Jim Croce's 1973 Death, And The Music We'll Never Hear
Left: Jim Croce performing on ABC's 'In Concert' in 1973. (Photo by ABC via Getty Images) Right: Croce on the back cover of 'You Don't Mess Around With Jim.' Source: Amazon.com
He left a treasured body of work, but we didn't get enough Jim Croce. "Time In A Bottle," "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," "Operator," "I Got A Name," "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" -- these were hits for the singer-songwriter from South Philadelphia, although some made the chart posthumously. Croce's fourth album had been out for just a couple of months when he died in a plane crash in 1973 -- musically, he was still picking up momentum. Given the strength of material on the 1972 album, You Don't Mess Around With Jim and 1973's Life And Times, it's fair to say that Croce was poised to be one of the major songwriters of the '70s and beyond, surely capable of writing dozens of more classics.
Though he could write the hell out of a love song or heartbreak song, that extra something with Croce was the everyman's world he created through his characters. The down-on-his-luck car-wash attendant of "Workin' At The Carwash Blues," "Rapid Roy, The Stock Car Boy," "Roller Derby Queen," "Speedball Tucker," and of course Leroy Brown and Jim. With his down-to-earth depictions of working-class heroes and villains, Croce might have been Springsteen before Springsteen; his sense of humor ranks with the great country songwriters; and who can say that he wouldn't have become as prolific and varied as Dylan?
Unfortunately, we'll never know how great Croce might have become -- the songs foreshadow a career that ended prematurely just after taking off from an airstrip in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
The Early Years
Jim Croce got his start in the '60s as a young musician trying to make his way back in the day of the counterculture, hippies and all things groovy. He spent most of his musical career playing gigs wherever he could find them. Often, he found himself touring and playing at one college campus after another.
He was quite a character and was known for his “between sets” entertainment. Croce, playing mostly small venues throughout his short career, was very in tune with is audiences which were mostly small and intimate. Between songs and sets, he was very animated and would continue to entertain his audiences with amusing stories and “raps.”
Jim And Ingrid Croce Paid Their Dues
For several years Croce and his wife, Ingrid, performed as a duo, covering songs by Ian & Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, Joan Baez, and Arlo Guthrie. Beginning in the mid-60’s through the early 70’s, Jim Croce and his wife performed at small venues including fraternity parties, college campuses, bars, clubs and coffee houses. During this time, they performed songs by then current artists and were really good at it. Their set lists included blues, country rock and folk music. They had a lot of promise.
A bar and steakhouse, of all things, was Croce’s first big long-term gig in a small town in Pennsylvania. It wasn’t long after that Croce and his wife began writing their own songs. Croce was a great story teller and put his stories to music. He met up with a studio producer through his job selling airtime at a radio station and landed a 3 album contract.
In all, Croce released five studio albums, four of them before his death.
The Night Of The Tragedy
Jim Croce often traveled by small planes to get to different venues to perform. One night after performing at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, he took off in a plane, in the dark. The light plane left from a small airstrip and soon got snagged in a treetop. The plane, tragically, went down just after takeoff. Croce and five other people, including his lead guitarist, Maury Muehleisen, lost their lives that night.
Croce’s Last Gig Was Poorly Attended Due To 'The Battle of the Sexes'
The night that Jim Croce lost his life in that accident, he had just finished playing his last gig. Unfortunately, it wasn’t well attended because he was in competition with another event, the tennis match billed as the “Battle of the Sexes.” At the time Billie Jean King’s and Bobby Rigg’s tennis match won out in the ratings.
Croce's Recorded Legacy
Jim Croce’s studio albums include:
- Facets, released in 1966;
- Jim & Ingrid Croce, released in 1969;
- You Don’t Mess Around with Jim, released in 1972;
- Life and Times, released in 1972; and,
- I Got a Name, released in 1973.
Croce was a talented songwriter and released many awesome songs. A few of these epic songs include Time in a Bottle, I Got a Name, I’ll Have to say I Love You in a Song, You Don’t Mess Around with Jim and Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.
It is interesting to note that You Don’t Mess Around with Jim and Bad, Bad Leroy Brown is basically the same song with different characters. Both songs have the same tune and chords as well as telling the story of a hustler. Leroy Brown hustled women and Big Jim hustled pool. In the end, they both got more than they bargained for.
Jim Croce was taken too soon and definitely left us wanting more!
Croce’s final album was released after his death and earned a Gold certification like 2 others. Even since his death, over 20 other albums of his work have been released begging the question, “what could have been?”
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