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Jim Croce

+ {Jim & Ingrid Croce}

Tragically cut down in his prime, aged only 30, soft-rock singer-songwriter JIM CROCE was a master storyteller in the mould of HARRY CHAPIN, JAMES TAYLOR, DON McLEAN or JOHN DENVER. A chart-scaling major-label debut album in 1972, and an equally-perceived single, `Bad, Bad Leroy Brown’ (the poignant `Time In A Bottle’ was a posthumous No.1), the down-to-earth CROCE was ready to reach an international audience.
Born James Joseph Croce, January 10, 1943, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he’d been a fan of ragtime and C&W before picking up the guitar; his first challenge was broadcasting on a university campus folk/blues radio show in 1963. As yet to flaunt the thick moustache that would be a feature of his upper lip in later years, and just married to young wife Ingrid Jacobson (born April 27, 1947), he spent the $500 wedding gift from his parents on self-financing an LP of recent recordings that became FACETS (1966) {*5}. Money well spent some would say, covers of GORDON LIGHTFOOT’s `Steel Rail Blues’, BILLY EDD WHEELER’s `Coal Tattoo’, BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE’s `Until It’s Time For You To Go’, etc. (among his own compositions), gave him courage to move with his wife to New York, having converted to Judaism.
Signing to Capitol Records, the JIM & INGRID CROCE songwriting pairing cut a one-off album, weirdly-titled CROCE (1969) {*5}, before returning to a farm in Lyndell, Pennsylvania. As gentle and folky as anything by IAN & SYLVIA, the vanity-type venture was panned by the critics, although there was merit in `Age’, `Another Day, Another Town’ (the title of its budget, re-issued version), and one of two songs from friends (Terry) CASHMAN, (Gene) PISTILLI & (Tommy) WEST: `The Next Man That I Marry’.
Duly forced to adapt his guitar-picking technique after suffering a broken finger, sustained during one of his many truck-driving and/or blue-collar construction jobs to pay the bills, a meeting with classically-trained multi-instrumentalist and fellow singer-songwriter Maury Muehleisen, led CROCE to the offices of one Joe Salviuolo, a producer who’d known both parties while in their college association with the aforesaid Cashman and West.
Maury had already seen his own `Gingerbread’ solo album stall at the starting gates for Capitol (late 1970) and, as the pair continued to back each other on stage, the auxiliary guitarist was only too happy when JC would subsequently sign to A.B.C. Records (Vertigo in the UK). With the help of producers Cashman & West (and in session), CROCE’s bona fide solo set YOU DON’T MESS AROUND WITH JIM (1972) {*8} began a steady ascent up the charts, finally peaking at No.1 thanks to the success of its Top 10 title track and the Top 20 `Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels)’. Concentrating on streetwise subject matter and accompanied by the distinctive lead acoustic guitar of Maury, CROCE’s unique, laid back approach was further developed on `Time In A Bottle’ (written in December 1970 for his yet-to-be unborn son, Adrian), `Photographs And Memories’ and `New York’s Not My Home’.
Featuring a more rounded, session-friendly approach on his early 1973 sophomore Top 10 set, LIFE AND TIMES {*6}, there was an upbeat nature to around half of the songs on board. Along with CROCE’s signature tune, `Bad, Bad Leroy Brown’ (which sadly went unnoticed in Britain), `One Less Set Of Footsteps’ (a modest Top 40 entry), `Roller Derby Queen’ and `A Good Time Man Like Me Ain’t Got No Business (Singin’ The Blues)’, were indeed more effective than the quieter moments of `These Dreams’ and the Xmas-y `It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way’.
CROCE was obviously on the brink of a huge career with a cover of “…Leroy Brown” soon-to-be recorded by no less a personage than ol’ blue eyes himself, FRANK SINATRA, the ultimate songwriting acclaim. This popularity was largely achieved on the back of a punishing touring schedule, which was ultimately to cost him and his guitarist their lives as they flew all over the States promoting their work. As a cover of Fox & Gimbel’s `I Got A Name’ was about to be launched from The Last American Hero movie (and into the Top 10), on September 20, 1973, Jim and Maury’s charter plane crashed after take-off in Natchitoches, Louisiana, killing them both outright along with four other passengers. CROCE was survived by his wife and child, whose baby pic duly appeared on the inner cover of top-selling compilation album, PHOTOGRAPHS & MEMORIES (1974) {*8}. Prior to this release came CROCE’s posthumous third album, I GOT A NAME {*7}, despatched December 1, 1973 under an overwhelming response by the American public, who’d also bought a resurgent, re-issued `Time In A Bottle’, and attendant hits, `I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song’ and `Workin’ At The Car Wash Blues’.
Ironically, Jim was contemplating semi-retiring into film work, after sending a letter stating so to his wife. One can only speculate as to whether JC’s easy-going style would’ve survived the 70s anyway, but all the signs were that he would’ve probably broadened out into a wider mainstream songsmith; Adrian (born September 28, 1971) is now a recording artist in his own right – as A.J. CROCE. Jim’s wife opened up a restaurant/bar in 1985, and has since (in 2013) published the memoirs entitled… I Got A Name: The Jim Croce Story.
© MC Strong 1994-2000/GRD // rev-up MCS Feb2016

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