|Saturday, 18 October 2008 20:00|
Born: January 10, 1943, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died: September 20, 1973
Cause of death: Plane crash
Notable because: Became hugely popular very quickly and then suddenly died tragically.
Jim Croce was born in South Philadelphia. He graduated from Upper Darby High School in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania in 1960. In 1976, he was the first former student to be added to the Upper Darby High School Wall of Fame. While attending Villanova University, from which he graduated in 1965, Croce was a member of the Villanova Singers and Villanova Spires and was a student disc jockey at WXVU. He also met his future wife, Ingrid Jacobson, at a hootenanny at Convention Hall in Philadelphia, where he was a judge for a contest. When they married, he converted to Judaism. Their son Adrian James is a singer-songwriter in his own right, performing under the name A. J. Croce.
During the early 1960s, Croce formed a number of college bands, performed at coffee houses and universities, and later performed with his wife as a duo in the mid-1960s to early 1970s. At first, their performances included songs by Ian and Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, Joan Baez, and Woody Guthrie, but in time they began writing their own music, such as "Age," "Hey Tomorrow," and "Spin Spin Spin," which later led to Croce's hit songs in the early 1970s.
At the same time, Croce got his first long-term gig at a rural bar and steak house in Lima, Pennsylvania, called the Riddle Paddock. There, over the next few years, Croce developed a very engaging rapport with tough audiences and built his musical repertoire to more than 3,000 songs. His set list included every genre from blues to country to rock 'n roll to folk, with tender love songs and traditional bawdy ballads, always introduced with a story and an impish grin.
In 1968, Jim and Ingrid Croce were encouraged to move to New York City to record their first album with Capitol Records. For the next two years, they drove more than 300,000 miles playing small clubs and concerts on the college concert circuit promoting their album Jim & Ingrid Croce.
Then, disillusioned by the music business and New York City, Croce sold all but one guitar to pay the rent, and they returned to the Pennsylvania countryside where Croce got a job driving trucks and doing construction to pay the bills. He called this his "character development period" and spent a lot of his time sitting in the cab of a truck, composing songs about his buddies and the folks he enjoyed meeting at the local bars and truck stops.
In 1970, Croce met classically trained pianist/guitarist, singer-songwriter Maury Muehleisen from Trenton, New Jersey through Joe Salviuolo (aka Sal Joseph). Salviuolo was best friends with Jim when they attended Villanova University together, and Salviuolo later discovered Maury when he was teaching at Glassboro State College in New Jersey. Sal, along with Tommy West and Terry Cashman, brought this duo together in the Cashman and West production office in New York City. Initially, Croce backed Muehleisen on guitar at his gigs. But in time, their musical strengths led them each to new heights. Muehleisen's ethereal and inspired guitar leads became the perfect accompaniment to Croce's down-to-earth music.
In 1972, Croce signed to a three-record deal with ABC Records releasing You Don't Mess Around with Jim and Life & Times in the same year. 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 newborn son, A. J. Croce) helped the former album reach #1 on the charts in 1974. Croce's biggest single, "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," hit #1 on the U.S. charts in the summer of 1973, selling two million copies.
Croce, 30, and Muehleisen, 24, died in a small commercial plane crash on September 20, 1973, one day before his third ABC album, I Got a Name was to be released. The posthumous release included three hits, "I Got A Name," "Workin' At The Car Wash Blues," and "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song". Three months after his death, the song "Time in a Bottle," originally released on Croce's first album the year before, became a #1 hit single (the third posthumous chart-topping song of the Rock Era following Otis Redding's "Sittin' On (The Dock of the Bay)" and "Me and Bobby McGee" by Janis Joplin).
Croce had just completed a concert in Natchitoches, Louisiana, and was flying to Sherman, Texas. The pilot and all passengers (Croce, Muehleisen, and George Stevens, the comic who was the show's warm up act) were killed instantly at 10:45 PM EDT on September 20, 1973, less than an hour after the end of their last concert. Upon takeoff, the plane did not gain enough altitude to clear an area of large pecan trees at the end of the runway. The official report from the NTSB hints that the charter pilot, Robert Newton Elliott, who had severe coronary artery disease and had run a portion of the 3 miles to the airport from a motel, may have suffered a heart attack, causing him to crash into the trees on a clear runway with excellent visibility. A later investigation placed sole blame for the accident on pilot error.
Croce was laid to rest in the Philadelphia area, even though he had recently relocated to San Diego. Family, friends, and fans were stunned to learn of the premature death of the two musicians.
News of the premature deaths of the duo sparked a massive interest in Jim’s first two albums – You Don’t Mess Around With Jim and Life and Times - as well as the “I Got A Name” single, which was released later that same week. This was followed closely by the release of the album of the same title. Sales soared and resulted in three gold records. A “Greatest Hits” package released in 1974 also proved to be extraordinarily popular. The catalogue became a staple of radio play, turntables, cassettes, and CDs for years, and is still receiving significant airplay in the first decade of the 21st century.
"Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" inspired Queen vocalist Freddie Mercury to write the song "Bring Back That Leroy Brown" for the band's third album, Sheer Heart Attack, released a year after Croce died.
In 1985, Ingrid Croce opened "Croce's Restaurant & Jazz Bar", located in the historic Gaslamp District in San Diego, California, as a tribute to her late husband. In 1990, Croce was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Since then, releases have included Jim Croce Home Recordings, Facets, Jim Croce: Classic Hits, and the first DVD of Jim's television performances, Have You Heard – Jim Croce Live. The most recent release was in January 2006 -- Have You Heard - Jim Croce Live, the album.
The Righteous Brothers pay tribute to Croce in their song "Rock And Roll Heaven". He is also mentioned in Stephen King's You Know They Got a Hell of a Band, a short story about a town populated by late music legends. The title of King's short story comes from a line in the Righteous Brothers song.
Gino Vanelli wrote the song "Poor Happy Jimmy" as a tribute to Croce.
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 December 2008 16:05|