James Joseph Croce (//; January 10, 1943 – September 20, 1973) was an American folk and rock singer-songwriter. Between 1966 and 1973, Croce released five studio albums and numerous singles. He was killed, along with five others, in a plane crash on September 20, 1973, at the height of his popularity.
Croce in 1972, photographed by Ingrid Croce
|Birth name||James Joseph Croce|
|Born||January 10, 1943|
South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||September 20, 1973 (aged 30)|
|Genres||Folk, rock, soft rock|
|Instruments||Vocals, acoustic guitar|
|Labels||Capitol/EMI, ABC, Saja/Atlantic|
His first two albums were commercial flops, failing to chart or produce any hit singles, and he took a series of odd jobs to pay bills while continuing to write, record, and play gigs. After starting a partnership with songwriter and guitarist, Maury Muehleisen, his fortunes turned in the early 1970s. His breakthrough came in 1972; his third album You Don't Mess Around with Jim produced three charting singles, including "Time in a Bottle", which reached No. 1 after his death. The followup album, Life and Times contained the song "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown", which was the only No. 1 hit he had during his lifetime. The day before the lead single to his fourth album, I Got a Name, was released, Croce and Muehleisen were killed. His music continued to chart throughout the 1970s following his death. His wife, Ingrid Croce, was his early songwriting partner and she continued to write and record after his death, and his son A. J. Croce himself became a singer-songwriter in the 1990s.
Croce grew up in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania just outside of Philadelphia and attended Upper Darby High School. Graduating in 1960, he studied at Malvern Preparatory School for a year before enrolling at Villanova University, where he majored in psychology and minored in German. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1965. Croce was a member of the Villanova Singers and the Villanova Spires. When the Spires performed off-campus or made recordings, they were known as The Coventry Lads. Croce was also a student disc jockey at WKVU (which has since become WXVU).
Croce did not take music seriously until he studied at Villanova, where he formed bands and performed at fraternity parties, coffee houses, and universities around Philadelphia, playing "anything that the people wanted to hear: blues, rock, a cappella, railroad music ... anything." Croce's band was chosen for a foreign exchange tour of Africa, the Middle East, and Yugoslavia. He later said, "We just ate what the people ate, lived in the woods, and played our songs. Of course they didn't speak English over there but if you mean what you're singing, people understand." On November 29, 1963, Croce met his future wife Ingrid Jacobson at the Philadelphia Convention Hall during a hootenanny, where he was judging a contest.
Croce released his first album, Facets, in 1966, with 500 copies pressed. The album had been financed with a $500 ($3,861 in 2018 dollars) wedding gift from Croce's parents, who set a condition that the money must be spent to make an album. They hoped that he would give up music after the album failed, and use his college education to pursue a "respectable" profession. However, the album proved a success, with every copy sold.
From the mid-1960s to early 1970s, Croce performed with his wife as a duo. At first, their performances included songs by artists such as Ian & Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, Joan Baez, and Arlo Guthrie, but in time they began writing their own music. During this time, Croce got his first long-term gig at a suburban bar and steakhouse in Lima, Pennsylvania, called The Riddle Paddock. His set list covered several genres, including blues, country, rock and roll, and folk.
Croce married his wife, Ingrid, in 1966, and converted to Judaism, as his wife was Jewish. He and Ingrid were married in a traditional Jewish ceremony. He enlisted in the Army National Guard that same year to avoid being drafted and deployed to Vietnam, and served on active duty for four months, leaving for duty a week after his honeymoon. Croce, who was not good with authority, had to go through basic training twice. He said he would be prepared if "there's ever a war where we have to defend ourselves with mops."
In 1968, the Croces were encouraged by record producer Tommy West to move to New York City. The couple spent time in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx and recorded their first album with Capitol Records. During the next two years, they drove more than 300,000 miles (480,000 km), playing small clubs and concerts on the college concert circuit promoting their album Jim & Ingrid Croce.
Becoming disillusioned by the music business and New York City, they sold all but one guitar to pay the rent and returned to the Pennsylvania countryside, settling in an old farm in Lyndell, where playing for $25 a night ($161 in 2018 dollars) was not enough money to live on, and Croce was forced to take odd jobs such as driving trucks, construction work and teaching guitar to pay the bills while continuing to write songs, often about the characters he would meet at the local bars and truck stops and his experiences at work; these provided the material for such songs as "Big Wheel" and "Workin' at the Car Wash Blues."
They returned to Philadelphia and Croce decided to be "serious" about becoming a productive member of society. "I'd worked construction crews, and I'd been a welder while I was in college. But I'd rather do other things than get burned." His determination to be "serious" led to a job at a Philadelphia R&B AM radio station, WHAT, where he translated commercials into "soul." "I'd sell airtime to Bronco's Poolroom and then write the spot: "You wanna be cool, and you wanna shoot pool ... dig it."
In 1970, Croce met classically trained pianist-guitarist and singer-songwriter Maury Muehleisen from Trenton, New Jersey, through producer Joe Salviuolo. Salviuolo and Croce had been friends when they studied at Villanova University, and Salviuolo had met Muehleisen when he was teaching at Glassboro State College in New Jersey. Salviuolo brought Croce and Muehleisen together at the production office of Tommy West and Terry Cashman in New York City. Croce at first backed Muehleisen on guitar, but gradually their roles reversed, with Muehleisen adding a lead guitar to Croce's music.
In 1972, Croce signed a three-record contract with ABC Records, releasing two albums, You Don't Mess Around with Jim and Life and Times. The singles "You Don't Mess Around with Jim", "Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels)", and "Time in a Bottle" (written for his then-unborn son, A. J. Croce ), all received airplay. Croce's biggest single, "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," reached Number 1 on the American charts in July 1973. Also that year, the Croce family moved to San Diego, California.
Croce began touring the United States with Muehleisen, performing in large coffee houses, on college campuses, and at folk festivals. However, his financial situation was still bad. The record company had fronted him the money to record his album, and much of what it earned went to pay back the advance. In February 1973, Croce and Muehleisen travelled to Europe, promoting the album in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Monte Carlo, Zurich, and Dublin, receiving positive reviews. Croce then began appearing on television, including his national debut on American Bandstand on August 12, 1972, The Tonight Show on August 14, 1972, The Dick Cavett Show on September 20/21 1972, The Helen Reddy Show airing July 19, 1973, and the newly launched The Midnight Special, which he co-hosted airing June 15.
From July 16 through August 4, 1973, Croce and Muehleisen returned to London and performed on The Old Grey Whistle Test where they sang "Lover's Cross" and "Workin' at the Car Wash Blues" from their upcoming album "I Got a Name." Croce finished recording the album I Got a Name just one week before his death. While on his tours, he grew increasingly homesick, and decided to take a break from music and settle with Ingrid and A.J. when his Life and Times tour ended. In a letter to Ingrid which arrived after his death, Croce told her he had decided to quit music and stick to writing short stories and movie scripts as a career, and withdraw from public life.
On September 20, 1973, during Croce's Life and Times tour and the day before his ABC single "I Got a Name" was released, Croce and all five others on board were killed when their chartered Beechcraft E18S crashed into a tree during take-off from the Natchitoches Regional Airport in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Others killed in the crash were pilot Robert N. Elliott, Muehleisen, comedian George Stevens, manager and booking agent Kenneth D. Cortese, and road manager Dennis Rast. An hour before, Croce had completed a concert at Northwestern State University's Prather Coliseum in Natchitoches, and was flying to Sherman, Texas, for a concert at Austin College. He was 30 years old.
An investigation showed the twin-engine plane crashed after clipping a pecan tree at the end of the runway. The pilot had failed to gain sufficient altitude to clear the tree and had not tried to avoid it, even though it was the only tree in the area. It was well after sunset, but there was a clear sky, calm winds, and over five miles (8 km) of visibility with haze.
The report from the NTSB named the probable cause as the pilot's failure to see the obstruction because of his physical impairment and the fog reducing his vision. The 57-year-old Elliott suffered from severe coronary artery disease and had run three miles (5 km) to the airport from a motel. He had an ATP Certificate, 14,290 hours total flight time and 2,190 hours in the Beech 18 type. A later investigation placed the sole blame on pilot error due to his downwind takeoff into a "black hole"—severe darkness limiting use of visual references.
The album I Got a Name was released on December 1, 1973. The posthumous release included three hits: "Workin' at the Car Wash Blues," "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song," and the title song, which had been used as the theme to the film The Last American Hero which was released two months prior to his death. The album reached No. 2 and "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song" reached No. 9 on the singles chart.
A greatest hits album entitled Photographs & Memories was released in 1974. Later posthumous releases have included Home Recordings: Americana, The Faces I've Been, Jim Croce: Classic Hits, Down the Highway, and DVD and CD releases of Croce's television performances, Have You Heard: Jim Croce Live. In 1990, Croce was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
On July 3, 2012, Ingrid Croce published a memoir about her husband entitled I Got a Name: The Jim Croce Story.
In 1985, Ingrid Croce opened Croce's Restaurant & Jazz Bar, a project she and Jim had jokingly discussed over a decade earlier, in the historic Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego. She owned and managed it until it closed on December 31, 2013. In December 2013, she opened Croce's Park West on 5th Avenue in the Bankers Hill neighborhood near Balboa Park. She closed this restaurant in January 2016.