If you mean what you're singing, people understand.
- Jim Croce
Jim Croce1 was a country folk singer, much-loved for his honest easy-listening acoustic music. His career was relatively short-lived - he was tragically killed in a plane crash when only 30 years old - but he has left behind him a legacy of warm and sincere music that conveys the self-same sincerity and friendliness that characterised the man.
Born on 1 October, 1943, Jim was the eldest son of an Italian family; his parents were James Albert and Flora M Barbucci Croce.
While at Villanova College2, Pennsylvania, in the early 1960s, Jim was flunking his studies, getting into music instead, playing all sorts of styles popular at the time. He wasn't really writing his own stuff then, more a case of him and the various bands he formed playing cover versions of tunes that the kids wanted to hear. By his own admission, he was a bit of a late starter:
I was the original underachiever. I'd shake that thing [the guitar] and smile, but I was sort of a late bloomer.
By the time he had decided to get 'serious' with his music, he was finding it hard to keep the wolf from the door. Jim took lots of jobs, most of them manual, none of which he liked. He even enlisted with the US Army. It was the very real experiences of Jim's life that filtered right through to his music; hence the uncanny way he had of saying what was on everybody's mind. People could identify with Jim Croce:
I kinda like to write songs about the things that a lot people have an experience with, 'cause it really makes the songs communicate.
The Move to New York
Out of the army, Jim spent time teaching special-needs kids in college. He also worked on a radio station, writing words to advertising jingles. Determined to give the music a real go, he moved to New York with his wife, Ingrid, where they both played a lot of the city's tough bars late at night, trying to get that elusive breakthrough.
I'm a dreamer by nature
And I've always been tryin'
To dream myself out of this world that I'm in
In my dreams I escape all the troubles around
And it hasn't cost a penny
For the pleasures I've found
- 'The Man That Is Me', written by Jim and Ingrid Croce
While in New York, an old school friend, Tommy West, introduced the couple to Terry Cashman. In 1969, West and Cashman produced their debut album, Jim and Ingrid. Still playing the bars, still hustling for money and still not hitting pay-dirt with any significant commercial success, the couple headed for Pennsylvania. They made ends meet for a while, Jim gradually selling all the guitars he and his wife had collected along the way, while Ingrid baked bread and cooked up jams, living out what seemed on the surface the Bohemian idyll. Ingrid also gave Jim a son: AJ.
Croce Hits the Big Time
Jim's first solo album, You Don't Mess Around With Jim, was an instant smash. It was also the title of one of his first commercially successful singles which received almost continuous airplay on the radio. Folk everywhere were warming to his mellow, easy style. 'Time In A Bottle', another much-loved single, boosted his reputation, and 'Operator', also taken from the same album, was another hit single. Jim had arrived.
The second album, Life and Times, produced another hit single. 'Bad, Bad Leroy Brown'.
And its bad, bad Leroy Brown
The baddest man in the whole damn town
Badder than old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog
'Bad, Bad Leroy Brown' - Jim Croce
The third album, I've Got a Name, consolidated Jim's reputation, the title track and 'I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song' both standing out as Croce classics. Just after this, tragedy stuck.
Jim was touring extensively across the States with Maury Muehleisen, his friend and lead guitar player. On 20 September, 1973, they had just played a concert at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Preparing to fly back home, their chartered Beechcraft D-18 clipped the top of a pecan tree during take-off. The plane crash-landed, killing Jim, Maury and four others.
His untimely death preserved forever the striking image of Jim Croce, the young folk-loving man with the Zapata moustache and 'lived-in' face.
On 19 February, 1974, Jim Croce was posthumously voted 'Favourite Male Artist' in the Pop/Rock American Music Awards. On 30 May, 1990, he was inducted into the Songwriters' Hall Of Fame. Today, Jim Croce's wife, Ingrid, owns and runs a very successful restaurant in the Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego3. It's called Croce's and is dedicated to the memory of her husband. AJ Croce, Jim and Ingrid's son, is a talented musician in his own right, the piano being his own chosen instrument of expression.
Through his humble music, the gentle presence of Jim Croce, a remarkable 'ordinary' man, lives on.