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In the music industry, arguably the worst tragedy that can befall an artist is to die in his or her prime, when just beginning to break through to the mainstream and reach people on a national or international level. One such artist was Jim Croce, a songwriter with a knack for both upbeat, catchy singles and empathetic, melancholy ballads. Though Croce only recorded a few studio albums before an untimely plane crash, he continues to be remembered posthumously. Croce appealed to fans as a common man, and it was not a gimmick -- he was a father and husband who went through a series of blue-collar jobs. And whether he used dry wit, gentle emotions, or sorrow, Croce sang with a rare form of honesty and power. Few artists have ever been able to pull off such down-to-earth storytelling as convincingly as he did.
James Joseph Croce was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on January 10, 1943. Raised on ragtime and country, Croce played the accordion as a child and would eventually teach himself the guitar. It wasn't until his freshman year of college that he began to take music seriously, forming several bands over the next few years. After graduation, he continued to play various gigs at local bars and parties, working as both a teacher and construction worker to support himself and his wife, Ingrid. In 1969, the Croces and an old friend from college, Tommy West, moved to New York and record an album. When the Jim and Ingrid record failed to sell, they moved to a farm in Lyndell, Pennsylvania, where Jim juggled several jobs, including singing for radio commercials. Eventually he was noticed and signed by the ABC/Dunhill label and released his second album, You Don't Mess Around with Jim, in 1972. The record spawned three hits: "You Don't Mess Around With Jim," "Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels)," and "Time in a Bottle," the latter ultimately shooting all the way to number one on the Billboard charts. Croce quickly followed with Life and Times in early 1973 and gained his first number one hit with "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown."
After four years of grueling tour schedules, Croce grew homesick. Wishing to spend more time with Ingrid and his infant son Adrian James, he planned to take a break after the Life and Times tour was completed. Tragically, the tour would never finish; just two months after "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" topped the charts, Croce's plane crashed in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Croce and the four other passengers (including bandmember Maury Muehleisen) were killed instantly.
Croce's career peaked after his death. In December of 1973, the album I Got a Name surfaced, but it was "Time in a Bottle," from 1972's You Don't Mess Around with Jim, that would become his second number one single. Shortly afterwards, "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song" reached the Top Ten. Several albums were released posthumously, most notably the greatest hits collection Photographs & Memories, which became a best-seller. Several other compilations were later issued, such as the 1992 release The 50th Anniversary Collection and the 2000 compilation Time in a Bottle: The Definitive Collection. Listening to the songs Croce recorded, one cannot help but wonder how far his extraordinary talents could have taken him if he would have lived longer. Unfortunately, such a question may only be looked at rhetorically, but Jim Croce continues to live on in the impressive catalog of songs he left behind.
James Joseph "Jim" Croce (/ˈoʊtʃ/; January 10, 1943 – September 20, 1973) was an American singer-songwriter. Between 1966 and 1973, Croce released five studio albums and 11 singles. His singles "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" and "Time in a Bottle" were both number one hits on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.Weber, Barry. "Jim Croce biography". Allmusic. Retrieved July 23, 2009.
Croce was born in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on January 10, 1943, to James Albert Croce and his wife Flora Mary (née Babucci), both Italian Americans. Croce took a strong interest in music at a young age. At five, he learned to play his first song on the accordion, "Lady of Spain."
Croce attended Upper Darby High School in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. After graduating in 1960, he studied at Malvern Preparatory School for a year before enrolling at Villanova University, where he majored in psychology and minored in German. He graduated with a Bachelor degree in 1965. Croce was a member of the Villanova Singers and the Villanova Spires. When the Spires performed off-campus or made recordings, they were known as The Coventry Lads. Croce was also a student disc jockey at WKVU (which has since become WXVU).Dan Kening; Publications International, Limited; David O'Shea; Jay Paris (June 1991). Too Young to Die. Publications International, Limited. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-88176-932-6. Retrieved August 19, 2011. Cite uses deprecated parameters (help) Alex Cohen & A Martínez. New book looks at singer-songwriter Jim Croce's too-short life. (Interview). Southern California Public Radio. Retrieved 2014-04-11. Hoekstra, Dave (16 December 2012). "Jim Croce’s hit had roots in boot camp". Sun-Times (Chicago, IL: Sun-Times Media, LLC). Retrieved 2014-04-11. "Inquirer Anniversary: Croces capture time in a bottle". Philadelphia Inquirer. August 10, 2009 reprint of 1967-08-13. Archived from the original on August 10, 2009. Retrieved November 27, 2011. Check date values in: |date= (help) Villanova Parents' Connection newsletter (Spring 2007). Grottini, Kyle J. "Croce, James Joseph (Jim)". Pennsylvania Center for the Book. Retrieved May 16, 2010. Stevens, Candace. "Time to tune in to Villanova’s own WXVU", The Villanovan, September 21, 2006, updated January 18, 2010. Retrieved on July 6, 2013.
ContentsCareer1.1 Early career1.2 1960s1.3 1970s
Croce did not take music seriously until he studied at Villanova, where he formed bands and performed at fraternity parties, coffee houses, and universities around Philadelphia, playing "anything that the people wanted to hear: blues, rock, a cappella, railroad music... anything." Croce's band was chosen for a foreign exchange tour of Africa, Middle East, and Yugoslavia. He later said, "We just ate what the people ate, lived in the woods, and played our songs. Of course they didn't speak English over there but if you mean what you're singing, people understand." Croce met his future wife Ingrid Jacobson at a hootenanny at Philadelphia Convention Hall, where he was judging a contest.
Croce released his first album, Facets, in 1966, with 500 copies pressed. The album had been financed with a $500 wedding gift from Croce's parents, who set a condition that the money must be spent to make an album. They hoped that he would give up music after the album failed, and use his college education to pursue a "respectable" profession. However, the album proved a success, with every copy sold.
From the mid-1960s to early 1970s, Croce performed with his wife as a duo. At first, their performances included songs by artists such as Ian and Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, Joan Baez, and Woody Guthrie, but in time they began writing their own music. During this time, Croce got his first long-term gig at a suburban bar and steak house in Lima, Pennsylvania, called The Riddle Paddock. His set list covered several genres, including blues, country, rock and roll, and folk.
Croce married his wife Ingrid in 1966, and converted to Judaism, as his wife was Jewish, though he became non-practicing and was generally anti-organized religion. He and Ingrid were married in a traditional Jewish ceremony. He enlisted in the Army National Guard that same year to avoid being drafted and deployed to Vietnam, and served on active duty for four months, leaving for duty a week after his honeymoon. Croce, who was not good with authority, had to go through basic training twice. He said he would be prepared if "there's ever a war where we have to defend ourselves with mops".
In 1968, the Croces were encouraged by record producer Tommy West to move to New York City. The couple spent time in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx and recorded their first album with Capitol Records. During the next two years, they drove more than 300,000 miles, playing small clubs and concerts on the college concert circuit promoting their album Jim & Ingrid Croce.
Becoming disillusioned by the music business and New York City, they sold all but one guitar to pay the rent and returned to the Pennsylvania countryside, settling in an old farm in Lyndell, where Croce got a job driving trucks and doing construction work to pay the bills while continuing to write songs, often about the characters he would meet at the local bars and truck stops and his experiences at work; these provided the material for such songs as "Big Wheels" and "Workin' at the Car Wash Blues".
The couple returned to Philadelphia and Croce decided to be "serious" about becoming a productive member of society. "I'd worked construction crews, and I'd been a welder while I was in college. But I'd rather do other things than get burned," he later said. His determination to be "serious" led to a job at a Philadelphia R&B AM radio station, WHAT, where he translated commercials into "soul". "I'd sell airtime to Bronco's Poolroom and then write the spot: "You wanna be cool, and you wanna shoot pool... dig it."
In 1970, Croce met the classically trained pianist-guitarist and singer-songwriter Maury Muehleisen from Trenton, New Jersey through producer Joe Salviuolo. Salviuolo had been friends with Croce when they attended Villanova University together, and Salviuolo later discovered Muehleisen when he was teaching at Glassboro State College in New Jersey. Salviuolo brought the Croce and Muehleisen duo together at the production office of Tommy West and Terry Cashman in New York City. Initially, Croce backed Muehleisen on guitar at his gigs but in time their roles reversed, with Muehleisen adding lead guitar to Croce's music.
In 1972, Croce signed to a three-record deal with ABC Records and released two albums, You Don't Mess Around with Jim and Life and Times. The singles "You Don't Mess Around with Jim", "Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels)", and "Time in a Bottle" (written for his then-unborn son, A. J. Croce) all received airplay. Croce's biggest single, "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown", hit No. 1 on the American charts in July 1973. That year, the Croces relocated to San Diego, California.
As his career picked up, Croce began touring the United States with Muehleisen, performing live, including in large coffee houses, on college campuses, and at folk festivals. However, Croce's financial situation was still dire. The record company had fronted him the money to record the album, and much of the money the album earned went back to pay the advance. In February 1973, Croce and Muehleisen traveled to Europe to promote the album, visiting London, Paris, and Amsterdam, and getting positive reviews. Croce also began appearing on television, including on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert and The Midnight Special, which he co-hosted. In July 1973, Croce and Muehleisen again visited London and performed on The Old Grey Whistle Test. Croce finished recording the album I Got a Name one week before his death. During his tours, Croce grew increasingly homesick, and decided to take a break from music and settle down with his wife and infant son after his Life and Times tour was completed. In a letter to his wife which arrived after his death, Croce stated his intention to quit music and stick to writing short stories and movie scripts as a career, and withdraw from public life."Jim Croce News - Yahoo! Music". Music.yahoo.com. 2004-04-08. Retrieved 2012-08-24. Elizabeth Applebaum (1998). "Article: Photographs And Memories, A story of love, music and conversion". Detroit Jewish News) (The Northern Music Group, Inc.). Retrieved 2014-04-11. The Inquirer (13 August 1967 issue) Wiser, Carl (2007-05-01). "Ingrid Croce: Songwriter Interviews". Songfacts.com. Retrieved 2014-04-11. Croce's Restaurant- San Diego. Croces.com. Retrieved July 11, 2011. Weber, Bryan (2014). "Article". Jim Croce- The Official Site. Retrieved 2014-04-11. Devenish, Colin (2003-08-20). "Croce's Lost Recordings Due". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2014-04-11. Cite error: The named reference autogenerated1 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Everitt, Richard:Falling Stars: Air Crashes that Filled Rock and Roll Heaven (2004)
On Thursday, September 20, 1973, during Croce's Life and Times tour and the day before his ABC single "I Got a Name" was released, Croce, Muehleisen, and four others were killed when the chartered Beechcraft E18S they were traveling in crashed while taking off from the Natchitoches Regional Airport in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Others who died in the crash were charter pilot Robert N. Elliott, comedian George Stevens, manager and booking agent Kenneth D. Cortose, and road manager Dennis Rast. Croce had just completed a concert at Northwestern State University's Prather Coliseum in Natchitoches and was flying to Sherman, Texas, for a concert at Austin College. The plane crashed an hour after the end of the concert.
An investigation showed that the plane crashed on takeoff after clipping a pecan tree at the end of the runway. The plane failed to gain enough altitude to clear the tree and did not maneuver to avoid it, even though it was the only tree for hundreds of yards. It was reported as dark, but with clear sky, calm winds, and over five miles of visibility with haze. The report from the NTSB listed the probable cause as the pilot's failure to see and avoid obstructions due to pilot physical impairment and fog obstructing vision. The 57-year-old charter pilot suffered from severe coronary artery disease and had run three miles to the airport from a motel. He had an ATP Certificate, 14,290 hours total flight time and 2,190 hours in the Beech 18 type. A later investigation placed sole blame for the accident on pilot error due to his downwind takeoff into a "black hole".
Jim Croce was buried at Haym Salomon Memorial Park in Frazer, Pennsylvania."Croce's Last Performance- Marijuana Found In Crash Wreckage". News and Courier (Charleston, SC). UPI. 23 September 1973. p. 4-A. "Celebrity Plane Crashes". Check-Six.com. Retrieved November 27, 2011. NTSB Identification: FTW74AF017; 14 CFR Part 135 Nonscheduled operation of ROBERT AIRWAYS; Aircraft: BEECH E18S, registration: N50JR (Report). NTSB.gov. September 20, 1973. http://ntsb.gov/aviationquery/brief.aspx?ev_id=84416&key=0&print=1. Retrieved November 27, 2011. "Croce v. Bromley Corporation". Openjurist.org. August 14, 1980. Retrieved July 11, 2011. Jim Croce at Find a Grave
The album I Got a Name was released on December 1, 1973. The posthumous release included three hits: "Workin' at the Car Wash Blues", "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song", and the title song, which had been used as the theme to the film The Last American Hero which was released two months prior to his death. The album reached No. 2 and "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song" reached No. 9 on the singles chart.
The song "Time in a Bottle" had been featured over the opening and closing credits and during a scene in which Desi Arnaz Jr. is opening the You Don't Mess Around With Jim album in the ABC made-for-television movie She Lives!, which aired on September 12, 1973. That appearance had generated significant interest in Croce and his music in the week just prior to the plane crash. That, combined with the news of the death of the singer, sparked a renewed interest in Croce's previous albums. Consequently, three months later, "Time in a Bottle", originally released on Croce's first album the year before, hit number one on December 29, 1973, the third posthumous chart-topping song of the rock era following Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" and Janis Joplin's recording of "Me and Bobby McGee".
A greatest hits package entitled Photographs & Memories was released in 1974. Later posthumous releases have included Home Recordings: Americana, The Faces I've Been, Jim Croce: Classic Hits, Down the Highway, and DVD and CD releases of Croce's television performances, Have You Heard: Jim Croce Live. In 1990, Croce was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
The Croces' son Adrian James (born September 28, 1971) is a singer-songwriter, musician, and pianist, and he owns and operates his own record label, Seedling Records.
From 1985 to 2013 Ingrid Croce owned and managed Croce's Restaurant & Jazz Bar — a project she and Jim had jokingly discussed a decade earlier — in the historic Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego. On July 3, 2012, she published a memoir about her husband, entitled I Got a Name: The Jim Croce Story."Jim Croce > Album > I Got A Name". VH1.com. Retrieved November 27, 2011. She Lives! (1973) at the Internet Movie Database "Songwriters Hall of Fame – Jim Croce". Songwriters Hall of Fame. Retrieved July 11, 2011. Seedling Records . (June 20, 2010). Retrieved July 11, 2011. Croce's Restaurant & Jazz Bar Croce, Ingrid and Rock, Jimmy (2012). I Got a Name: The Jim Croce Story. Da Capo Press. ISBN 9780306821219. OCLC 755699562.