Growing up in what he called "a Midwestern middle-class Jewish family," Steve Goodman began playing the guitar as a teenager.
He was influenced by the folk revival of the early '60s and by country performers such as Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams. After attending college in the mid-'60s, he turned to playing in Chicago clubs by night and writing commercial jingles by day. In 1971, he opened for Kris Kristofferson and was seen by Paul Anka, who financed demo recordings that led to a contract with Buddah Records and the release of Steve Goodman, which featured his train song "The City of New Orleans," a Top 40 hit for Arlo Guthrie in 1972 and now a folk standard. Goodman made a second album for Buddah, Somebody Else's Troubles (1973), then broke with the label, which went on to issue an outtakes record, The Essential Steve Goodman (1975). Goodman moved to the singer/songwriter-oriented West Coast label Asylum for his first charting album Jessie's Jig & Other Favorites in 1975, the same year that outlaw country singer David Allen Coe made the Top Ten of the country charts with a cover of his "You Never Even Called Me by My Name" from the Steve Goodman album. Goodman's subsequent Asylum albums were Words We Can Dance To (April 1976) (featuring "Banana Republics," popularized by Jimmy Buffett), Say It in Private (October 1977), High and Outside (February 1979), and Hot Spot (1980). None became a major commercial success, but Goodman established himself on the national club and festival circuits, frequently appearing with mandolin player Jethro Burns, formerly of the country duo Homer & Jethro. Goodman turned record producer for his friend and fellow Chicagoan John Prine on Prine's 1978 album Bruised Orange. In 1983, Goodman followed Prine in establishing his own independent label, Red Pajamas, which released the live Artistic Hair and Affordable Art (1984). Goodman died of leukemia after battling the disease for many years. Red Pajamas released Santa Ana Winds (1984) posthumously, as well as a double-disc LP drawn from a concert in his memory, A Tribute to Steve Goodman, which featured John Prine, Bonnie Raitt, and others. After a second posthumous release, Unfinished Business, Red Pajamas licensed the Asylum material and put out two Best of the Asylum Years compilations. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi