Jim Croce (pronounced CROW-chee) is a musical genius whether you recognize his name or just his classic songs like “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” or “Time in a Bottle”. His ability to capture thematic America in chords and notes is unmatched during his brief rise and tragic fall to a plane crash in 1973 at the age of 30. Here is a review of the life and music of guitarist and songwriter Jim Croce.
Born in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Jim Croce began performing at the age of five. He graduated from high school and began working for a construction company and was as student disc jockey later at Villanova in 1964. He carried with him a twelve string guitar he bought for $5.00 which warped immediately in his early days.
He married Ingrid Croce in 1966 that now runs Croce’s restaurant in the gaslight district of San Diego. They sang and performed together on the college circuit driving more than 300,000 playing small venues. He blended folk with blues, rock with country, and stories with feelings.
Jim Croce began his music career on the larger scale in 1970 on Capitol Records. Through three years Croce wrote some of the most memorable American music of all time. Accompanist Maury Muehleisen supported lead riffs and seamlessly became a part of Croce’s performances. His ability to inject the stories of characters he had met on his journeys and the humor of their lives brought a life and reality to his songs that transcends to modern day.
His three record deal with ABC Records produced two LPs, “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim”, and “Life & Times”. “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” became a number one hit in July of 1973 on the American Charts. He was picking up momentum and media attention after years of being far under the national radar. His love of writing and performing is clear in the live DVD released a few years back entitled, “Have You Heard: Jim Croce Live”. These re-mastered videos show the great upbeat stories and moving ballads and love songs that make Croce a songwriting legend.
Less than six feet tall at around 135 pounds, Croce worked physical jobs and somehow carried with him the wondrous ability to bring life to songs blended with the time and culture of America during the 1960’s and early 1970’s. He also taught special education classes at South Philadelphia Junior High.
Croce and Muehleisen died on September 20, 1973 after completing a concert in Louisiana along with his booking agent and the show’s warm-up act. If you have not heard Jim’s music, don’t allow yourself the brilliance to be overlooked. The chilling thoughts of "Time in a Bottle" and never knowing what to do until you find it, is an eerie reminder of how short life can be and to treasure it. His son A.J. carries on the musical gene today with original songs as well.
For more information about Jim Croce and Croce's restaurant in San Diego, listen to my interview with Ingrid Croce from 2008 on my podcast.