The official Jim Croce Fan Page! The official website is www.jimcroce.com
"I'm no missionary," says Jim Croce about his songs, "and I can't wear any armor, either. I just gotta be the way I am."
Jim's musical career started when he was five years old, learning to play "Lady of Spain" on the accordion. He says, "I was the original underachiever. I'd shake that thing and smile, but I was sort of a late bloomer." He didn't really take music too seriously until 1964, while he was attending Villanova College in Pennsylvania. There he formed various bands, doing fraternity parties and playing "anything that the people wanted to hear: blues, rock, acapella, railroad music...anything." One of those bands was chosen for a foreign exchange tour of Africa and the Middle East. "We had a good time," Jim recalls. "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."
He returned to Philadelphia and he had decided to be "serious." But it was hard to make a living playing in a band, and his previous employment experiences had lost their appeal: "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." Like most underachieving accordion players, he had a hard time finding the right other things. His determination to be serious ("I even got a pair of shoes that look like the Ace of Spades, with holes in them") led to a job at a Philadelphia R&B radio station, 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).'" Increasingly frustrated, he quit to teach guitar at a summer camp ("to people who had to wear loafers 'cause they couldn't tie their shoes'") and even enlisted in the U.S. Army. He didn't have a very illustrious military career, but says he's prepared if there's ever a war where we have to defend ourselves with mops.
Back to the radio station again, briefly ("that was about the end of my seriousness"), and then he tried teaching "special education" to discipline problem students in a Philadelphia high school. Finally he decided to give his music a chance.
He'd been playing some pretty tough bars ("I can still get my guitar off faster than anyone else"), then he and his wife, Ingrid, moved to New York and began working coffeehouses. Tommy West, who had attended Villanova College with Jim, introduced them to Terry Cashman, and in 1969, Cashman and West produced their album, Jim and Ingrid. They remained on the coffeehouse circuit for a year and a half, involving themselves in the music business and collecting guitars. But, they soon became discouraged by the agitation and pressures of city life, and moved to Lyndell, Pennsylvania, where they had their son, Adrian James. Ingrid learned to bake bread and to can fruits and vegetables and Jim, like a rich lady selling her jewels, sold the guitars he had accumulated, one by one. When the guitars ran out, he worked construction again and did some studio work in New York. "Mostly background 'oohs' and 'ahhs' for commercials. I kept thinking, 'maybe tomorrow I'll sing some words.'"
His first album, You Don't Mess Around With Jim, was an instant success. Jim immediately became a top bill club and concert performer and the title song and "Operator" pulled from the album, were both highly successful singles. The friendliness and sincerity of Jim's performances have endeared him to a wide variety of audiences.
"Well," laughed Jim, "I'm glad I'm not running anymore jackhammers. It's a lot easier to have a good time. I think music should make people sit back and want to touch each other...I just hope people get a kick out of it."
Since the first album, things have been strictly uphill for Jim. "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," which was pulled from the second LP entitled Life and Times reached the top of the national pop charts before it went Gold. Jim's latest album is called I've Got a Name and the title cut is part of the soundtrack for 20th Century Fox's new film The Last American Hero. Many other things are being planned for the unlikely hero of Philly, including appearances in films as well as more soundtrack offers.
Jim Croce - "I've Got a Name." He certainly has.
(Writer unknown, ©1973 ABC Records, Inc.)
Jim Croce and Jimmy Buffet
After Jim Croce’s first two albums were released, and “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” “Time in a Bottle” and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” had topped the music charts, Corb Donahue played some of Jim’s music to a young artist named Jimmy Buffet.
Jim and Jimmy met first in L.A., then down in Florida and later, whenever they could.
They had a lot in common and their love of music, good stories and crazy on-the-road lifestyles, bonded them like brothers.
On the Cover of our biography “I Got a Name: The Jim Croce Story” Jimmy Buffet wrote “Jim was simply a big influence on me and I won’t forget him”.
Corb Donahue later wrote…“You know in order to make people laugh you have to be really smart. Jim Croce had this special quality of being able to tap into his anger and frustration and say the funniest things when you least expected it.”
You Don’t Mess Around with Jim
Jim’s career was exploding and he was getting a whole lot of recognition, not just in the industry, but in the streets too. Once “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” reached Number One on the charts, he was a real star, and there was hardly anywhere he could go without someone recognizing his face or his name.
As grateful as Jim was for acceptance of his music, he was rather shy about being famous. When we were together, he avoided crowds and conspicuous places, opting for unpopulated beaches or staying at home. But while Jim was renown, his pockets were still empty. The fact is, he hardly had any pockets at all.
By now we had moved to San Diego; and one weekend, we went down to a thrift store in Ocean Beach to outfit him for the road. As we were roaming the aisles of used jeans and jean jackets, the store clerk walked clumsily up to Jim to help him find stuff.
When the clerk got a good look at Jim, his eyes bugged out and he spoke in a slow, stoned drawl. “Hey man, you look just like Jim Croce, man. You could make a lot of money pretendin’ to be him man.” “Do ya think so?” Jim queried, and walked on shyly with a pair of used, faded blue jeans in hand, heading toward the counter.
After paying for the Levi’s with his last dollar, Jim, was about to leave the store when the unsuspecting salesperson stopped Jim again. “Hey man, I mean it. You look just like Jim Croce. He must be some kinda millionaire or something. You should try it, man.”
I’ve Got a Name
The weekend before Jim Croce left on his final tour, my husband and I made a dinner date. We had just moved to California and we were anxious to be together and explore our new hometown.
Unfortunately back then in 1973, the Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego reminded us of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” with empty storefronts, sailors, tattoo parlors and ladies of the night.
We searched endlessly to find a good place to eat. And still hungry, we ended up at the historic Keating building with no prospects in sight. Jim joked that night, that we should just open up a restaurant and bar right on the corner of fifth and F. We envisioned it as a place like our home in the country, where we would welcome folks to join us for dinner and wine and play music all night long.
That weekend was the best Jim and I had shared for a long, long time. After a dozen years of dreaming that he could make music his profession, it seemed things were finally going our way. Jim’s songs were on the top of the charts, he was scheduled to host The Johnny Carson Show and excited about doing a movie with Cheech and Chong.
When Jim left that weekend on tour we were both really happy. We couldn’t wait to celebrate Adrian James’ second birthday the following weekend.
Four days later, Thursday evening, September 20, 1973, Jim called, as always, to let me know he was leaving for his next show in Sherman, Texas. With only a couple more concerts to go, he was finally coming home. Jim called me on the phone that night and told me “I love you, Ing”, he didn’t need to say it in a song.
An hour later, the plane that was chartered for Jim’s make-up tour crashed on take-off from Natchitoches Louisiana, killing everyone on board.
Before Jim left on his tour, he had completed his third album with the song “I Got a Name” by Charlie Fox and Norman Gimbel. It was a unique studio performance because unlike others, it was performed without his guitar in hand, which made him a little uncomfortable. Jim’s voice sounded strong but vulnerable. He told me that while he hadn’t written the song, he felt really close to it because his dad had recently passed away and Jim wanted to carry on his name in a good way.
After Jim’s funeral, when I heard Jim sing “I Got a Name” over the radio, I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t listen to this song without feeling Jim’s presence and his absence all at the same time.
Fast forward a long 12 years to 1985. I opened a small café and catering business in Hillcrest and had just received notice from my landlord that my “month to month” lease was over. Serendipitously a friend called to say she knew of an “open store front” in the Gaslamp Quarter. When I got downtown I recognized that I was standing on the very same corner where Jim and I had joked about opening a restaurant and live music bar. I knew it was meant to be.
Today, Jim Croce fans send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. I love hearing their stories of how Jim’s music has touched their lives profoundly. And I’m so thankful for the musicians who keep playing Jim’s songs and passing them on for new generations. But there have always been questions that folks who wished they had met Jim have asked. They want to know where Jim’s songs came from, who they were written for or about?
This book has given me the opportunity to answer some of these questions. When the folks at Hal Leonard called and wanted to do a new Anthology of Jim Croce’s music, I decided in spite of my trepidation of telling “The Stories behind the Songs”, that I’d take a chance. They were all for it and in the end, Jim’s music speaks louder than any words, so I’ve done my best, and all I can say is, Jim I hope I got it right! http://bit.ly/2jNYyzg
Jim Croce's Birthday is tomorrow. He would have been 74. Jim once said, "It's all a matter of attitude. I've put a lot of miles on my truck checkin' out attitudes, and it looks to me like the best one is to be easy, take what comes, and have a good time."
“Gunga Din” written in 1966 at Jim’s home in Drexel Hill
In 1966, when Jim Croce and I performed regularly at folk clubs, colleges and local bars, Jim had a great ear for dialects and languages. He often told stories to introduce his songs using either an English cockney, Southern drawl, Scottish brogue or Eastern Indian dialect.
He would practice new songs daily, never repeating a single-one, unless requested and with a repertoire of over two thousand songs from blues to folk, Rock & Roll to Elizabethan bawdy ballads, Jim was building confidence to write his own songs.
As an avid reader of poetry, Haiku, Leonard Cohen and the classics, he was educating himself, always in love with a good story.
When he put music to Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Gunga Din”, he was encouraged to keep writing, especially when he played the song for a bunch of rowdy and inebriated sheep herders from Australia at our favorite local bar, The Riddle Paddock”. They gave him a standing ovation and even evoked a tear or two from the drunk, downtrodden and lonely.
In 1966, on his first self-made album “Facets”, Jim published his first song including “Gunga Din” and “Sun Come Up”, co-written with his brother Rich, and “Texas Rodeo”.