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Steve Goodman (July 25, 1948 – September 20, 1984) was an Americanmarker folk music singer-songwriter from Chicagomarker, Illinoismarker. The writer of "City of New Orleans", made popular by Arlo Guthrie, Goodman won two Grammy Awards.

Personal life

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 Schoolmarker in Park Ridge, Illinoismarker in 1965. 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 1968 Goodman began performing at the Earl of Old Townmarker in Chicago and attracted a following. By 1969, after a brief sojourn in New York Citymarker's Washington Squaremarker, Goodman was a regular performer in Chicago, while attending Lake Forest College. During this time Goodman supported himself by singing advertising jingles.

It was also in early 1969 that Goodman was diagnosed with leukemia, the disease that would be present during the entirety of his recording career, until his death in 1984. In September 1969 he met Nancy 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

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 Musicmarker, 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) which Guthrie liked enough that he asked to record it. Guthrie's version of the 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, 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 1979. According to his wife, the song began as Goodman in his imagination wandered all the way to New Orleans while on a train from Chicago to visit her elderly grandmother in Mattoon, Illinoismarker.

In 1974, singer David Allan Coe achieved considerable success on the country charts with Goodman's and 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, his albums received more critical than commercial success. Ironically, one of Goodman's biggest hits was a song he didn't write – "The Dutchman", written by Michael Peter Smith.

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?"

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.) The Cubs songs grew out of his fanatical devotion to the team, which included many clubhouse and on-field visits with Cub players. Other songs about Chicago included "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.


On September 20, 1984, Goodman died at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, Washingtonmarker, his life finally taken by the leukemia from which he had anointed himself with the tongue-in-cheek nickname “Cool Hand Leuk” (other nicknames included “Chicago Shorty” and “The Little Prince”). He was only 36. Just four days after Goodman's death, his beloved Chicago Cubs 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. In April 1988, some of Goodman's ashes were scattered at Wrigley Fieldmarker, the home of the Chicago Cubs. He was survived by his wife and three daughters.


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.



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


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) PCD-2-1233 Single CD compilation, 19 cuts from Steve Goodman and Somebody Else's Troubles
The Original Steve Goodman Special Music (Buddha) 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


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


Further reading

  • Eals, Clay. Steve Goodman: Facing the Music. ECW Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1550227321.

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