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.