(9 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
James Joseph Croce (aka “Jim”), was born on 19430110 in South Philadelphia. If a tragedy had not intervened, he likely would still be with us. Unfortunately, he was killed in an aeroplane crash on 19730920, not yet 31 years old.
Croce had the unusual ability to write both comedic and serious material with aplomb (I always wanted to work that word into a piece). Only a few writers have been able to do this, and for the most part he wrote his own material. He did record some material written by others, but what artist has not?
He also had the ability to attract a very diverse listenership. My father was about as opposed to popular music as could draw breath, but love “You Don’t Mess around with Jim”! Let us take a few minutes to look at the way too short life and listen to some of the work of this talented writer and performer.
I can not really classify his music. Wikipedia calls his styles Folk, Folk Rock, and Pop, but I find these labels somewhat restrictive. In any event, he was interested in music as an avocation from early on, and was associated with music from a very early age. After he went to college at Villanova, he began to think of music as a profession. That was also when he met one Ingrid Jacobson who became Mrs. Croce. If you think that you have a difficult life, hers is one fraught with one tragedy after another.
I can not find the exact date of their marriage, but the data that I have seen indicates that it was in 1966. I shall provide my evidence for that in a bit. Jim released his first album, Facets, that year and it was self released. He had 500 copies pressed, and it is a real collector’s item now. He financed it with $500 that was a wedding gift from his parents, so that is how I arrived at 1966 as their wedding year. Here is the front of the album. Be sure to make a mental note of what he looked like in 1966; it will be important later.
One of the surprises that I got was he had set Rudyard Kipling’s marvelous poem, “Gunga Din” to music. One of my favorite performers performing one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poet was remarkable! By the way, and this will be the subject of a future piece, Kipling was NOT a racist; in fact quite the opposite. His work, although the language used is out of style now, was extremely anti racist. In any event, this a very nice song, even though Croce chose to “de-Cockneyfy” Kipling’s original language. Here it is:
That is not bad for a kid of 23 years, barely.
Unfortunately, I could not find a version of the only piece written and composed by him alone, “Texas Rodeo”. Perhaps alert readers can find a link or embed. There is an interesting story about Facets, and that was the wedding gift was contrived by his parents to be used to press the album, which they were sure would not sell, and thus discourage him from being a professional musician and recording artist. Well, that did not work out very well for his parents.
He sold all 500 copies (which go for upwards of $1000 per these days if in good condition) and netted $2490! In 2012 dollars, his initial investment of $500 would be worth $3540. His profit of $2490 would be worth $17,629.20. The lesson that the parents wanted to teach sort of backfired!
By the way, there is a really handy tool to convert the value of a dollar in any year from 1913 to any other year. It is provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and can be found at http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl. I use it all of the time.
So with that lesson lost, Croce kept on with music. But success was difficult to come by the second time. He and Ingrid still kept playing in clubs, and writing songs, but he took several different manual labor jobs, and even joined the Army for a while. Fortunately he was not suitable enough to go the Viet Nam.
In 1969 the album Jim and Ingrid Croce was released on Capital. Although it did not chart, it has some nice songs on it. Here is “Age” by Jim and Ingrid:
A crucial time was 1970. That year he met Maury Muehleisen, a friend and musical partner until their deaths in the same aeroplane crash. At first they were not that all that successful, but they got enough attention for ABC Records to sign Croce to a three album deal. The first album was called You Don’t Mess around with Jim and it charted at #1 in the US. Here is the title single, which charted at #8:
By the way, unless otherwise noted, all songs are written by Jim Croce.
Here is a nice live version, just Croce and Muehleisen:
Another Top 20 song from that album was “Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels)”, a song that does a good job as showcasing his more emotional side. I can not even listen to it without tearing up badly.
The classical guitar training of Muehleisen really sounds good in this piece. I am sort of surprised that it only charted at #17.
Here is a live version, just the two of them:
Life and Times was released in July of 1973. It charted at #7 and produced his first #1 single (and the only one during his lifetime), “Bad, Bad LeRoy Brown”.
Once again, just the two of the:
His last album, I Got a Name, was released after his death in 1973. It charted at #2 and produced these gems:
The single “I Got a Name” charted at #10. Ironically, ABC released it the morning of the day that he died. This happened on 19730920 after his charter failed to gain enough altitude to clear a tree at the Natchitoches Regional Airport in Louisiana. Muehleisen and seeral others were also killed. Croce’s son, A.J., was not quite two years old.
And a live version:
“Time in a Bottle” was originally written for A.J. before he was born. It charted at #1 in 1973 and is perhaps his opus:
I could not find a live version.
His last Top 10 single was “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song”, charting at #9.
Once again, I could not find a live version.
After his death, Ingrid tried to make a career for herself and did some outstanding social work. A.J. developed a brain tumor and went blind before his forth birthday, although he did get limited vision in his left eye some years later. Then her performing career was ended by vocal cord tumors that surgery could not resolve. She now operates a restaurant (Croce’s) that she still operates. That woman had hell for life, and for a long time. A.J. is a noted musician who is still active.
To avoid ending on a downer, here is one of my favorite funny songs by Croce, “Working at the Car Wash Blues”:
I was able to find a live version of the two of them for this song:
There is no telling how much more success Croce would have had it he had lived. Aeroplanes have been cruel to pop stars. I believe that his talent would have propelled him to the top of his craft (he just about was there anyway) and kept him there for a very long time. I respect his talent, as he is one of the few acts that can make me both laugh and cry.
My wrist continues to improve slowly. If you are interested, ask me about it in the comments. It is almost post time.
Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith
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