Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Jim Croce--You Don't Mess Around With Jim (1972)

     It was the 1st of October and I was sleeping on the couch in our living room. When ensconced within the four walls of our house, the radio was always playing and during the winter I fell into slumber with KSHE95, our local "underground" station being my lullaby.
     This morning was strange however. Being used to waking to the latest from The Strawbs, The Beatles, or King Crimson, I was hearing Jim Croce, which for this station was quite unusual. It was the song, "Operator" and even at the age of 13, knew something was amiss. Sure enough, after the song was over, the DJ announced that Croce had died the night before in a plane crash outside of Natchitoches, Louisiana.
     Croce was different than many of the singer songwriters of that era. Rather than songs of personal introspection, he liked to tell stories. Jim and his wife Ingrid met while he was attending Villanova University, and they later begin to sing and later write as a duo. They moved to New York City and began touring. They released an album in 1968, but not long after got tired of the business and NYC specifically and moved back to Philadelphia.
     The next couple of years probably did a great deal to define his later sound. He did a stint in the military, and doing various jobs, such as truck driving and working construction. During that time he met people who would shape the many songs he would write about other people. He attempted to find a life outside of music, but was always drawn back to it.
     In 1970, a college friend, producer Sal Joseph introduced Croce to classically trained guitar/pianist Maury Muehleisen. The two began working as a duo, with Croce backing Maury's songs, but as time went on the roles switched as Muehlesien began to provide the perfect sweet guitar backing to Jim's down to earth stories.
     Less than two years later, Croce was offered a contract with ABC Records and released, "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" which on the strength of the title track and "Operator" shot up to number 1 on the album charts. That title track was vintage Croce, but "Operator" which was his second hit showed the sensitive side of him as well.
     It seemed just as his career was headed into overdrive, the plane crash not only took his life, but Muehleisen's as well. His son Adrian James, now known as A.J. Croce has an accomplished career as a musician, Ingrid owns and manages Croce's Restaurant & Jazz Bar in San Diego.


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