Jim Croce (pronounced CROW-chee) was born in South Philadelphia on 10 January 1943, and brought up on ragtime, country and Dixieland music. He played the accordion as a child and taught himself guitar, but did not play professionally until 1964 when he was at Villanova College in Pennsylvania.
There he formed various bands and played fraternity parties while he worked on construction crews to support himself. He also had a number of teaching jobs (“my Albert Schweitzer period”), and a brief term working at WHAT radio in Philadelphia.
Croce and his wife Ingrid were in Mexico, where she had a grant to study pottery when he reunited with a college friend, musician Tommy West, who urged him to try the New York coffeehouse circuit. Croce, with West and Terry Cashman producing, cut an album in 1969, and when it failed to sell, he became a truck driver until he and Ingrid moved to a farm in Lyndell, Pennsylvania.
When the money ran low, Croce went back to construction work, doing some session singing for commercials on the side. Finally, after one rejection from ABC/Dunhill (which Croce had framed and put on the wall next to his first gold record), he signed with the label and cut a couple of songs he had written in a truck cab, on his construction job.
You Don’t Mess Around With Jim and Operator both became hits and led to a second album, Life and Times, and a #1 single, Bad Bad Leroy Brown (inspired by a frightening soldier Croce met while in the army), in July 1973 – along with a new career in television and film work.
Croce had just completed a third album for Dunhill (I’ve Got A Name) when on 20 September 1973 the small single-engine chartered plane in which he was travelling snagged in a treetop at the end of the dim runway on takeoff from Natchitoches in Texas, sending 30-year-old Jim and five others crashing to their deaths.
The other victims were Croce’s second guitarist, Maury Muehleisen, his road manager Morgan Tell, comedian George Stevens, a booking agent and the pilot.
Only an hour before the crash, Croce had played a gig at the local Northwestern State University. Croce’s son Adrian James celebrated his second birthday a week and a day after Jim died.
Thanks to its inclusion in Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 film Django Unchained, Croce’s I Got A Name introduced the singer to a new audience.