By Randy Patterson
Say the name “Croce” in front of music-loving baby boomers or people who love the music of our generation and great music comes to mind. Songs like “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” “Time in a Bottle,” and “I Got a Name” instantly come to mind.
That’s because the writer and singer of those songs, Jim Croce, achieved musical greatness with those songs – songs that I still hear on the radio and in establishments all around the world every day. That greatness and timelessness came from a career that lasted only 18 months. Sadly, Jim met an untimely death in a plane crash. A death that left a loving wife, Ingrid, and a son, A.J., who turned two years old eight days after his death.
Ingrid and A.J.’s story from that moment on is one of serious challenges and rising above them. In the case of A.J., to be a successful artist and musician in his own right. With 11 solo albums and countless collaborations under his belt, A.J. tours to connect with his fan base. His current tour is bringing him to Maryville College on March 31st, with tickets almost sold out.
Before A.J. shared what fans can expect from that show, he revealed an amazing story that took place while he was focusing on his own music and not leveraging his dad’s work, but managing his dad’s publishing and recording archive.
“I wanted a certain integrity, and with not even touching my father’s music for 20 years, not so much because I didn’t love it, but I just I wanted to make a name for myself,” he said. “I got to a certain point in my early 30s, I was really taking over (my dad’s) publishing at that point. I had had a lot of experience with my own for 10 years prior to that and was transferring these old audiotapes. There was one in particular that I heard where my father was playing all these obscure blues and old country blues songs. They were songs that I had covered since I was 12 years old, and it was like 10 of the 12 or 13 songs on that tape. I had played every single one of them since I was a kid but never knew that my father had ever played them. It was so eerie. The hair on my neck just stood up. I was just completely blown away by this.”
As to what fans can expect from the upcoming show, A.J. said, “Oh, it’s a really fun show! I’ve been having a lot of fun with it… it’s been on and off for a while, for a couple of years. But it is really great to be able to connect with the audience. It’s a very energetic show. Some people might think of my dad’s ballads. There’s some of those in there – certainly, the famous ones are part of the show. Some of the biggest songs are part of the show. Outside of that, it’s really free. I can move around musically through my music, through his music, and I’m telling stories about where it all came from and how it connects. The whole thing about this, for me, is I want people to feel the way that I felt when I listened to that recording of my father and found this deep connection. I want them to feel that for me, for my father, and how everything is connected. I want them to have a great time while they discover this, and I think people will laugh. It’s really fun.”
One of A.J.’s personal and direct influences was the late great Leon Russell.
“I wrote with Leon Russell. We wrote a bunch of songs together, and it was a very similar thing. I liked Leon. I always respected him. I dug those early albums. But that wasn’t my influence. I was listening to what he was listening to; listening to that old boogie stuff, early rock and roll, Little Richard, Johnny Johnson, Pete Johnson – all those old New Orleans and early rock and roll and blues based piano players and performers. We had all these similar influences, probably mostly Ray Charles. Ray was such a big influence on everyone that came after him.
“It was funny because he (Leon) said, ‘You know, I heard your dad was a musician.’ And I said, ‘I would figure you would have known some of the songs,’ and I named some of them and he didn’t know what they were. It was so funny because we came to know each other by accident, sort of, through me opening for him or playing on the same festival bills.”
Watch this fascinating interview in its entirety to find out more about A.J. Croce’s life as a musician by visiting Boomerocity.com.