Clip: New Steve Goodman CD
Steve Goodman release continues his legend
By Chrissie Dickinson
Special to the Tribune
Published September 24, 2006
Chicago folk legend Steve Goodman died of leukemia in 1984 at 36. But
thanks to a recently unearthed recording that hit store shelves
earlier this month, it feels as if the singer-songwriter is more alive
"Steve Goodman: Live at the Earl of Old Town" (Red Pajamas Records)
features Goodman performing live at the Chicago folk club in 1978.
It's a high-quality recording that captures him in peak form, singing
about the Lincoln Park Pirates and his beloved Cubs, and performing
his own version of "City of New Orleans," the Goodman-penned number
that became a hit for Arlo Guthrie. From beginning to end, Goodman's
spirit crackles off the grooves.
"I don't deal with Steve like he's gone," says Al Bunetta, Goodman's
longtime manager and co-owner of Red Pajamas Records. "He was so big
in life I haven't stopped working for this guy, period."
Bunetta's fervor for his late client seems heartfelt, not hype, and
"Live at the Earl of Old Town" is a moving reminder of why Steve
Goodman was such a beloved figure.
The folk scene
Along with revered troubadour John Prine and dulcet-voiced Iowa
transplant Bonnie Koloc, Goodman's name is synonymous with the Chicago
folk scene of the late 1960s and '70s. He came to the fore at a time
when the city teemed with acoustic folk clubs, when venues such as the
Quiet Knight and the Earl of Old Town were hotbeds for up-and-coming
Goodman, who used such icons as the first Mayor Daley and the Cubs as
grist for his lyrical mill, sang many of his songs with a grin and
played with a skilled picker's flair. Although he went on to record at
the major-label level, he never became a commercial powerhouse. That
didn't matter to the die-hard fans who embraced him.
Goodman was also a skilled guitarist, and his instrumental precision
is on ample display on the live recording. On one of the CD's
highlight tracks, harmonica whiz Corky Siegel joins Goodman for a
bluesy jam on the gospel standard "I'll Fly Away."
"Steve took the ball and ran with it in terms of joy," says Siegel,
recalling the appeal of his friend. "He was right in tune with
offering who he was. He was able to share who he was, how he was made
-- all those things that made him Steve Goodman -- with the world in a
very direct way."
It was record producer Jim Tullio, a close Goodman friend and
colleague, who rediscovered the tapes that would become the Earl of
Old Town live release. The tapes were originally stored at the Chicago
Recording Company. Two years after Goodman's death, the CRC called
Bunetta and asked what he wanted to do with the recordings. Bunetta
called Tullio, who retrieved the tapes and took them to his Winnetka
home for safekeeping.
In the ensuing years, Bunetta and Tullio became busy with other
projects and forgot about the recordings. Six months ago, Tullio came
across the box. "I called Al and said, `You'll never believe what I
just found.' And Al had completely forgotten about it, which I had
They decided it was worth checking out. After the tapes were
transferred to a digital format, Tullio was knocked out by what he
"Steve's guitar-playing is just stunning," says Tullio, who went on to
mix the record. "This is Goodman in his element at the Earl of Old
Town. And '78 was his prime. Steve was at his best then. He was still
in remission at the time, he was feeling great. It's just a fantastic
record. Al decided to put it out. I think it's very timely."
"A lot of emotion is conjured up with that discovery," Bunetta says.
"First and foremost, it wasn't an accident. Stevie planned it. Things
come at their time, I believe that."
As close as Bunetta was to Goodman, even he admits he was surprised
upon first hearing the live tapes. They were a vibrant refresher
course on just how fiery Goodman was as a guitarist.
"I didn't remember Steve as a guitar player as great as it was on that
tape. Unbelievable," Bunetta says. "We spent so much time together, he
was my best friend. And I didn't remember him being that great, and I
mean over-the-top great. I remember always wanting him to do an
instrumental record, and he never did. And that's the only regret I
Although Goodman was first diagnosed with leukemia at 20, he kept his
illness quiet and his spirits up. Even during the worst of times, his
friends and family say Goodman never complained. "There was no reason
to," says his mother, Minnette Goodman. "The alternative is to roll
over and die, and that wasn't who he was."