I Got A Name: Jim Croce

Prolific singer-songwriter’s life was cut short after his career had just taken off

…If I had a box just for wishes/And dreams that had never come true/The box would be empty/Except for the memory/Of how they were answerd by you…

The above is an excerpt from the lyrics of one of the most beautiful love songs I know, written by a great singer-songwriter whose life was tragically cut short. Time In A Bottle became one of Jim Croce’s biggest hits topping the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks in January 1974, not even four months after he had died at age 30 in a plane crash.

James Joseph Croce was born on January 10, 1943 in South Philadelphia. His parents James Albert Croce and Flora Mary (Babusci) Croce were both Italian Americans. While Croce git into playing accordion at the age of 5, he did not start taking music seriously until he was a student at Villanova University in the early 1960s. At that time, he began forming bands and playing local gigs at fraternity parties, coffee houses and universities around Philadelphia, performing a broad variety of cover music.

Jim Croce & family
Jim & Ingrid Croce with their son Adrian James

In 1966, Croce self-published his debut album Facets with a $500 cash gift he had received from his parents for his wedding to Ingrid Croce (née Jacobson), an author and singer-songwriter. The two had met in November 1963 and performed as a duo since 1964. Croce’s parents had hoped their son’s record would fail and he would come to realize he should use his eduction to pursue a “respectable” profession. Instead, Croce not only managed to sell all 500 copies of the record that had been pressed but also made a profit of close to $2,500. Here’s Texas Rodeo, the album’s only tune solely credited to Croce. Despite that promising start, true success for Croce was still years away.

In 1968, record producer Tommy West persuaded Croce and his wife to relocate to New York. By that time, they had started writing their own songs. This led to the release of Croce’s second record in September 1969, the duos album Jim & Ingrid Croce. Here’s the lovely Spin, Spin, Spin, which like most songs on the record was co-written by the couple.

The music business in New York City and playing small clubs and college gigs to promote the couple’s album proved to be tough. Disullisioned they returned to Pennsylvania to live on an old farm in the countryside. Since music wasn’t bringing in enough money, Croce took on a variety of odd jobs like driving a truck, contruction work and teaching guitar lessons. Meanwhile, he continued writing songs.

Following the birth of their son Adrian James, Ingrid became a stay-at-home-mother while Jim played concerts to promote his music. The breakthrough came in 1972 after Croce had signed a contract with ABC Records and released his third studio album You Don’t Mess Around With Jim in April that year. The record’s title track came out as a single in July and climbed to no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. By comparison, the album’s second single Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels) “only” made it to no. 17 on the U.S. chart. And then ther is the above mentioned Time In A Bottle, which didn’t appear as a single until after Croce’s death and became his second of two no. 1 hits in the U.S.

In July 1973, Croce’s fourth studio album Life And Times came out. The last record released during his life time included his first Billboard Hot 100 no. 1 hit Bad, Bad Leroy Brown. The great piano-driven boogie woogie tune was inspired by a guy with that name Croce had met during his short time in the National Guard. One evening the guy said he was fed up and went AWOL. When he inexplicably decided to come back at the end of the month to get his paycheck, he was caught and taken away in handcuffs.

On September 20, 1973, during the supporting tour for Life And Times, Croce was planning to fly from Natchitoches, La. after a show there to his next gig in Sherman, Texas. During takeoff, the pilot of a chartered propeller plane clipped a tree at the end of the runway, causing a crash. Croce, pilot Robert N. Elliott; guitarist Maury Muehleisen; comedian George Stevens, manager and booking agent Kenneth D. Cortese, and road manager Dennis Rast were all killed. The next day, the lead single and title track from Croce’s fifth and final studio album I Got A Name was released. Co-written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, the song was one of record’s the few tunes that were not written by Croce.

After Jim’s death, Ingrid Croce among other activities released two solo albums. She also did various things to keep Jim’s legacy alive. In 1985, she started a restaurant in downtown San Diego in the same spot where in 1973 Jim had joked about opening Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar and inviting their friends and fellow artists like James Taylor, Jimmy Buffet, Arlo Guthrie and Bonnie Raitt perform there. After various expansions and opening a second restaurant in the ’80s, Ingrid closed all restaurant operations in 2016. In 1996, she wrote Thyme in a Bottle, an autobiographical cookbook with memories and recipes from Croce’s Restaurant. And in 2004, she published Time in a Bottle, a photographic memoir of Jim’s songs with lyrics and her favorite photos. Jim’s and Ingrid’s son Adrian James “A.J.” Croce also became a singer-songwriter and has released 10 albums since 1993.

A bio on Jim Croce’s website quotes Ingrid: “Jim poured everything he heard and saw into his music. He was like a sponge, soaking up experiences and – sometimes it might take him a while, ‘Roller Derby Queen’ took him two or three years to write. But sooner or later, everything would make it into a song, and people recognized that.”

I’d like to close this post with a nice clip of a 1973 live performance of Operator, showing Croce with Muehleisen. Croce had met the classically trained pianist-guitarist and singer-songwriter from Trenton, N.J. in 1970. Muehleisen became a collaborator in the studio who influenced Croce’s song-writing. For 18 months, they were also frequently together on the road. He was only 24 years at the time of the crash.

Sources: Wikipedia; Jim Croce website; Ingrid Croce website; YouTube

John Mayer Is Back With Reflective New Album

After three and a half years, singer-songwriter John Mayer has released a new full-length album, reflecting on love, life and getting older.

After two EPs each consisting of four songs from his new album, John Mayer has released the entire record. The Search for Everything is the seventh full-length studio album of the singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer, and his most personal and reflective work to date.

Mayer clearly put a lot of ambition in the album, reportedly spending hundreds of hours in the studio. “This is the longest I have gone in the incubation of a record,” he told Rolling Stone. “I wasn’t interested in doing anything I’ve done before, and I wanted to stoke the fire of abstraction and just start punching hard.”

John Mayer

The 12-track set kicks off with Still Feel Like Your Man, a soulful ballad with a soft, laid-back, funky guitar feel. Other tunes with a similar groove include Helpless and Moving On and Getting Over. Helpless also nicely showcases Mayer’s great abilities on electric solo guitar, as does Changing.

Love on the Weekend, the first single released last Nov, is perhaps the album’s most catchy tune. While in this regard it doesn’t quite reach previous songs, such as Daughters, Waiting on the World to Change or Say, it proves Mayer still knows how to write hit songs. Love on the Weekend charted within the Billboard Hot 100 at no. 53 and climbed to no. 5 on the Hot Rock Songs chart.

On two of the songs Mayer has some great help on background vocals. The above mentioned Helpless features Tiffany Palmer, who according to her bio has also worked with artists like Bette Midler, Chaka Khan and Mary J. Blige. In addition, she has written for Anita Baker and Patti LaBelle. And then there is none other than Cheryl Crow, who provides background vocals on In the Blood.

john_mayer 2

Overall, The Search for Everything is a pretty solid album. Mayer’s guitar-playing is superb. A review in Entertainment Weekly noted it’s reminiscent of “the most reeled-in work of Eric Clapton’s solo career.” Perhaps one drawback is that all of the songs are slow or mid-tempo, which does make listening to the album a bit monotonous after a while. Throwing in a couple of uptempo tunes here and there could have mixed things up, even covers of blues rockers, which is a genre in which Mayer absolutely excels. On the other hand, I get this would have thrown off the album’s overall focus on personal reflection.

Further commenting on the album, Mayer told USA Today it’s about “getting older and comparing my track to other people’s. Part of me is a quote-unquote ‘rock star’ and part of me is this kid from Fairfield, Conn., who really wasn’t made for this. That part looks around at the other parts and goes, ‘Is any of this OK? Am I alright doing this?'”

All tracks on The Search for Everything were written by Mayer. He also produced the album, together with Chad Franscoviac and Steve Jordan (executive producer), with whom he has frequently worked in the past. Mayer is currently on the road to support the record with an extensive tour that mostly focuses on the U.S., with a few gigs in Canada and one show in London, UK.  The tour is scheduled to conclude in Noblesville, Ind. on Sep 2.

Here’s a clip of Helpless from a recent live performance in Albany, N.Y.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Billboard, USA Today, Tiffany Palmer web site, YouTube

Soft Rock Tunes for Valentine’s

Valentine’s Day is a good opportunity to write about some of my favorite rock ballads.

I don’t recall Valentine’s Day being a big deal when I was growing up in Germany, though I believe nowadays it’s become pretty popular there as well, especially among young people. While I don’t celebrate the occasion to this day, I thought it would be fun to put together a list of great rock ballads.

I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing (Aerosmith): For a band that had released many great songs since their eponymous 1973 album, such as Dream On, Sweet Emotion and Janie’s Got a Gun, it is quite remarkable that it took 28 years until Aerosmith finally had a no. 1 single in September 1998. I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing was written by American songwriter, Dianne Warren. It probably did not hurt that the power ballad was part of the soundtrack of the 1998 motion picture Armageddon starring Ben Affleck, Bruce Willis and Liv Tyler, Steven Tyler’s daughter.

Still Loving You (Scorpions): The Scorpions have released a number of catchy rock ballads throughout their long career. I think the best one, Still Loving You, initially appeared on 1984’s Love At First Sting, which also happens to my favorite Scorpions album. Written by Rudolf Schenker and Klaus Meine, the song was also released as a single in July 1984. It cracked the top 20 in various European  charts and made it to no. 64 on the Billboard Hot 100. Given how much radio play the song received in Germany, I’m actually surprised it only climbed to no. 14 in the charts there.

Open Arms (Journey): There was possibly nobody else who could deliver a rock ballad quite like Steve Perry. Written by him and Jonathan Cain, this gem appeared in January 1982 and was the fourth single from Journey’s seventh studio album Escape. The song became the band’s biggest Billboard Top 100 hit, climbing all the way to no. 2 in February 1982 and staying there for six weeks.

Every Rose Has Its Thorn (Poison): This power ballad was included in Poison’s second studio album Open Up and Say…Ahh!, which appeared in May 1988. It was also released as a single in October that year and climbed in the Billboard Hot 100 until it reached the top spot in December 1988, remaining there for three weeks. Credited to all four members of Poison, Bret Michaels, C.C. DeVille, Bobby Dall and Rikki Rockett, it became the band’s only no. 1 hit in the U.S.

Waiting For a Girl Like You (Foreigner): Written by Mick Jones and Lou Gramm, this tune is one of the defining 80’s power ballads. The song initially appeared on 4, Foreigner’s fourth and best studio album in July 1981, and was also released as a single in October that year. It was one of the record’s several major hits, reaching no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and holding that position for 10 weeks.

I’ll Be There For You (Bon Jovi): The tune was originally released in September 1988 on Bon Jovi’s fourth studio album New Jersey. Written by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, I’ll Be There for You was one of an impressive five top 10 singles the album yielded, reaching the no. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The guys look kind of hilarious in the clip – oh, well, it was the 80’s era of the hair bands!

Babe (Styx): Babe was the lead single from Styx’s ninth studio album Cornerstone, released in October 1979. Written by Dennis DeYoung, the ballad became the band’s first and only no. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100.

Amanda (Boston): Including its eponymous 1976 debut, Boston has only released six albums in its 41-year history. Guitarist, keyboardist, songwriter and producer Tom Scholz, who essentially is Boston, is known for absolute perfectionism when it comes to recording music. And he allows himself to take as much time as needed to meet his high standards. Amanda was released in September 1986 as the first single from Third Stage, Boston’s third studio album. The song became the band’s most successful single, holding the no. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks. Incredibly, it even outperformed Boston’s signature song More Than a Feeling.

Heaven (Bryan Adams): Heaven came out during the peak of Bryan Adams’ popularity, initially appearing on the soundtrack of the 1983 motion picture A Night in Heaven. The song, which Adams co-wrote with Jim Vallance, was also included on his fourth studio album Reckless, released in November 1984. It became the record’s third single and reached no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 1985. It ended up being the most successful of the album’s six singles.

Can’t Fight This Feeling (REO Speedwagon): Initially appearing in November 1984 on REO Speedwagon’s 11th studio album Wheels Are Turnin’, the song was also released as the record’s second single in January 1985. Written by Kevin Cronin, Can’t Fight This Feeling became the band’s second no. 1 single after 1981’s Keep on Loving You. It hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in March 1985 and remained there for three consecutive weeks.

Enjoy and to those celebrating, Happy Valentine’s Day!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube