Tag Archives: Steve Goodman

A smaller Christmas, Day 13

In the mail this morning is a note from Clay Eals, who is Steve Goodman’s biographer. Clay’s note is long. They usually are.

So is his book on Goodman, the beloved Chicago folk singer. Clay is thorough. He would like to remind you that “Steve Goodman: Facing The Music,” now in its third printing, is available via his website.

But the best part of Clay’s note, albeit a bittersweet one, is word that Goodman’s mother, Minnette, died last week. She was 85. Dave Hoekstra of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote a wonderful tribute. She was a familiar sight at Chicago shows almost until her death.

“It wasn’t a gig if Minnette wasn’t there,” said the great folk singer John Prine, who was Steve Goodman’s best friend. She never missed a Jimmy Buffett show, either. When she went to last summer’s show, Buffett had her park her Honda Civic right next to his tour bus.

I met Steve Goodman in 1983, a year before he died of leukemia. He’d released a live solo acoustic album and was touring to support it. I bought that record after his show in Madison, Wisconsin. He signed it this way: “Joe — Hello, Steve Goodman.” That’s a story in itself.

That record, “Artistic Hair,” has another of our favorite Christmas songs on it. You never hear it. Then again, when was the last time you heard anything by Steve Goodman?

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“Winter Wonderland,” Steve Goodman, from “Artistic Hair,” 1983. It’s also available digitally.

In which Mr. Goodman takes a request from the audience, then realizes he’s not sure he knows the lyrics.

“You gonna feed me the words?” he asks.

It’s kind of absurd.

Your Christmas music requests in the comments, please.

Please visit our other blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2012, Sounds

Heaven knows

Rob Grill, the lead singer of the Grass Roots for more than 40 years, died quietly earlier this week in Florida. He was 67.

The Grass Roots long ago faded from prominence. Even so, they forged a nice career for themselves, playing across America before tens of thousands of people who remembered those great pop/rock songs of the late ’60s and early ’70s.

I was fortunate enough to see Grill and the Grass Roots. It was two years ago, at a free show at one end of the midway at a small county fair. Grill, who battled health problems for years, moved carefully and gingerly on the small stage but was in fine voice.

More than a decade ago, I came to the realization that some of the acts I’d long enjoyed — like the Grass Roots — were not going to tour forever, and that I ought to get out and see them. My friend Meat once called it “a cool midlife crisis.”

I wouldn’t necessarily call it that, but I did make up for lost time, for shows not seen when I was much younger. La, la, la, la, la, la, live for today, you might say.

So today, yeah, it’s nice to be able to say I saw Rob Grill with the Grass Roots, and he was good.

He’s not the only one who’s gone now. I saw Brad Delp with Boston. Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson and Hughie Thomasson with Lynyrd Skynyrd. Warren Zevon and Steve Goodman and Jeff Healey. I even saw Mel Torme.

“Heaven Knows,” a Top 25 hit for the Grass Roots in 1969, is of course a love song. But in the light of Grill’s passing — and considering those who went before him — it also might express the love between performers and their fans.

With a song in my heart/And a chance to be yours forever
I couldn’t feel more secure/I know I couldn’t feel any better
Oh Lord, heaven knows/How much I love you and how much it shows
Oh Lord, heaven … heaven knows

“Heaven Knows,” the Grass Roots, 1969, from “Their 16 Greatest Hits,” 1971. It’s out of print. It’s available on this 2003 import CD and digitally.

It was written by Mike “Harvey” Price and Dan Walsh, the Los Angeles songwriting team that also came up with “Temptation Eyes.”

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Filed under July 2011, Sounds

Just one question, Cubs fans

Today is opening day at Wrigley Field.

Do they still play the blues in Chicago when baseball season rolls around?

Still the best baseball song ever, performed here by the late, great Steve Goodman on a rooftop across from the friendly confines.

“A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” Steve Goodman, from “Affordable Art,” 1984.

Goodman might have been that dying Cub fan. He had leukemia, and this was the last LP released before his death in September 1984.

And, yes, he did have some of his ashes scattered at Wrigley Field.

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Filed under April 2011, Sounds

12 days of Christmas, Day 12

We were talking the other night about Christmas presents for our son, who’s 15, a sophomore in high school. At issue was whether we have that one big gift, the one with the wow factor.

I was thinking back to when I was 15, what that one big gift was. It was Christmas 1972. That one big gift was this:

That is a suede leather Converse All-Star basketball shoe, gold with black trim. I, too, was a sophomore the year I got a pair. It was a big deal. I’m not sure my parents fully understood the attraction, but they popped for the $15 — almost $75 in today’s dollars — to get them. I wore them until they wore out, then kept them around for years as something close to sandals.

There are other good memories of that one big gift. The Tickle Bee game, G.I. Joe, the Packers helmet and jersey, and, of course, that Panasonic AM-FM radio.

Now we have one big gift for you. More of our favorite Christmas tunes, the ones without which it wouldn’t be Christmas.

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Plastic Ono Band and the Harlem Community Choir, released as a single, 1971. A remastered version is available on  “Gimme Some Truth,” a 4-CD compilation released earlier this year.

“And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?

“Snoopy’s Christmas,” the Royal Guardsmen, from “Snoopy and His Friends,” 1967. (The link is to a double CD also featuring “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron,” their debut album from 1966.)

“Merry Christmas, mein friend!

“Winter Wonderland,” Steve Goodman, from “Artistic Hair,” 1983. I bought this record at his show in Madison, Wisconsin, in April of that year. He signed it “Joe — Hello.”

“It’s kind of absurd/when you don’t know the words/to sing/
walkin’ in a winter wonderland!”

“All I Want for Christmas,” Timbuk3, 1987, from “A Different Kind of Christmas,” 1994. It’s out of print. Pat MacDonald grew up here in Green Bay and has returned. These days, he performs as pat mAcdonald — he insists on that spelling. His gig notices also say “Timbuk3 (no space!) is to be mentioned in a biographical context only.” So there!

“All I want for Christmas is world peace.”

“Merry Christmas Baby (alternate edit),” Elvis Presley, 1971, from “Reconsider Baby,” 1985. It’s out of print, and pricey if you can find it. It’s my favorite Elvis record, full of his blues tunes. That it’s on blue vinyl is just icing on the cake.

“Wake up, Putt!”

“Twelve Days of Christmas,” Bob and Doug McKenzie, from “Great White North,” 1981.

“OK, so g’day, this is the Christmas part.”

“Santa Claus and his Old Lady,” Cheech and Chong, from Ode single 66021, released December 1971. Also available on “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Cheech and Chong,” a 2-CD best-of compilation released in 2002.

“We could sure use a dude like that right now.”

No great lines, just great tunes

“White Christmas,” the Edwin Hawkins Singers, from “Peace Is ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’.” 1972. It’s out of print with that title, but is available as “Edwin Hawkins Singers Christmas,” with essentially the same cover. This has a great solo by Tramaine Davis.

“Christmas Medley,” the Salsoul Orchestra, from “Christmas Jollies,” 1976. This is 12 minutes of soul, salsa and dance bliss. An instant party starter.

“Halleujah! It’s Christmas,” .38 Special, from “A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night,” 2001. Re-released in 2008 as “The Best of .38 Special: The Christmas Collection,” one of those 20th Century Masters reissues. This joyous, upbeat tune — written by guitarists Don Barnes and Danny Chauncey and lead singer Donnie Van Zant — ought to be a classic.

“Feliz Navidad,” Robert Greenidge, from “It’s Christmas, Mon!”, 1995. It’s out of print. Though Greenidge gets no cover billing on this CD, he’s playing the steel pan. He’s been with Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band since 1983. Earlier this year, Greenidge and his bandmates released “A Coral Reefer Christmas” on Buffett’s Mailboat Records label. This tune is not on that record.

“Christmas in the City of the Angels,” Johnny Mathis, from Columbia 1-11158, a 7-inch single, 1979. Though Mathis has recorded several Christmas albums, this cut never made it onto one. People ask for it every year. (This cut has gone from radio to tape to CD, and then ripped, so that may explain the sound quality if you find it lacking.)

Bonus gifts!

Some of our friends have sent along some tunes they thought you’d like.

“Must Have Been A Mighty Day,” Emily Hurd, from “Tins and Pins and Peppermints,” 2010. She’s a singer-songwriter from Chicago by way of Rockford, Ill., where we have a mutual friend. It’s been interesting to listen to her style evolve, moving from loose and gritty to far more poised and polished. This tune has a bit of both styles. She previewed this record for fans last year, then released it this year.

“Cashing In On Christmastime,” Charles Ramsey, 2010. He’s a singer-songwriter from Philadelphia who has some other nice, non-holiday stuff on his MySpace page. This genial, laid-back cut reminds me of Bob Dylan or Tom Petty with the Traveling Wilburys.

“Christmas Medley,” the Midwesterners, 2009. A pleasant little instrumental featuring Richard Wiegel, the guitarist in this band out of Madison, Wisconsin. He was one of the guitarists in Clicker, the much-loved ’70s Wisconsin rock/pop/glam/show band we write about from time to time.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2010

Three under the tree, Vol. 43

Christmas lurks out there, scarcely 10 days away now.

Everyone’s busy, no time to read, no time to write.

This is going to be it for Three Under the Tree. I get the feeling this series has run its course, anyway. I have something in mind for next year, something a little different.

So as we go out, three more good ones:

“All I Want for Christmas,” Timbuk 3, 1987, from “A Different Kind of Christmas,” 1994. It’s out of print.

Gotta support your local musicians. Pat MacDonald, born right here in Green Bay and kicked out of West High School in the late ’60s over his long hair (and that’s only part of a great story), was half of Timbuk 3 with his ex-wife Barbara K. He’s living in our corner of Wisconsin these days, doing a variety of gigs and billing himself as pat mAcdonald.

“Winter Wonderland,” Steve Goodman, from “Artistic Hair,” 1983.

Recorded live, but not otherwise a Christmas record. On which Steve struggles to remember the lyrics but comes close enough, and in so doing comes up with a delightful acoustic version. I bought this record at a Steve Goodman show in 1983. He autographed it for me: “Joe, Hello”

“Merry Christmas Baby,” Chuck Berry, 1958, from “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade, Vol. 2,” 1973. The LP is out of print, but this tune — and a shorter alternate take — are available on “Johnny B. Goode: His Complete ’50s Chess Recordings,” a 2008 compilation, and digitally.

On which Chuck demonstrates how well he does those quiet, slow blues. Listen for a snippet of “White Christmas” at about 1:40. Mostly, though, it’s just Chuck’s voice backed by Johnnie Johnson’s piano. The rest of the group is Willie Dixon on bass and Fred Below on drums.

And to think I got to see Chuck Berry this year. Christmas came early.

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Filed under December 2009, Sounds

Three under the tree, Day 12

It’s snowing outside. It started about 5 p.m. It’s going to snow for about 24 hours. When it’s done, we’ll likely have close to a foot of new snow.

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When it snowed like that last December, this is what our street looked like. That, my friends, is a winter wonderland.

And that, my friends, is our theme for the next couple of days.

“Winter Wonderland” was written in 1934, with music by Felix Bernard and lyrics by Richard B. Smith. The story goes that Smith wrote the song after admiring a snow-covered park in his hometown of Honesdale, Pennsylvania.

It was first recorded that year by Richard Himber and his Hotel Carelton Orchestra. Later that year, Guy Lombardo and His Orchestra had a hit with it. It really rocked the charts in 1946, when the Andrews Sisters (backed by Lombardo), Johnny Mercer and Perry Como all had hits with it.

It has since become one of the most familiar holiday tunes, even though it’s more about winter than about Christmas.

The ’80s were a good decade for “Winter Wonderland.” Three of my favorite versions came out then.

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“Winter Wonderland,” Steve Goodman, from “Artistic Hair,” 1983. Recorded live, he forgets the lyrics, then improvises some unforgettable new lyrics. This otherwise isn’t a Christmas album, but it’s certainly worth getting for live versions of “Elvis Imitators,” “Chicken Cordon Bleus,” “City of New Orleans” and “You Never Even Call Me By My Name.”

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“Winter Wonderland,” Eurythmics, from “A Very Special Christmas,” 1986. These days, this is the most frequently heard version of the song. And why not? Annie Lennox’s voice is terrific, as is the percussion by Dave Stewart and Richard Feldman. Drum machines, to be sure, but entirely appropriate.

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“Winter Wonderland,” Alexander O’Neal, from “My Gift To You,” 1988. It’s out of print. Buy it if you ever see it. This is one of my all-time favorite Christmas records. The smooth R&B and soul singer goes with a big band arrangement on this one, recorded at the peak of his U.S. success.

It’s still gonna look like a winter wonderland around these parts on Wednesday, so stop back for more.

One more thing: I’d like to do some all-request posts, but I need your requests! We have some, but there’s room under the tree for more.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2008, Sounds

Wally and Skip have good seats

Weather permitting, my once-beloved Milwaukee Brewers will open the baseball season against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Monday afternoon.

Baseball — at least the major leagues — used to be a big deal for me. I wrote about that last year. It’s much less so these days.

I still like to play it. I’ve played slow-pitch softball for almost 30 years. But this will be the first season without The Skip, with whom I played for eight seasons. We lost him last summer.

And I still like to watch it. Our local team is the Green Bay Bullfrogs, a bunch of college kids trying to get the pros’ attention. They play in an ancient yet charming ballpark, where I spent a few nights last summer.

This summer also will be the first one without one of the men who took me — a baseball-crazy 11-year-old — to my first major-league game some 40 summers ago. We lost Uncle Wally a couple of months ago.

In the summer of 1968, Uncle Wally helped my dad arrange a trip to Milwaukee County Stadium to see the Chicago White Sox play the Minnesota Twins. We lived an hour north of Milwaukee. The trip came a couple of days after my birthday.

That summer, the folks in Milwaukee were trying to lure major-league baseball back to town. The White Sox agreed to play a few games there to help show Milwaukee would support baseball.

White Sox? Twins? Fine with me. I still have the ticket stub, the program and a bunch of vivid memories of a game that lasted five innings. The Twins won 1-0 that night, a rainy Monday night, June 24, 1968. There were no home runs, just three singles for each team.

According to the fabulous Retrosheet, the game lasted 1 hour, 38 minutes — just about right for my dad, who was not and is not a baseball fan. We were part of a crowd of 25,263.

Yet we almost certainly would not have been in that crowd were it not for Uncle Wally’s involvement. He played ball back in the day — future NFL star Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch was one of his pals at Wausau High School in the early 1940s — and he remained a big fan.

So, for Uncle Wally, and for The Skip, we start this baseball season as we started last season. With the best baseball song ever.

“Do they still play the blues in Chicago/when baseball season rolls around?”

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“The Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” Steve Goodman, from “Affordable Art,” 1980.

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Extra innings: “The Ball Game,” a little bit of gospel from Sister Wynona Carr, 1952, from “Baseball Hits,” a 2001 compilation of baseball tunes on Flashback Records, the budget label of Rhino Records.

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Filed under April 2008, Sounds