Rock has had very few star violinists, mostly because the violin isn't usually regarded as a rock instrument -- David Cross of King Crimson, Darryl Way of Curved Air, and John Weider of Eric Burdon & the Animals come to mind, and that's about it. Except for Jerry Goodman, the only American in the bunch and arguably the best known, thanks to the amount of airplay received by his most successful group recordings.
Goodman was born and raised in Chicago and took up the violin as a boy. He was classically trained and had the dexterity for a career in classical but not the dedication to the field -- trained in classical technique and repertory, he found the music unfulfilling, and initially ended up on the periphery of music, working as a roadie for a Chicago-based outfit called the Flock, who had lately changed their name from the Exclusives and were making some noise on a local label. Goodman's joining the group brought a vast new range of color to their sound, concurrent with the rock-jazz fusion boom -- a contract with Columbia Records was signed, and their self-titled first album followed. An immediate cult favorite, The Flock was the first large-scale showcase for Goodman's playing. The group was soon accepted as a junior member of rock's new elite, playing festivals alongside the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin, even making it into the European rock festival documentary Stamping Ground. Goodman's tenure with the group ended in 1970, and he retreated from the music business, withdrawing to rural Wisconsin.
He was still there when John McLaughlin came calling in early 1971, in search of a violinist. His first choice was Jean-Luc Ponty, but Ponty wasn't an American and there were potential problems with his immigration status. The Flock led McLaughlin to Goodman, and Goodman, in turn, to participate in recording McLaughlin's solo album My Goal's Beyond. That recording, in turn, led to Goodman's becoming a member of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra, where his playing truly moved into the spotlight, even sharing it with McLaughlin and keyboard player Jan Hammer. Across three LPs, The Inner Mounting Flame, Birds of Fire, and Between Nothingness and Eternity, Goodman achieved an international following with his mixture of folk, rock, classical, and jazz influences, all played in a manner coupling assertiveness and lyricism. The group only lasted until 1973, when it broke up amid much acrimony, leaving sessions for an unissued studio LP behind (The Lost Trident Sessions), which saw release more than two decades later. Goodman and Hammer turned around and, for the Nemperor label, recorded the album Like Children.
Goodman wasn't heard on record for another decade. He re-emerged in the mid-'80s on the new age-oriented Private Music label, with On the Future of Aviation and Ariel. The first album was a major surprise, featuring very little violin, while the second LP was more in a string-focused mode. A third solo LP, a concert album called It's Alive, arrived in 1987, focusing largely on material from his two studio releases. Around this time, Goodman also began working in film music, scoring Lily Tomlin's The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe and featuring musically in films like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), The Truth About Cats and Dogs and Waiting for Guffman (both 1996), and Best in Show (2000). He was also a member of the re-formed Dixie Dregs -- a fusion group heavily influenced by the Mahavishnu Orchestra -- beginning in the early '90s, and did a stint touring with new age group Shadowfax.
For much of the '90s and early 2000s, Goodman was active as a session musician, adding his talents to albums by Toots Thielemans, Hall & Oates, and keyboardist Derek Sherinian, with whom he has recorded numerous times. After a break from touring, he returned in 2004 playing with Gary Husband's Force Majeure and appearing on their live 2005 DVD, Live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. In 2009, he joined progressive metal band Dream Theater on their album Black Clouds and Silver Linings. He has continued to take on a variety of different projects, and in 2015 joined jazz drummer Billy Cobham on his Spectrum 40 tour and concert album. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi