David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Mon 3 Sep 07 08:44
We're delighted to welcome Clay Eals to Inkwell to discuss his new book "Steve Goodman: Facing the Music". Clay Eals has ink in his veins. The 56-year-old is a veteran journalist and teacher who has written for four Pacific Northwest newspapers, including the Portland Oregonian, and edited publications for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Clay is the editor of the 1987 West Seattle history book "West Side Story" and the author of "Every Time a Bell Rings," the 1996 biography of Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the classic 1946 film "Its a Wonderful Life." Clay's most recent book is the 800-page biography "Steve Goodman: Facing the Music," an eight-year project published in May 2007 by ECW Press. Married to former journalist Meg (Bakken) Eals, Clay lives in Seattle, Washington. Leading the conversation with Clay is our own David Gans. David Gans is a musician, journalist, semi-pro photographer, and radio producer who came of age musically during the time when Steve Goodman and his peers were recording each other's songs, playing on each other's records, and traveling around the country with their smart, funny, incisive, and sentimental songs. When Clay Eals contacted him in search of material for this biography, David was happy to provide photos, clippings, and transcripts of his interviews with Goodman. And as a co-founder and former host of inkwell.vue, David is pleased to be here to discuss one of his all-time favorite musicians. Thanks for joining us, gents.
David Gans (tnf) Mon 3 Sep 07 09:57
Wecome, Clay, and thank you for the work you have done here. The size of the book - more than 700 pages, reflecting contributions from more than 2000 in- formants (myself proudly among them) - is ample evidence of your love of the subject. No one would have worked this hard if they were just doing it for the money. When I receieved the book, I thought: "Uh, 700 pages on the life of a minor hero of the singer-songwriter era? This isn't Winston Churchill or John Len- non we're talking about here!" But as I read the book, I am grateful for the detail; the story flows wonderfully, never feeling overburdened with dry facts. You've given us a rich, warm portrait of an artist who touched the lives of thousands of people, and you've placed Steve Goodman in the context of his time, his place, and his people. I was born five years after Steve Goodman, and I was a young singersongwriter in California when he came on the scene. Goodman, John Prine, Jackson Browne, Elton John & Bernie Taupin, Cat Stevens - these were my role models. By the mid-'70s, I was into the Grateful Dead and playing electric music, but I still loved those solo performers and I rarely missed an opportunity to see Steve play live. (I'd also add that Steve Goodman and Jerry Garcia shared a tremendous generosity of spirit: both men went out of their way to direct attention to their worthy colleagues, each had a great ear for other people's songs in addition to being great and unique composers of their own; and so on.) Steve delivered a rich and varied musical experience every time, from wicked humor to naked sentimentality to blistering guitar licks. When he got going on the guitar, he'd practically levitate, and when he had a sweet or sad story to tell, he could gather all our hearts together as one. So I come to this story as a happy disciple. What brought you to Steve Goodman and inspired you to tell his story so thoroughly and lovingly?
Clay Eals (clay-eals) Mon 3 Sep 07 12:37
Thanks for your kind words, David. Such sentiments have forced me to go out and buy new, larger hats over the past few months. My old ones don't fit anymore. To answer your question, the sound bites I've been using in scores of interviews still fit: I had all of Goodman's LPs in the 1970s. My jaw dropped when I saw him on PBS' "Soundstage" in 1974. I saw him perform twice, in 1977 and 1981. I wooed my wife with his songs by sending her tapes (we just celebrated our 25th anniversary in May). Goodman just got me. He's the most engaging and inspiring entertainer I've ever experienced. Ruined me for anyone else. But my motivation is deeper than all of that. It goes to my ink-on-paper roots and my more than 30 years as a journalist. One of the most invigorating journalistic challenges is to tell an important story that has never been told, and that certainly applies here. No book had been done on Goodman (and, for that matter, the Chicago folk scene), and initial contact with key sources indicated that no such book was on the horizon. Further, the older I get, the more drawn I am to biography. It's the most compelling form of nonfiction, and it's the place I gravitate to in any bookstore. Biography represents the ultimate in human interest, a means to identify with the life of another -- and with life itself. You can experience and understand almost anything more viscerally via biography than with any other type of book. All of this made for a delicious quest when it came to Goodman. I knew of his inarguable virtues. I knew he had reached hundreds of thousands in person -- tens of millions, if you count his myriad radio and TV appearances. Yet he never was a household name. What better mission could there be than to undertake a project that would both cement Goodman's legacy and bring his music and persona to life? And then there's Goodman's leukemia. This was a guy given a death sentence at age 20. He wasn't supposed to make it to 21 or 22. That he lived to 36 was a miracle. How does one live with death on his shoulder? What can we all learn from that? Certainly, mortality is a universal theme. A decade ago, I had a boss who told others, "What you gotta understand about Clay is, he wants to write about the tragically nearly famous." It's an affectionate joke, but it's not far off the mark. Why write the 50th book on Elvis or the Beatles or Dylan? Not to take anything away from those legends, but we'd all survive just fine if there were a moratorium on books on those guys for awhile. Equally delicious about writing a Goodman bio was the quest to find a publisher for it. I could have self-published (I've taken that route with my previous biography and appreciate its pluses and drawbacks), but far better to have the validation (and obvious help with promotion and distribution) that a publisher affords. For the Goodman bio, I have a file of some 75 rejections from publishers and agents. To a one, when they didn't send a form letter, they said, "We love your proposal and sample chapters, but Steve Goodman is not well enough known for us to take a chance on." Basically, publishers don't want us to know about book subjects we don't already know about, because supposedly they don't sell. It's the blockbuster syndrome. To break past that mentality was tremendously satisfying. Everyone associated with this book owes a debt of gratitude to Jack David, owner of ECW Press, based in Toronto. (ECW stands for Entertainment Culture Writing.) Jack not only took a chance on Goodman but also let me produce the comprehensive book that I felt Goodman deserved. Comprehensiveness was key, for two reasons. First, if you look up "gregarious" in the dictionary, you will find Steve Goodman. He connected with countless people in his 36 years. It's a major lesson of his life, that we are not meant to be hermits. So, recounting his life necessitated talking with as many of those people as possible. Second, I knew this could be the only book ever done on Goodman, so I had a mantle on my shoulders to do it right and not shortchange the subject. (By the way, the book runs exactly 800 pages. The page numbers end with 778, but that total doesn't include six unnumbered pages at the book's opening and the separately numbered 16-page color-photo section.) A year ago, Jack David of ECW called this book my magnum opus -- my life's best work. And he may be right. I feel I've made a contribution that will live on long past the time we're all gone. Can you imagine how good that feels?
David Gans (tnf) Mon 3 Sep 07 13:07
Having published a few books, and having had a few books not published for the same sorts of reasons you were given in those 75 rejection letters, I sympathize. And I rejoice in the happy collision of author and publisher that allowed this book to reach its full flower! Tell us about Steve Goodman - where he came from, what his music sounded like, and what made him special.
Clay Eals (clay-eals) Mon 3 Sep 07 13:53
Dare I say it's all in the book? OK, an attempted summary: Goodman was born and raised in and lived all but the last four years of his life on the North Side of Chicago and in its northern suburbs. His music reflected the cornucopia of musical styles endemic to the Second City. Though at heart he was a folkie, his music encompassed a plethora of genres, from country to rock to blues to show tunes. Instead of shunning the music and musicians of previous generations, he embraced it to create a wide-ranging appeal. What made him special musically was his ability to meld a trio of skills -- songwriting, singing and guitar playing -- into a sum greater than its parts onstage. His goal was to be the best entertainer possible, and the best Goodman was always live Goodman. What made him special as a persona were his riveting eyes and smile, his indefatigable energy and his contagious zest for life. Irony lay in how someone beset by a death sentence could be so lively. One of John Prine's appellations for Goodman fits here: "Intenso."
David Gans (tnf) Mon 3 Sep 07 15:18
It is clear that he was a well-loved child and a charmer from a very early age. How did you go about finding all these people to interview for the book?
Clay Eals (clay-eals) Mon 3 Sep 07 16:37
Just one by one by one -- from referral to referral to referral. What got me started with the adult musical sources was attending the World Folk Music Association's tribute to Goodman in January 1999 at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia. There, Saul Broudy -- harmonica player on Goodman's mid-1970s LPs who had stayed with us in fall 1998 while doing gigs in the Pacific Northwest -- was kind to introduce me to Michael Smith, Jim Post, Anne Hills, Tom Paxton, Paula Ballan and others. For the childhood, teen and college sources, key places to start were Goodman's childhood temple in the Albany Park neighborhood (which has since moved to Skokie), and the 35-year reunion in July 2000 of the Class of 1965 of Maine East and South high schools. In eight-plus years, I did a lot of traveling to do interviews and gather info. I flew to Chicago 10 times, usually for two-week stints. I flew to NYC/Philly/DC three times and also made it to Nashville, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tampa, West Palm Beach, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Louisville and Denver/Boulder. But of necessity at least half of my interviews were by phone, and a fair number were via e-mail. Rare was the interview that did not end with an admonition for me to talk to two or three other sources. It was both a blessing and a curse -- the former because the referrals resulted in great anecdotes and the ability to corroborate other stories and details, the latter because the referrals were endless, and it became hard to know when to quit. It's probably no exaggeration to say that Goodman connected with more people in his 36 years than most of us will in twice that time if we live that long. I shouldn't leave out that in doing such a project, your credibility in seeking interviews is the list of people you already have interviewed. So part of my task was to continually update my interviewee list. I knew the number of interviewees would reach the hundreds. I had no idea until near the end that it would top 1,000. Funny thing is that in my reading/music events (May in Chicago, June/July in the Northwest, August on the upper East Coast), people keep coming up to me, passionately insisting on telling me their Goodman stories. Some I've heard before, but others I'm hoping to squeeze into a second edition in the happy event that the first printing of 5,000 runs out.
David Gans (tnf) Mon 3 Sep 07 16:48
I'm guessing your advance didn't even happen until you were well into the project, and it probably came owhere near covering the costs of all that research. So again, it's clear this was a labor of love. It appears you didn't get much help from Steve's immediate family - widow Nancy and their children, nor brother David. Were they opposed to your doing this book?
Clay Eals (clay-eals) Mon 3 Sep 07 17:51
I started the project in earnest in January 1999 and didn't land ECW Press as a publisher until April 2005, so yes, you're right about the timing of the advance. You're also right that it was a labor-of-love project. If the first printing sells out, the royalty I receive won't cover one-fifth of my eight years of out-of-pocket expense, let alone any of my time. And as those who graciously provided couches for me during my interview trips in those eight years can attest, I tried to keep my expenses to a bare minimum. I'm not complaining about this, of course. Just trying to make the point that if this project were about making money, I couldn't have entered into it. It's a cliche, but the things that mean most in life have nothing to do with money. What's that line from Goodman's "Luxury's Lap"? "All of that green/Just makes them blue." As you point out, I was not able to interview several key family sources: Steve's widow, Nancy; Steve's mother, Minnette; Steve's brother, David; and the two youngest of Steve's children, Sarah and Rosanna. I have no horse's-mouth answers as to why they chose not to participate. All I can do is speculate. The reasons may include that I did not grow up in the Chicago folk scene, and that some of their memories -- particularly in relation to Steve's leukemia -- may be quite painful. In the case of Nancy, who has been remarried for more than 15 years and is a nurse-practitioner in New York, part of the answer may be that she has moved along to a far different life and isn't keen on dwelling on the past. Certainly the lack of participation of these five was not because of my lack of trying. In fact, I had an hour-long breakfast with Minnette in January 1999 at the World Folk Music Association tribute, and I made clear to her in the ensuing years that the door was always open. Happily, Minnette called and wrote me immediately after the book launch last May to say that she is very pleased with the book. I never was able to speak with Nancy, David, Sarah or Rosanna prior to the book's publication, and I have no direct feedback on whether they have seen the book or what they may think of it. I respect and am not crestfallen by the decisions of these five. At the same time, it's important to me to express my deep gratitude for the lengthy and generous participation of Steve's oldest daughter, Jessie, and for the help of about a dozen more distant relatives of Steve. In addition, there are three more crucial points to make. First is that with any biography, it is logical to assume that the people closest to the subject may be the last ones to open up, particularly to a journalist who may be seen as an outsider. Second, the family members whom I could not interview are far from absent from the book. They are captured in many comments and anecdotes from others, as well as in material quoted from other printed sources. Some of the most revealing and touching anecdotes and insights in the book directly involve these people, and I couldn't have done justice to Steve's life without them. Finally, I was determined to complete the book regardless of whom I could interview. It was important to me to get as many Goodman-related memories down as possible, while it was still possible -- that is, while the sources were still alive and lucid. It's a sad fact that several of my more than 1,000 sources have died since I interviewed them and were not able to see the book. But I take comfort in the fact that these sources felt good about sharing their memories in the moment, regardless of whether they would see the finished product. I think they sensed from my approach that I was going to bring it to fruition. They likely perceived that I was following the advice that Goodman himself left in the chorus of the last song on the last LP he prepared before his own death: "You better get it while you can. If you wait too long, it'll all be gone and you'll be sorry then. Doesn't matter if you're rich or poor. It's the same for a woman or a man. From the cradle to the crypt, it's a mighty short trip, so you better get it while you can."
David Gans (tnf) Mon 3 Sep 07 18:06
Those words are from "The Ballad of Carl Martin," and I'd like you to tell us about Carl. Steve had a great love of music from before his time - "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie," "Lady Be Good," "Mama Don't Allow," to name a few that always made me happy when he did 'em live - and he did gigs with Jethro Burns. Seems like another one of those things that made this man so special: he didn't care how uncool it might be to do that sort of material or play with older guys.
Clay Eals (clay-eals) Tue 4 Sep 07 09:26
Carl Martin was one-third of an African American string band that was known as the Tennessee Chocolate Drops in the late 1920s and that re-formed and was revitalized by Goodman in the 1970s as Martin, Bogan and Armstrong. As Goodman said, "They played just everything," which was an apt description of Goodman himself, hence the attraction and connection. Each one in the trio had a unique role, with Martin and Howard Armstrong trading the lead role and Ted Bogan chunk-chunking along in support. Goodman became especially close to Martin, which is reflected in "You Better Get It While You Can (The Ballad of Carl Martin)." But while the song ostensibly is a tribute to Martin, it is one of Goodman's most autobiographical tunes. He both emulated and embodied the indefatigable Martin. You aptly point out one of Goodman's strengths, a heartfelt appreciation for previous musical generations, which was unusual at the time (remember the phrase "Don't trust anyone over 30"?) and which was executed in a unique way by Goodman. He walked the talk by collaborating with his elders both in the recording studio and onstage. Before he had any national fame, he drove Martin, Bogan and Armstrong, plus elder bluesman Jim Brewer, to the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1970, where they played in concerts and workshops. Later, Steve produced an MBA LP for Flying Fish records and played with the group for myriad club dates. Jethro Burns, as you note, is another example. After Burns' longtime musical partner, Homer Haynes of Homer & Jethro, died in 1971, Burns was bereft. Not long afterward, Goodman bid Burns to play with him in the studio and onstage, touring with him often and showcasing Burns as one of the world's best mandolinists. The delightful stage chemistry between the two was palpable, unforgettable. The examples don't stop there. From Merle Travis to Joe Venuti to Malvina Reynolds, Goodman embraced countless musicians of the previous generation, and as you note, he folded many of that generation's music into his own repertoire. So much did this aspect become a part of his persona that he typically opened his concerts with an old, upbeat show tune ("Sin to Tell a Lie," "Red Red Robin," "In the Middle of an Island"), and when other musicians were present, either on the bill or in the audience, he bid them all to the stage for a culminating ride on "Mama Don't Allow It," a formula that became one of his beloved signatures. This all was part of Goodman's charm. Essentially, he made the uncool cool. As result, his appeal was truly infectious.
David Gans (tnf) Tue 4 Sep 07 10:22
<scribbled by tnf Tue 4 Sep 07 10:22>
David Gans (tnf) Tue 4 Sep 07 10:22
Great quote from Garnet Rogers (page 382): "Steve bridged that thing between these navel-gazing singer/songwriter guys that I was hanging out with and these terrifyingly good vaudeville-style musicians who really wanted to entertain and kick it out. That was a big influence on us, seeing somebody who realized, 'I'm here to entertain.' It was like the circus had cme to town." And from Steve himself (page 318): "What I like folks to see is that I like to play and sing and that I'm havin' a good time, and maybe they'll have a good time - and if I've got some stories to tell that are not about good times, well, I'll tell 'em. In the course of the whole evening, I can do something that is reflective of life. There are good times, and there are bad times, and I don't want to dwell on the good times or the bad times because I imagine they're so related. You can tell that with babies. Babies cry, and about 30 seconds later they're laughin' outrageously, and that's not because they're manic-depressive. It's because that's the way life is."
David Gans (tnf) Tue 4 Sep 07 10:32
I find myself once again noting the similarities between Steve Goodman and Jerry Garcia. Both men were willing to reach into the dark places with their songs, understanding that it's important to deliver a full range of emotions and that "entertainment" could (and should) be more than a pleasant diver- sion. And both men were brilliant scholars of American musical history. And not coincidentally, that made both the Dead's and Steve Goodman's music hard for the music industry to market. Let's talk about that. Steve Goodman helped to create a thriving singer- songwriter scene in Chicago and came up in the music industry at a time when that sort of music was happening. But he was harder to market than, say, Jackson Browne or Cat Stevens. Maybe I should ask you about the Paul Anka connection first. Kris Kristof- ferson was an important player in the rise of both Goodman and John Prine, but so was Paul Anka. How'd that happen?
Clay Eals (clay-eals) Tue 4 Sep 07 12:15
The Anka-Kristofferson "discovery" of Goodman is arguably the most important anecdote of the book because it reflects the generous spirit that people revered in Goodman. The full story is too long to recount in detail here, but it's not hard to tell in summary fashion. Anka and Kristofferson coincidentally were playing Chicago the same week in spring 1971. Both were hot -- Anka as a Vegas-like band leader who had penned "My Way" for Sinatra and the "Tonight Show" theme, and Kristofferson as a hip songwriter whose "Me and Bobby McGee," in a posthumously released version by Janis Joplin, was inescapable. Anka was singing Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through the Night" in his act, and late one night the tuxedoed Anka bounded up the steps of the Quiet Knight club and sang that song in a late show with Kristofferson's band. At show's end, Anka invited the entourage back to his suite at the posh Palmer House for a wee-hours breakfast. The entourage included Melvin Van Peebles, Lola Falana, Samantha Eggar, Kristofferson and Kristofferson's opening act, Steve Goodman. At one point during the gathering, Kristofferson told Goodman, "Get out your axe and play for Anka 'Would You Like to Learn to Dance?'" Goodman did so. Anka replied with, "How would you like a plane ticket to New York?" The question was steeped with implications for a recording contract and a launch to the national stage. It was the ultimate opportunity for Goodman, who was passionate about his music and two years into his leukemia treatment, with no idea how long he would live. How would 99 percent of America respond in that situation? Probably, "Gee, Mr. Anka, thanks for the generous opportunity. When do we leave?" But not Goodman. His response was, "If you think I'm good, you ought to hear my friend, John Prine." The next night the entourage did just that, and Anka shelled out two plane tickets to New York. The irony is that Goodman's generosity turned out to be to his own detriment. By any measure, Prine became far more successful than Goodman. Prine was marketed as a "new Dylan" and sold many more LPs than did Goodman. While Prine and Goodman often were double-billed, Goodman was always the opener and Prine always the headliner. Despite being a consummate entertainer who could take you up and down and back again and consistently leave you feeling good about life, Goodman always suffered commercially in comparison to artists who had more of the matinee-idol looks and/or who were perceived to be more brooding or introspective or serious. Again, this is an irony, because the death sentence perched on Goodman's shoulders was the ultimate in serious issues. Goodman never wanted to reveal his disease, however, because he didn't want to be known as the sick guy instead of for his talents as an entertainer. References to mortality are infused throughout his songs, yet rarely in a sullen or morbid way. His approach was to embrace gallows humor and laugh at death. His 5-foot-2 height and at-times roly-poly build undoubtedly made him hard to market, but so did his range of genres that defied pigeonholing. Goodman himself said he was "the hectic eclectic." Not an easy sell, particularly with the advent of trendy disco, punk and new wave. Further hindering his marketing was his toying with and later insistence on the addition of obtrusive musical accompaniment to his recordings. The best Goodman was live Goodman, but his LPs were anything but. Goodman always stated that "you can't see a record" and therefore felt it necessary to glitz up the production on his tracks. The sad irony is that such an approach meant that Steve himself was mired in the background of some his recordings. Goodman's best asset -- his one-guy appeal onstage, with all of the in-the-moment magic and intrigue that it engendered -- was missing from his LPs. Critics generally liked Goodman's recorded material, but it didn't play well at the cash register. His two albums for Buddah barely hit the commercial radar, and from 1975 to 1980, each of his five LPs for Asylum, the gold standard of record labels, sold progressively worse. In 1981, at the very time that he had been straining the most to achieve commercial success, he was dropped by Asylum. In a sense, it was no tragedy, however, because this freed him to start his own label and release recordings in 1983-84 that were live, more spontaneous and less shackled by industry expectations. To the joy of his many fans and to his own satisfaction, Goodman finally was able to see his LPs receive the unqualified kudos from press and fans alike. But because he lacked the marketing help of a major label, sales were still modest. Goodman didn't live long enough to see it play out, but any retrospective look would brand him as an influential pioneer by launching his own record label and selling his LPs at concerts. Back then, such a route was considered unseemly, but today it's commonplace. Singer/songwriter entrepreneurs abound and carve their own notions of success. Goodman helped trigger a sea change away from a monolithic "music industry" (now there's a wishful-thinking oxymoron), and we're all the better for it.
David Gans (tnf) Tue 4 Sep 07 14:23
> obtrusive musical accompaniment.... Steve himself was mired in the back- > ground of some his recordings. Yeah, I felt that even before I had any idea of how records were made. He was much better live, unaccompanied. > But because he lacked the marketing help of a major label, sales were still > modest. He may still have made more money that way, given the rapacious nature of record contracts. > The irony is that Goodman's generosity turned out to be to his own detri- > ment. By any measure, Prine became far more successful than Goodman. That's not to say (and I know you agree) that Steve should have done other- wise. Prine and Goodman wound up on different record labels, and it would seem that Prine had the better setup in almost every way. Goodman made his first album in Nashville, making the flavor of the tracks something of a foregone conclu- sion, and as you point out he overdid the arrangements; Prine was both easier to sell (though being called "the new Dylan" could be considered a seriously mixed blessing), and worked for a label that wasn't bucking its own history with an artist like Steve. (Was this around the same time Willie Nelson was recording for Atlantic, with Jerry Wexler producing?) On the other hand, Goodman had plenty of live gigs, and he made some serious bucks from "City of New Orleans," which was covered dozens of times. What can you trell us about the way music was marketed in those days? Did Buddah spend the bucks on radio and print ads? Did artists sell their own albums at gigs in those days?
Clay Eals (clay-eals) Tue 4 Sep 07 15:25
You have a good memory. Jerry Wexler himself signed Prine to Atlantic after hearing Prine play three songs during an impromptu spring 1971 Kristofferson set at the Bitter End in NYC. (Willie Nelson switched to Atlantic from RCA a couple years later.) In contrast to Prine, it took Goodman some five weeks to snag his contract with Buddah after doing a three-song set during the same Kristofferson show. Much of what was earned from "City of New Orleans" during Goodman's lifetime went to Buddah, which administered the song's publishing rights. Goodman's manager finally was able to recover the publishing for the Goodman songs on the two Buddah LPs about 10 years ago. What "City" did for Steve financially was give him a continual calling card for concert bookings -- an entree that wouldn't have existed without Arlo Guthrie's hit version in mid-1972. As you imply, Buddah was not a hand-in-glove fit for Goodman. The label was trying to break out of its identity as a teeny-bopper singles factory, and Goodman was swept along as part of that effort. Though Goodman received a fair number of print ads, the main marketing vehicle was interviews on so-called "underground" FM stations whose deejays would play what was described as more album-oriented material. This resulted in some bizarre behavior, such as one Buddah promo man's luckless efforts to get Goodman aired on WNEW in NYC by playing the leukemia card -- as in "You've gotta play this guy's record because he's about to die." Goodman and Buddah parted ways in 1974 when Neil Bogart, the label's chief, started signing and emphasizing African American acts such as Gladys Knight and then bolted for California to form a new company, Casablanca Records. Goodman became lost in the disinterested shuffle, which opened the door for his signing in 1975 with Asylum. Definitely, it was a different time from today. We're now accustomed to performers selling their own CDs at shows, but 30 years ago it was considered crass for artists to hawk their own wares. That "dirty work" was the record company's job, and the artists were at the mercy of their labels for much of the quality and quantity of promotion. Given the heavy emphasis on FM radio, it was fortunate that Goodman was an interviewer's dream, providing intelligent and entertaining repartee. It was fun to draw upon that material for the book. Thank goodness for those who taped those radio shows off the air -- and saved and circulated the tapes.
David Gans (tnf) Tue 4 Sep 07 15:38
> Much of what was earned from "City of New Orleans" during Goodman's > lifetime went to Buddah, which administered the song's publishing rights. You said in the book that Buddah took the publishing, but Steve still got the writer's half, didn't he? That sort of shit was all too common in the music business, and for all I know it still is. > As you imply, Buddah was not a hand-in-glove fit for Goodman. The label was > trying to break out of its identity as a teeny-bopper singles factory It should be noted that Buddah founder Neil Bogart left that company to found Casablanca, which brought us KISS, Donna Summer, the Village People, etc. Guess he wasn't so hot to do hifalutin' artists after all. > one Buddah promo man's luckless efforts to get Goodman aired on WNEW in NYC > by playing the leukemia card -- as in "You've gotta play this guy's record > because he's about to die." Jeeziz. > Thank goodness for those who taped those radio shows off the air -- and > saved and circulated the tapes. Oh yeah! I must still have a copy of his KSAN/Old Waldorf show somewhere. I brought a cassette deck and microphone to Wolfgang's at least once, and although the applause was way louder than the music, it's still a wonderful document.
David Gans (tnf) Tue 4 Sep 07 15:39
Can you explain how Steve wound up recording his first album in Nashville, and how it wound up so overproduced?
Clay Eals (clay-eals) Tue 4 Sep 07 16:10
Sure, but the writer's half of "City of New Orleans" makes for one of the more fascinating stories in the book -- the attempt or ("printer's error") of John Denver in claiming half of the writer's share when he dumbed down the song on his January 1972 "Aerie" LP. This was before Arlo's version was released, and Denver essentially made it "City of New Orleans" lite. ("Old black men" became "old grey men," and "the disappearin' railroad blues" was completely excised.) Thank Goodness Arlo's version is the one that stuck in the public consciousness. Neil Bogart's story is a tragedy, that of a charismatic visionary brought down by drugs -- a familiar tale but probably worth a book someday. Would love to hear your KSAN/Old Waldorf tape someday. Who knows, there may be a stray comment or contextual clue that I could fold into a second printing of the book. I have more than 200 Goodman concert or radio-interview tapes, and every one of them is gold -- the kind of stellar primary material that researchers crave. The story of Goodman recording his first album in Nashville is long and complex (and fleshed out in the book), but the core is that though Buddah signed Goodman and Paul Anka ostensibly was his manager, no one bothered to find him a producer or studio for his first LP. Finally, out of some desperation, Goodman turned to his benefactor, Kris Kristofferson, who had never produced an album before but volunteered to serve in that role with the Area Code 615 guys, aided by ace engineer/co-producer Norbert Putnam. So Goodman's tracks were churned out in just a few days by a crew of session musicians whom Goodman was meeting for the first time. You might say Steve was a babe in the Nashville woods. This, of course, made for some cringing ironies. For instance, one of Goodman's more plaintive songs, "Eight Ball Blues," was converted into an inappropriately crashing rocker. Also, Steve got so nervous being in a studio with several icons of guitar that he couldn't play lead effectively on "City of New Orleans." After he took a break and walked around the block for an hour, he returned to the studio and found that the guitar part for "City" was completed in his absence. So while this was Goodman's and the LP's showpiece track, Goodman's only contribution was his voice. It wasn't all for naught, however. The Nashville sessions connected Goodman with key musicians and sent him up a steep learning curve. And the LP's final track, "Would You Like to Learn to Dance?," the one that had moved Paul Anka to offer Steve a plane ticket to New York, managed to retain a gentle, quiet tone befitting the song. Still, the album overall suffered from an overkill of production that, unfortunately, launched a pattern for many of Steve's future studio efforts.
David Gans (tnf) Tue 4 Sep 07 16:32
> Thank Goodness Arlo's version is the one that stuck in the public con- > sciousness. Amen to that. Denver's music wasn't as lame as his persona might have led one to believe (and I think "coming home to a place he'd never been before" is a brilliant line), but he did some serious damage to Steve's masterpiece. > Would love to hear your KSAN/Old Waldorf tape someday. Who knows, a second > printing of the book. I have more than 200 Goodman concert or radiointer- > view tapes, and every one of them is gold -- the kind of stellar primary > material that researchers crave. How have Steve's posthumous releases been selling? I love the one that came out last year, "Live at the Earl of Old Town" - "Grand Canyon Song" and "Three Legged Man" especially. Maybe the Old Waldorf show could be released... > the album overall suffered from an overkill of production that, unfor- > tunately, launched a pattern for many of Steve's future studio efforts. You woulda thought he'd have learned.
David Gans (tnf) Tue 4 Sep 07 16:37
So the first album came out. Denver's recording of "City of New Orleans" was out already, right? What about Arlo's? How id the album do?
Clay Eals (clay-eals) Tue 4 Sep 07 16:59
Goodman's first LP, on Buddah, was released in tandem with Prine's, on Atlantic, in early November 1971. The coming-out party was the Bitter End in NYC. The LP never cracked Billboard's top 200 and eventually sold a disappointing 30-50,000 copies. (In today's niche markets, such sales would be considered a huge success.) Buddah tried releasing "City of New Orleans" as a single, but it reached only #113 in Billboard. Denver's LP with his sanitized version of "City of New Orleans" hit stores in January 1972. The album had no hits to speak of, which was a stunner because of the huge success of Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" the previous summer. Denver had to wait till the end of 1972 for his next hit, "Rocky Mountain High." Arlo's version of "City" was released in spring 1972 on his "Hobo's Lullaby" LP, but "City" was not slotted as a single. It rose, instead, from radio's grass roots starting in Atlanta, spreading through the South and then to the rest of the nation. That summer and fall, it was ubiquitous. It rose to "only" #18 on Billboard's singles chart, but that reflected Warner Brothers' late awareness of the song's single potential.
Clay Eals (clay-eals) Tue 4 Sep 07 17:04
As for posthumous releases, I don't have exact figures, but the sales cannot be huge because Goodman's manager has been approached by many more people with Goodman tapes hoping for an official release than the number of posthumous products that he has released. I do agree with you, however, that the more officially released Goodman, the better. Cross your fingers!
David Gans (tnf) Tue 4 Sep 07 17:57
I should mention that those who are reading this from outside the WELL are encouraged to contribute! Send questions, comments, etc. to firstname.lastname@example.org Steve Goodman's recordings are available via the official site, http://www.stevegoodman.net/
David Gans (tnf) Tue 4 Sep 07 20:01
And on iTunes, from which I have purchased two CDs today: "The Easter Tapes," a compilation from Steve's appearances on Vin Scelsa's radio show, and "Jessie's Jig and Other Favorites," to save me having to digitize my muchplayed vinyl copy from back in the day.
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