James Joseph Croce (January 10, 1943 September 20, 1973) was an American Singer-Songwriter. His musical style contained elements of folk, country, pop, and blues, and was notable for its intricate fingerstyle acoustic guitar. His hits included "You Don't Mess Around With Jim," "Operator (That's Not The Way It Feels)," "Time In a Bottle," "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," and "I Got a Name."
Born into a musical family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Croce received his first instrument - an accordion - when he was five years old, though he didn't begin to take music seriously until college. While there, he became involved in the folk scene, and met his future wife Ingrid while judging a music competition. At the same time, he was beginning to collect the acquaintances and experiences that would later flavor his songs. He hung out with truckers and construction workers, and played gigs in dives and other rough venues.
After his graduation, Jim and Ingrid married and went to New York to try to start a recording career. While there, he signed a series of contracts with agents and managers that would prove disastrous later on. They recorded an eponymous album for Capitol Records, but failed to find any great success either there or on the road. Disillusioned, the Croces moved back to Pennsylvania, where Jim took various jobs and gigs (including a stint in the Army) to pay the bills. Their son, Adrian James - for whom "Time in a Bottle" was written - was born in 1971.
He finally got his big break in 1972, when he signed a three-album deal with ABC Records and went back out on the road. The tour was exhausting for Jim and his friend and lead guitarist Maury Meuhleisen, and financially disastrous for the Croces. Despite having multiple songs on the charts, and playing more than 300 shows per year, Jim was only bringing home $200 per week - a result of the contracts he had signed years earlier. After more than a year of this, he decided the strain on his health and marriage wasn't worth it, and resolved to leave the music business for good.
He never got the chance. On September 20th, 1973, he and Meuhleisen played a gig in Natchitoches, Louisiana that had been postponed a year earlier. As their plane took off after the show, it hit a row of pecan trees and crashed, killing everyone aboard. Croce was 30, Meuhleisen 24.
After Croce's death, the resulting publicity from the tragedy drew interest to his music, which resulted in a string of hit songs that would have him hailed as one of the great singer-songwriters of the 1970s.
Ingrid engaged in a lengthy legal battle to resecure the rights to her husband's songs - a fight that lasted into the '90s, but was ultimately successful. She also owns and operates a successful restaurant, Croce's, in San Diego. Their son (who goes by A.J.) has followed in his father's footsteps, becoming a well-regarded singer and songwriter himself.
The life and music of Jim Croce provide examples of these tropes:
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: Leroy Brown was apparently quite popular with the ladies of Southside Chicago. His womanizing gets him into trouble later on.
- Always a Bigger Fish:
- The titular "Big Bad Leroy Brown" was the toughest man in the south-side of Chicago — until he macked on the woman of an even meaner, tougher fella.
- Jim from "You Don't Mess Around with Jim" also counts, as he is taken out by a rival pool hustler named Slim. So much so that Slim takes over the song.
- Animated Music Video: "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" has a music video, and it's animated like a Hanna-Barberra cartoon.
- Badass Moustache
- Became Their Own Antithesis: "Which Way Are You Going?"So now you've turned your back on all the things that you used to preach.Now it's "let him live in freedom if he lives like me."Your line has changed, confusion reigns, what have you become?All your olive branches turned to spears when your flowers turned to guns.
- The Big Rotten Apple:
- "Box #10"
- "New York's Not My Home"
- Break-Up Song:
- "Lover's Cross"
- "Next Time, This Time"
- "One Less Set of Footsteps"
- "These Dreams"
- Bullying a Dragon: Both "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" and "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" warn against trying to tangle with either of the titular badasses - but then subverts it by mentioning their losing a fight against someone even badder.
- Celebrities Hang Out in Heaven: "Rock and Roll Heaven" by the Righteous Brothers imagines Croce with several deceased other musicians — including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Jim Morrison, and Bobby Darin — in Heaven together forming "a hell of a band, band, band!"
- Christmas Songs: "It Doesn't Have to Be That Way", which sees its narrator addressing a former lover and suggesting they reunite for the holidays.
- Converting for Love: He converted to Judaism when he married Ingrid.
- Crazy Jealous Guy: In "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," the titular Leroy Brown flirts with a married woman before then getting destroyed in a fight with that woman's husband.And Leroy Brown, he learned a lesson 'bout messin' with the wife of a jealous man
- Dead Artists Are Better: The majority of his success came after his death.
- "Dear John" Letter: Croce claimed that "Operator (That's Not the Way it Feels)" was inspired by his time spent in the military, where he watched hundreds of men line up at the only phone on the base to call their significant others in response to receiving one of these.
- Death by a Thousand Cuts: Jim from "You Don't Mess Around with Jim" is described as having been "cut in about a hundred places" and shot a few times for good measure after his fight with Slim.
- The Dreaded: The title characters of "You Don't Mess Around with Jim" and "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" are the most feared men in their cities. At first...
- Driving Song:
- "Speedball Tucker" is a song about a long-haul truck driver.
- "Rapid Roy" is a song about a stock car racer.
- Early Installment Weirdness: His first album, Facets, is a collection of folk covers, has heavy reverb on just about everything, and lacks the intricate guitar sound that Meuhleisen contributed to his later work.
- Feedback Rule: In a concert recorded in 1973 and first released in 1980 as the album Jim Croce Live: The Final Tour, Croce reacts to an instance of feedback by imitating the sound and saying, "Sounds like a great big om."
- Greatest Hits Album: Photographs & Memories: His Greatest Hits, which was released a year after his death and eventually went platinum. It's the best-selling album in his catalog.
- "I Am" Song:
- "Careful Man"
- "The Hard Way Every Time"
- "I Got a Name"
- It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": "Croce," an Italian name meaning cross, is pronounced "CRO-chee."
- Jailbait Taboo: "Five Short Minutes" is about the singer ending up sentenced to jail for 20 years after agreeing to a girl's advances, implying that he's going to jail because the girl is a minor.
- Long Title: Averted. A couple of his songs had very long titles, but were cut down on release:
- "Roller Derby Queen" was originally "I Fell in Love With a Roller Derby Queen."
- "Workin' at the Car Wash Blues" was "I Got the Steadily Depressin', Lowdown, Mind-Messin' Workin' at the Car Wash Blues".
- Love Nostalgia Song: "Photographs and Memories"
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: Croce mixed folk, country, blues, and pop, with the occasional bit of rock 'n' roll, bluegrass, or classical for good measure.
- Nice Guy
- Non-Appearing Title:
- Not Enough to Bury: While it's unknown if he actually died, Leroy Brown is described as looking "like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple pieces gone" by the time Doris' husband is done with him. The music video shows him surviving, albeit falling to pieces cartoonishly before pulling himself together.
- Nouveau Riche: The titular "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" was a gambler by trade, and was as tastelessly showy with his wealth as you'd expect.
- One-Man Song: "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown"
- Paper Tiger: Leroy Brown was the most feared man in Southside Chicago, and while he certainly looked imposing (being 6'4" and carrying weapons on his person at all times,) the fact that he gets absolutely massacred in his fight with Doris' husband implies that he was nothing but a showoff.
- Protest Song: "Which Way Are You Going?"
- Retirony: Died shortly after deciding to leave the business, departing from a concert he hadn't originally been scheduled to play. On the day his fifth single was released.
- Roger Rabbit Effect: The Animated Music Video for "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" has Croce himself show up in live-action as a bartender. There's even a neat effect where Croce pours liquor out of a real bottle into an animated glass.
- Something Blues: "Workin' at the Car Wash Blues".
- Springtime for Hitler: As a wedding gift, Jim's parents gave him $500, with the stipulation that it be used to record an album. Their reasoning was that it would fail, and that he would be persuaded to give up on the idea of being a professional musician. The album, Facets, ended up being quite popular, and sold out its entire run in less than a week.
- Telephone Song: "Operator (That's Not The Way It Feels)".
- Toon Physics: The Animated Music Video for "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" takes full advantage of cartoon tropes of the time, such as having Leroy Brown's fight with Doris' husband depicted as a Big Ball of Violence after which Leroy himself suffers Literally Shattered Lives upon defeat.
- Unreliable Narrator: How some interpret "Workin' at the Car Wash Blues". The premise of the song is that the narrator claims his intelligence is wasted working at the car wash and that he deserves greater success in life, calling himself "a genius" and "an undiscovered Howard Hughes". However, there is nothing in the song to back up his claims, so it's up to the listener's interpretation to decide if he's telling the truth and was just dealt a bad hand in life, or if he's just a Know-Nothing Know-It-All with a massive ego.
- Wicked Pretentious: The title character of "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" likes to make a show of himself with fancy clothes, diamond rings, and vintage cars, but he's nothing more than a violent thug and an incurable womanizer.
- Younger Than They Look: In most of his later photos, he has a tired, worn look, and could easily pass for 40. He was 30 when he died.
- Young Future Famous People: Jim often brought other struggling musicians home for dinner, and invited them to parties. Among others, they included Jimmy Buffett, James Taylor, Arlo Guthrie, Bonnie Raitt, and Randy Newman.