Singer-songwriter Steve Goodman began writing and singing as a teenager in the early 1960s in the suburbs of Chicago. He formed his first group in 1966, The Juicy Fruits, during his freshman year at the University of Illinois. By the following year, Goodman dropped out to pursue a career as a musician, soon attracting a local following at Chicago's Earl of Old Town club. By 1969, Goodman was a regular performer on the Chicago folk circuit, while augmenting his income by singing advertising jingles. That same year Goodman was diagnosed with leukemia, a fatal disease that would profoundly affect his life and outlook. It was also in 1969 that Goodman met Nancy Pruter, who he would marry the following year. In the liner notes to a posthumous collection of Goodman's work, Nancy characterized him as "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." This goes a long way to explaining Goodman's perspective on life, and although he experienced periods of remission, he knew he was living on borrowed time and his own writing often reflected this sentiment.
At the dawn of the 1970s, Goodman had a stroke of luck, when Paul Anka caught his opening set while attending a Kris Kristofferson gig at the Quiet Knight in Chicago. Anka was so impressed that he financed travel to New York City and set Goodman up to record a demo tape, which soon led to his first recording contract with Buddha Records. The self-titled album was a commercial failure, but garnered critical success, leading to a tour of the college circuit, where Goodman developed the sense of humor and stage presence that would support him throughout the decade. That debut album also contained the song that would soon garner Goodman considerably more attention, "City of New Orleans," which would become a major hit for Arlo Guthrie. Despite the commercial failure of the album, Goodman had earned the respect of many in the music industry and his second album, Somebody Else's Troubles, featured an impressive list of guest musicians including John Prine, Jimmy Buffett, and Bob Dylan. Once again, the record garnered rave reviews but failed to sell, leading to a two-year hiatus from recording and Goodman leaving Buddha for Elektra/Asylum, a label far more suited to his music. Over the course of the next several years, Goodman continued to support himself by touring, gradually building a devoted following that, despite his passing, endures to the present day.
To fans and collectors of Goodman, one of the most beloved recordings ever was an October 10, 1977 live performance at New York City's Bottom Line that was broadcast live on WNEW-FM and has circulated extensively among fans ever since. Goodman also played the Bottom Line earlier in the year, and his two performances on March 30th were recorded by Silver Eagle for future broadcast, but due to Goodman suffering from a head cold, remained in the vault all these years. Despite his health issues, the performances were excellent, with Goodman playing a wide range of material, including several notable covers. Here we present the late show that evening, which features quite a few impressive musicians joining Goodman onstage toward the end of the set.
Goodman kicks the set off with a cover of Billy Mayhew's "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie," which immediately displays his wonderfully manic finger picking. The first number from Say It in Private, his newest album at the time, follows with "Daley's Gone." This observational song reflects on the history and demise of Mayor Richard Daley, much to the delight of the audience. A very early version of Goodman's "Grand Canyons" is up next, which he humorously describes as "the opposite of a John Denver song." While celebrating the beauty of nature, here Goodman also questions modern values, before segueing directly into another humorous observation on American history, "Do It Yourself." Goodman's knack for establishing a relaxed old-timey groove follows with "Old Fashioned," a sentimental track from his previous album, Words We Can Dance To.
Two humorous covers are up next. First, Goodman tackles Shel Silverstien's "Warm and Free," possibly the funniest song ever written about poverty, followed by the more traditional country-flavored "Mother, Queen Of My Heart." Written by Jimmy Rogers, Goodman turns up the hilarity on this tale of self-destruction, complete with yodeling!
Following a tape stock change, the recording continues with "Video Tape" and "Hotel Room," two somewhat dated ruminations on modern technology. "Spoon River," based on Mike Smith's "Spoon River Anthology," is a sad slow ballad of rural living, before Goodman kicks the energy level back up with a great solo acoustic reading of Smokey Robinson's "Get Ready." This has the audience clapping along as he segues into "Can't Go Back," another standout track from his previous album.
At this point, Goodman announces that he'd like to bring up some of the musicians that are hanging out, and it's a remarkable cast of characters that he invites up to the stage. The musicians include pianist Jeff Gutcheon, fiddle player extraordinaire Larry Packer, and phenomenal guitarist Steve Burgh. In addition to these players, Goodman also brings up Peter Ecklund and John Furman to add horns and reeds respectively, as well as multi-instrumentalist David Amram, who adds flute, whistles, and percussion to the ensemble. Needless to say, the energy level significantly kicks up a notch from here on out, beginning with the ever-popular "City of New Orleans." This is followed by a blues number, "Unemployed," and a lovely Americana-flavored instrumental that begins with Amram leading the way on flute, but then gives each of the musicians a spot to solo. Goodman winds the set up with an excellent reading of "Weary Blues From Waiting," another standout from his newest album. Jeff Gutcheon is particularly notable here, adding the perfect bluesy piano embellishments throughout. The audience isn't ready to let this outstanding conglomeration of musicians go and they coax Goodman back for one final blowout on Charles Davenport's "Mama Don't Allow." This becomes a pure New Orleans-style jamfest, full of Dixieland flavor, where each of the musicians get another opportunity to solo before it culminates in a rousing celebratory conclusion of virtuosic musicianship.