Singer, songwriter and musician, Jim Croce, told stories through his songs. Ballads about saving time in a bottle, reconnecting with a lost love with the help of an operator, and having to say “I love you in a song,” became instant hits and remain poetic gems. Croce also wrote pop numbers recounting many of his life experiences, such as meeting a man who was “meaner than a junkyard dog” and a less than welcoming experience in New York. Croce’s songs became popular in the early ’70s, and their popularity continued throughout the 80s and early 90s. Unfortunately, Croce did not live to see the fruits of his labor; he died in 1973, before the height of his music popularity.
Born James Joseph Croce on January 10, 1943, in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Croce was a precocious child. He taught himself to play the guitar, and when he was five years old, he learned to play Lady of Spain on the accordion. Although musically inclined, Croce worked at several odd jobs until he decided to pursue music as a career. He later referred to himself as “the original underachiever” and “sort of a late bloomer.”
Croce attended Villanova College in Pennsylvania, where he formed several bands and played “anything that people wanted to hear.” One of his bands was chosen to participate in a foreign exchange tour of Africa and the Middle East. Croce was enthusiastic about the chance to play for a foreign audience, and it didn’t matter to him that they could not understand English because, “If you mean what you’re saying, people understand.”
New York’s not my Home
During college, Croce worked with construction crews and as a welder. After college, he worked at a hospital teaching emotionally disturbed children. A few years later, Croce got a job at a Philadelphia R&B radio station writing jive commercials and selling airtime. He later said he’d often go into jazz bars trying to sell radio time, and people would think he was a police or a collection man because he would be the only white person in the bar.
Croce quit the radio job after becoming frustrated with the work. He made some money giving guitar lessons at art camps to “people who had to wear loafers cause they couldn’t tie their shoes.” Croce enlisted in the U.S. Army and decided to give music another try.
Croce claimed he played at some pretty rough bars until a college friend, Tommy West, convinced him to play the New York coffeehouse circuit. Croce and his wife Ingrid moved to The Big Apple where they met Terry Cashman, who, along with West, produced an album with Croce, which failed to sell.
Croce and his wife stayed in New York for another a year-and-a-half. During that time, Croce learned the music business and collected guitars. He eventually became disheartened with the city and his situation, and he and his wife moved back to Pennsylvania.
Croce wrote and recorded the song “New York’s Not My Home,” about his negative experiences. His lyrics spoke of a dismal and dreary place with unfriendly people. The song began: “Though all the streets are crowded – There’s something strange about it. I lived there bout a year and I never once felt at home. I thought I’d make the big time, I learned a lot of lessons awful quick and now I’m telling you, that they were not the nice kind . . . That’s the reason that I gotta get out of here. I’m so alone. Don’t you know that I gotta get out of here. Cause, New York’s not my home.”
You Don’t Mess Around With Jim
Croce and his wife lived on a farm in Pennsylvania, and they had a son, Adrian James, whom they called A.J. Ingrid baked bread, canned fruits and vegetables, and drove into domestic bliss, while Croce went back to construction work and did some singing sessions for commercials. When the money ran out, Croce sold some of the guitars he’d collected in New York.
After receiving a rejection notice from ABC/Dunhill (which he later framed and placed on a wall next to his first gold record award, Croce signed on with the label. His first album, “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” was released in July 1972 and was an instant hit. The album yielded two hit singles, the title cut and a second single, “Operator.” Croce said he wrote both songs while in the cab of a truck during a construction job.
His second album, “Life and Times,” included the hit song “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” which he was based on a real character. Croce expanded his career to include television and film work.
Croce’s third album “I’ve Got a Name” was released on July 23, 1973, and the title cut was part of the movie soundtrack for “The Last American Hero.” Croce moved his family to San Diego, California that year.
Photographs & Memories
On September 20, 1973, after completing a concert at Northwestern State University’s Prather Coliseum in Natchitoches, Louisiana, Croce and five others were killed when their single-engine plane hit a tree upon takeoff. Jim Croce was 30.
Croce’s music became exceedingly popular after his death, and he gained fame posthumously. The following albums were released after he died:
Have You Heard: Jim Croce Live – 2006
Jim Croce Live: The Final Tour – 1980
The Very Best of Jim Croce – 2007
The Way We Used to Be: The Anthology – 2004
Classic Hits – 2004
Home Recordings: Americana – 2003
VH1 Behind the Music: The Jim Croce Collection – 2001
The Definitive Collection: “Time in a Bottle” – 2000
Words and Music – 1999
24 Karat Gold in a Bottle – 1994
The 50th Anniversary Collection – 1992
Collection – 1986
The Legendary Jim Croce – 1978
Bad, Bad Leroy Brown: Jim Croce’s Greatest Character Songs – 1978
Time in a Bottle: Jim Croce’s Greatest Love Songs – 1977
Greatest Hits: Released – 1975
The Faces I’ve Been – 1975
Down the Highway – 1975
Photographs & Memories: His Greatest Hits – 1974
In addition to the posthumous albums, several hit singles were released, including: “I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song”; “Workin’ At The Car Wash Blues”; “New York’s Not My Home”; “Rapid Roy (The Stock Car Boy)”; “Lover’s Cross” and “Photographs And Memories.”
Croce’s widow Ingrid owns “Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar” located in the historic Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego. She also published a book titled “Jim Croce Anthology – the stories behind the songs,” chronicling the history behind 40 of Croce’s best-loved tunes. Croce’s son A.J., like his famous dad, is an accomplished singer/songwriter and musician.
About the Author
Deb Wax describes herself as a “procrastinating perfectionist who is also introspective.” She is an avid photographer, ’70s music junkie, and writer. Deb has written for several online publications, and her writings cover a hodgepodge of topics from the hot-button issues and cracker-barrel philosophy of today’s coffee culture to the Gordian Knot on the secular view of faith and religion. Deb previously wrote for Squidoo as the “70s Disco Queen Contributor,” before the website closed its Internet doors.
Deb recently completed the 2016 Dogwood 52-Week Photography Challenge and is currently participating in the advanced challenge. She is a photo contributor on Shutterstock, and you can find a number of her photos, including her challenge pictures, on her blog: Introspective Pics @ https://introspectivepics.wordpress.com
Deb has been married for over twenty-five years and describes her existence as a Darby and June life.
You can follow Deb on Twitter, Google +, Flickr, Instagram, and Shutterstock @DebW07