continued courtesy of album number five, SAY IT IN PRIVATE (1977) {*6}, a typical, session-friendly AOR record of-the-day that, without the involvement of iconic banjoist PETE SEEGER, would’ve been close to a folk-music trade description violation. Having said that, GOODMAN was a contemporary artist evolving from the fringes of folk, something like JAMES TAYLOR, DON McLEAN and others. Sitting renditions of the Bing Crosby nugget `There’s A Girl In The Heart Of Maryland’ and SMOKEY ROBINSON’s `Two Lovers’ alongside HANK WILLIAMS’ `Weary Blues From Waitin’’ might’ve been inspiring for some, but folk fans had to be content with `My Old Man’ and `Daley’s Gone’.
1979’s HIGH AND OUTSIDE {*6} and 1980’s HOT SPOT {*5} were much of the same, run-of-the-mill sets where when action and diversity were called for, only synthetic, mediocre disco came a-calling. Unsurprisingly, Steve’s tenure with Asylum came to an abrupt end.
With the singer-songwriter now in full control of his output, he set up his own independent imprint, Red Pajamas, to produce whatever records he could before his impending death. Showing the signs of chemotherapy treatment on his comeback concert set, the self-explanatory ARTISTIC HAIR (1983) {*7} proved to all who doubted his talent (and especially to himself) that he could… er, cut it with the best of them. From versions of `The Water Is Wide’, SHEL SILVERSTEIN’s `Three-Legged Man’, his PRINE-and-joy collaboration `You Never Even Call My Name’ to his signature tune `City Of New Orleans’, the LP showed his range and versatility to good effect.
Various friends and associates were all too ready to come to GOODMAN’s aid on his penultimate set, AFFORDABLE ART (1984) {*8}, a partly comic, tongue-in-cheek folk effort showcased by `Vegematic’ (a post-apocalyptic tale penned with SILVERSTEIN and Smith), `Old Smoothies’ (about his grandparents), `How Much Tequila (Did I Drink Last Night?)’ (penned with PRINE) and the latter’s `Souvenirs’.
Many years of suffering came to end when, following a bone-marrow transplant, Steve died of liver failure on September 20, 1984, in Seattle, Washington. Released almost immediately, his posthumous SANTA ANA WINDS (1984) {*6} was as nice an epitaph as one could possibly get, featuring a few C&W-tinted tearjerkers `Fourteen Days’ (featuring EMMYLOU HARRIS) and `I Just Keep Falling In Love’, next to `Face On The Cutting Room Floor’ (scribed with Jeff Hanna and Jimmy Ibbotson of The NITTY GRITTY DIRT BAND) and that ol’ BURL IVES classic, `The Big Rock Candy Mountain’. To all intents and purposes, GOODMAN left the world as a wistful country-folk star who just didn’t get the breaks he deserved.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Aug2015

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