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Longtime Las Vegas musician William ‘Autie’ Goodman dead at 93

Updated January 9, 2019 - 11:14 am

Wherever William Austin “Autie” Goodman went in life, from the ranch to the battlefield to the Strip, music followed.

As a young teen, when he wasn’t working on a cattle ranch in Burns, Oregon, he was honing his skills on the clarinet.

When he joined the Army in 1943, his superiors quickly noted that his musical talents overshadowed his skills as a clerk and dispatched him to entertain officers on base in Saipan.

After moving to Las Vegas in 1956, he quickly made a name for himself performing at the Strip’s casinos, playing with a group called the Modernaires before joining the long-running touring group the Four Freshmen in 1977.

Goodman, who retired to Pahrump, died in his sleep on Dec. 20. He was 93.

‘The only thing I’ve ever done’

Goodman was 12 when he heard world-renowned clarinetist Artie Shaw play.

He turned to his father and said that’s what he aspired to do. He got his first clarinet in the mail and took some lessons, and his interest in music skyrocketed from there.

In his teens, he began playing a tenor sax so he could join an up-and-coming group in Burns. He idolized the likes of Nat King Cole and Buddy DeFranco.

“Music’s the only thing I’ve ever done,” Goodman told the Pahrump Valley Times in a 2015 interview.

In 1943, he enlisted in the Army and was stationed in Saipan during World War II.

His son, Kris, remembers his father’s story of watching the Enola Gay return after dropping the atomic bomb on Japan.

While in the military, Goodman met and performed in a trio with Bobby Troup, an actor, jazz pianist, singer and songwriter best-known for writing the song “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66.”

The two were lifelong friends and were later reunited during Goodman’s time in the Four Freshmen.

After being honorably discharged in March 1946, Goodman moved to Portland, Oregon, where he met his wife of 67 years, Mildred.

His 93-year-old widow remembers meeting her husband-to-be for the first time in a Portland club, saying she noticed the baby-blue-eyed, brown-haired, 5-foot-9-inch musician immediately.

“Here was this cute, adorable man singing, playing the saxophone,” she said, calling him “the greatest love-song singer.”

“He was a perfect gentleman, and I fell in love with him,” she said.

The two married on Nov. 11, 1951. They moved to Phoenix and then to Las Vegas.

15 years with group

In the 1960s, Goodman played with the Modernaires and worked in the house band at the former Hacienda Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. In 1977, he was invited by Bob Flanigan, the last original member of the Four Freshmen, to join the group. He stayed for 15 years.

His career with the Four Freshmen, a band dating back to 1948 and known for performing jazz and classic pop in the style of a barbershop quartet, took him all around the world, including stops in about 20 different countries and every state in the union.

Goodman sang solos and played the drums and the saxophone.

The other group members also sang and played instruments such as keyboard, trombone, bass and guitar.

Hits performed by the group over its six-decade history include “Graduation Day,” “It’s a Blue World” and “Day by Day.” Goodman’s favorite was “It Could Happen To You.”

While in the band, he worked with the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., and the group was nominated for two Grammy Awards.

He also produced a solo album, “We Thought about You,” and was inducted into a local musicians hall of fame, Kris Goodman said, adding that “he was like a Las Vegas icon, a jewel that he didn’t even know.”

When he finally retired in his 70s, he and Mildred started camping and traveling more in Nevada, fishing and exploring the wonders of the West.

“There were so many beautiful sights to see, especially when you had a dear, kind husband like mine,” Mildred said through tears.

Autie and Mildred Goodman raised four children: Kris, Terry, Jill and their late son Ted.

‘The workingman’s musician’

Kris and Terry Goodman remember there always being harmony at home, whether it was Nat King Cole on the record player or their father practicing saxophone or piano.

While he was gone for long periods of time, his kids would play his albums while their father as a way to be close to their father.

Kris Goodman’s favorite song by his dad was “Blue Velvet,” a song he recorded in 1964 that he remembers watching him play live with The Modernaires at the Desert Inn.

“He was the workingman’s musician,” Kris Goodman, 57, said. “He was able to take his talent and parlay that into the career and become a person of note in the industry, but not so much a household name.”

He described his father as a “Sinatra-type vocalist” and jazz, saxophone player.

“He raised four kids on a musician’s salary,” he said. “He was all about his craft, and his family.”

After moving to Pahrump, Goodman entertained for about three years at the now-closed Tommasino’s restaurant with owner/musician Tom Saitta and well-known Vegas pianist Tommy Deering.

Goodman wasn’t the only artistically inclined member of his family. He inspired all three of his sons to follow in his footsteps. His wife was a sketch artist and painter who worked in several local art galleries in Las Vegas.

His daughter, Jill, went to art school in Portland and is a graphic artist.

His son Terry Goodman, 66, known in the music industry as Terry Nails, was a bass player with Ozzy Osbourne and recorded the hit 1981 song “867-5309/Jenny” as a member of Tommy Tutone.

Kris Goodman played in a performing arts group at Bonanza High School that was hired to play gigs in Disneyland, and Ted Goodman played in local bands Vegas Wash and the Generics.

“He was the centerpiece of all of that,” Kris Goodman said.

“The bigger lesson from my dad to me was humility,” he said. “He was like a humble, human person. He never had a bad word for anyone he was always so kind and forgiving of humanity.”

When not playing music, Autie Goodman had a great interest in Nevada mining history. He’d bring his children on road trips and map out old western ghost towns, such as Goldfield and Delamar.

They’d go camping on Mount Charleston, and he’d take his kids to the drag races at the old Stardust raceway. They water-skied and went to Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

“It was a nice treat when his band would play here,” Kris Goodman said.

His kids learned to grow up backstage, sitting behind the curtains. Kris and his sister, Jill, had their first time at Disneyland, seeing Mickey Mouse backstage.

“It always gave us a good perspective of what really goes on behind the scenes,” he said.

Along with their four children, Autie and Mildred Goodman had five grandchildren and four great grandchildren, Kris Goodman said.

His brother, Terry, moved in with his parents in 2013 to help take care of them. He said his father was a “hoot,” with a great sense of humor.

“He was the most amazingly kind, gentle human being I ever met,” he said.

For fun, the man would rewrite the lyrics to some of the old classics. His sharp wit would make them laugh.

As a musician in his own right, Terry Goodman said he always felt bad that he didn’t learn how to sightread like his father. One day, he confided that to his father.

“I can barely see the charts,” his dad responded with a laugh. “I just knew the songs.”

The Goodmans are planning a private memorial service but believe the family patriarch deserves broader recognition.

“There are a lot of talented people in this industry, and people should know their names,” Kris Goodman said. “People should know my dad’s name.”

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @brianarerick on Twitter.

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