The Professional Life.
Stevie Goodman was born and raised in and around Chicagoland. His father, Bud Goodman, was a successful used car salesman His mother was Minnette. Steve was married to Nancy Pruter, and had three children, Jessie, Sarah, and Rosanna.
Steve picked up his first guitar at the age of thirteen. his inspiration at the time were such legendary folks singers such as Pete Seeger, Bob Gibson, and Bob Dylan. Goodman has also mentioned being influenced by Wilson Pickett and the Kingston Trio.
As Stevie progressed through his high school years he began tracing the roots of American Folk Music and found the works of Woodie Guthrie. At the same time Goodman started exploring the blues music played in the various black blues clubs throughout Chicago. Hank Williams' work also played a significant role in the formative years of Steve's musical style.
Steve graduated from Main Township East High School in the mid-sixties. By that time he had already established a vast repertoire of standard folk songs plus was dabbling with several original compositions. He had already established a small following on the Chicago folk scene.
Stevie packed his guitar cases and undoubtably put a few extra strings in his back pocket and left the Windy City for the Big Apple. While in New York City, Stevie continued to develop his musical style, by playing for quarters in Washington Square.
By 1969 Stevie had returned to Chicago and began going to Lake Forest College by day and singing at the Earl of Old Town at night. It was at the Earl, that Steve fell in love with a waitress named Nancy Pruter. Both were at The Earl earning money for a college degree.
Unfortunately folk musicians were not making a lot of money at the time and though Steve knew this is what he wanted to do, he also knew that he needed to make more money in order to make ends meet. It was at this time that Steve got his first lucky break. As Steve put it:
It was around the time of Stevie's successful TV jingles that he married Nancy. Shortly after the marriage Stevie took a train trip with Nancy to visit her grandmother and this was the ride that inspired the song "City of New Orleans". Goodman was still working the various folk bars at the time and as luck would have it ended up playing on a double bill with Kris Kristofferson at the Quiet Knight.
The luck didn't end there. As it happened, Kristofferson was singing a song written by Paul Anka. Anka was also playing a different club in town and on one of his nights off, he decided to drop by and listen to Kris's set. While waiting to listen to Kristofferson set, Anka listened to Goodman show. Anka was so impressed that he paid Goodman's way to New York and set up for some demo's to be cut. This led to his first record contract with Buddah
The record, Steve Goodman was a critical success but sales were flat. however with the record came a concert tour, particularly on the college concert circuit, where Goodman outstanding stage presence was established. His sense of humor and relaxed mannerism found a major following. In fact his concerts were his major source of income throughout the Seventies.
Probably the most important contribution, Stevie's first album had was the song "City of New Orleans". The song quickly caught the attention of Arlo Guthrie. The way Arlo found out about the song is surrounded in myth. The most captivating story, and generally accepted as truthful, was told by Arlo Guthrie and goes something like this.
Steve was introduced to Guthrie and was basically told he didn't like train songs. and was asked for the tape. It was at this point that Steve said he didn't have the tape but he could play it for him. Guthrie was even more angered by this point but agreed to hear the song so he could get back to his privacy. By the time Steve had finished playing, Guthrie had completely changed his mind and asked permission to record the song. ( a synopsis of several version of the story)
Despite the commercial failure of the first album, Goodman had earned enormous respect among his peers in the music industry. This becomes apparent when you look at the names of all the guest musicians on his second album, Somebody Else's Troubles among the musicians were his friends John Prine, and Marvin Gardens* another singer, Bob Landy*.
Again the record received critical success as well as praise from his fans but little other attention was paid to it. Buddah began having second thoughts about Goodman and for the next two years Goodman didn't record anything. When Goodman and buddah finally resolved their differences Goodman moved to the Elektra/Asylum label, which was more in keeping with his musical style.
Jessie's Jig and Other Favorites was Goodman's first effort for Asylum. It managed to do better than either of the first albums, but still Goodman was doing better touring than recording. Fortunately he was having success as a song writer. his next national success came when country outlaw, David Allan Coe recording the You Never Even Call Me By My Name The song had been co written by John Prine but as Prine put it, it was a dumb song and he didn't want to be associated with so he left Steve take all the credit
Slowly, Steve started building success with the following albums, Words We Can Dance To and Say It In Private It was around the time of this album that Jethro Burns joined Stevie in the Recording studio. Jethro had been living in retirement in a Chicago suburb and met Goodman at a show, where they became fast friends. often Jethro would do shows with Goodman playing old Homer & Jethro numbers occasionally but mostly providing excellent mandolin work for Goodman's own works.
Goodman's next album on the Asylum label was High And Outside, which is noted mostly because of the duet done with Nicolette Larson. The song was released shortly before Larson's solo career took off. His final effort before forming his own record label was Hot Spot
during the seventies, Stevie was also busy doing production work. One such album was John Prine's Bruised Orange, Prine's debut album for Asylum, considered by many the best folk release of 1978.
Stevie moved to Seal Beach, California around 1980. His recording career took a hiatus. He was still touring but it was at this time that Goodman decided that if he was ever to get back in the studio it would have to be with his own label. Thus the formation of Red Pajama Records. The first releases for Red Pajamas was in 1983, was Affordable Art And Artistic Hair. This was followed by Steve's last studio album, Santa Ana Winds. He died of leukemia on Sept 20, 1984 He had been battling it throughout his adult life.
Steve's Struggle With Leukemia
Little is known about Steve battle with leukemia. what is known is that Nancy, his wife, knew of his illness before they were married. It is also known that for much of the Seventies his leukemia remained in remission. Only Steve's closest friends were aware of his illness. In 1982 he was still out touring and in fact he fell ill just before a Harry Chapin benefit concert and was hospitalized. It was at this time that white blood cells and he started undergoing Chemot therapy every two weeks. Two years later, on august 31, 1984 it was determined he needed a bone marrow transplant . His brother, David, was the donor.
Shortly after this Stevie died from kidney and liver failure. Throughout that year he had been undergoing Chemo-therapy, flying every two weeks to the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. It wasn't until he could no longer hide the fact of his illness that he ever mention it to fans. From what friends and relatives have said, Goodman always approached his situation with strength and a sense of humor. In fact, while many of his fans referred to him a Chicago Shorty, due to his height. Goodman made the comment once that he preferred the nickname Cool Hand Leuk, referring to his guitar playing ability and his predicament. It was a play on a movie titled Cool Hand Luke. The movie starred Paul Newman as member of a southern Chain Gang. It's most memorable for the a line that the warden would tell the prisoners: "What we have here is a failure to communicate." At the end of the movie Newman used this same line on the warden, just before he was killed with a marksman's bullett. Like Goodman, Newman's character was trapped in a situation that was too powerful to overcome no matter how valiantly he fought.