He was a singer-songwriter and guitarist born in Chicago, Illinois, whose father was a used car salesman and a veteran from WWII.
It wasn’t until he was in his teens that he began song-writing and giving performances and then when he was 20, in 1968, he started to attract audiences at the Earl of Old Town in Chicago where he played regularly. He took further education at Lake Forest College in Chicago and during these years managed to finance himself by singing jingles for advertising companies.
In 1969 he had to deal with the shock of learning he was suffering from leukaemia but this did not prevent him from having an extremely successful musical career and it has been noted by several people that they believe his songs reflect his struggles and acceptance of his limited available time. His first album recording was on the 1971 Gathering at the Earl of Old Town where several of his songs were featured and later that year he opened for Kris Kristoffersson at the Quiet Knight in Chicago. This led to Kris Kristofferson introducing Paul Anka to him and he was subsequently taken to New York to do some demos for him and then signed up by Buddah Records.
Continuing to write songs he hit upon an enormous opportunity when Arlo Guthrie said he would listen to him singing as long as it took him to drink a beer that he had bought for him. He bought him his beer and impressed him so much with his “City of New Orleans” that Arlo Guthrie recorded it and saw it hitting the charts in 1972. Many other artists including Willie Nelson, who won him a posthumous Grammy Award with his version in 1985, Johnny Cash and Judy Collins, have since recorded it. It has even been translated into French and recorded under the name “Salut Les Amoureux”. In collaboration with John Prine he saw further success in 1974 with their “You Never Even Call Me By My Name” which was recorded by David Allan Coe.
His singing career saw him releasing several albums including the posthumous Grammy Award winning Unfinished Business, Somebody Else’s Troubles, Jesse’s Jigs & Other Favourites, Hot Spot and Artistic Hair. Jimmy Buffett performed and recorded at least four of his songs including “Banana Republics” and “Elvis Imitators”, and he was a regular member of the Coral Reefer Band . Jimmy Buffett’s album Last Mango in Paris was dedicated to him.
Albums he appeared on include A White Sports Coat & A Pink Crustacean, A1A, Havana Daydreamin’ and Son of a Son of a Sailor by Jimmy Buffett , Forever: An Anthology and Judith by Judy Collins and Aimless Love, Common Sense and Great Days: The John Prince Anthology by John Prine.
He died of leukemia in 1984 in Seattle when he was just 36 years old but has left us a legacy of songs including several about his favourite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, with some of his ashes being spread at their home ground of Wrigley Field.
One of his three daughters, Rosanna, released the album My Old Man, which contains cover versions of his songs. The 5th October 2007 was made Steve Goodman Day in Illinois by Governor Pat Quinn.
Here he is with his “You’ve Never Even Called Me By Name”….