Jim Croce’s career started in the mid-1960s with his first album Facets, which was independently recorded and published on his own funds. He and his wife Ingrid also wrote and performed together, releasing a joint album in 1969 simply titled Jim & Ingrid Croce. In 1970 he met pianist and singer-songwriter Maury Muehleisen who would become his professional partner, accompanying in Croce’s studio and live work.
In 1972 Croce signed his first recording contract with ABC, and released his second solo album (third overall) You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, which went topped the national album charts in US as well as in Canada. It spawned hits including “Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels)” and the title track. The following year, his fourth album Life and Times, was also a hit, yielding the hit singles “One Less Set Of Footsteps” and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”, which topped the Hot 100 in 1973.
Croce had just finished recording for a yet-to-be released LP I Got A Name, and was currently on a tour supporting Life and Times album when he died in a plane crash, on September 20, 1973. The accident also killed the pilot and the rest of the passengers, including Croce’s professional partner Muehleisen.
I Got A Name was released about three months after his death, spawning hits with “Workin’ at the Car Wash Blues”, “Time In A Bottle” (his second and last #1 on the pop chart), “I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song”, and the title track. I Got A Namealso received a gold certification. Years after his death, several “best-of” compilations and other new material were posthumously released. Croce was inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 1990.
Early music career, family life and marriage
Jim Croce was born James Joseph Croce in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on January 10, 1943 to an Italian-American family. Croce displayed interest in music at an early age; he learned to play his first instrument, the accordion, when he was only five.
After his brief stint in the US Army, he then attended university. During his time there he began to take music more seriously. He formed his own bands there and began playing at his university’s frat parties, coffee houses and other universities around Philadelphia, playing in many styles depending on the requests of their audience.
In 1966 he married his wife and professional partner Ingrid Jacobson and later that year he released his first album Facets. It was independently recorded and published with his own funds, which were given to him as a wedding gift from his parents, who were sure that the album would fail so that Croce would pursue a more “respectable” career. It was a small-time success, selling over 500 copies and earning a considerable profit.
Moving places and odd jobs
Croce and his wife used to perform covers from Gordon Lightfoot, Joan Baez, Ian and Sylvia and Woody Guthrie, but soon began writing their own material together. The couple moved to New York City in 1968 in hopes of furthering their singing career; the following year they released their joint album, Jim & Ingrid Croce.
However, the Croces soon relocated from New York to Lyndell, Pennsylvania, settling in the countryside farm. Jim did whatever odd jobs he could find, driving trucks and doing construction labor while he continued writing songs. In 1970 he met pianist and singer-songwriter Maury Muehleisen in New Jersey. Muehleisen would become Croce’s professional partner, collaborating both on Croce’s live and studio works.
Jim Croce’s another shot a recording, and budding commercial success
In 1972 Croce signed his first recording contract with ABC, and released his second solo album (third overall) You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, which topped the national album charts in the US as well as in Canada. The album’s singles “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” and “Operator (That’s Now The Way It Feels)” became big hits.
In the summer of 1973 Croce released his fourth album overall, Life and Times which would later yield his first #1 hit “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” His career was now blossoming, and Jim started to tour across the nation and then overseas, especially in Europe, to promote Life and Times. He was also starting to perform on television as well. The long tours had taken Croce’s time away from his family, and he was starting to feel homesick. He wrote to his wife that as soon as the tour was done, he intended to retire from the music business completely, and would settle in a different career as well as spend more time with her and their infant son.
Croce’s tragic death from a plane crash
In September 1973, Croce had finished recording I Got A Name and a week later embarked on another touring schedule. On the 20th, the day that (or some sources say before) his new single “I Got A Name” was released – Croce, Muehleisen and four other people were instantly killed in a plane crash in Natchitoches, Louisiana. The plane had just taken off from the airport when it crashed. The cause of the crash was pilot error, as the regional airport’s pilot had been suffering heart disease and was most likely hit with an attack while he was trying to maneuver the plane.
Jim Croce was only 30 years old when he died, and on the threshold of a promising career.
Posthumous hits and compilation releases
Executives at ABC decided to release “Time In A Bottle” which was the track of one of Croce’s previous albums You Don’t Mess Around With Jim. The song had been considered to be released as a single before. The song, about wishing to have more time, seemed as if Croce were having some kind of a premonition. “Time In A Bottle” started to be played on the air and finally was released as a single.
“Time In A Bottle” climbed up to #1 on both Billboard Hot 100 and adult contemporary singles charts in late 1973, becoming his second and last #1 hit, and his first and only posthumous chart-topper. The song’s album You Don’t Mess Around With Jim shot to #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, Croce’s only chart-topping LP.
In March 1974 the first single off I Got A Name, “I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song,” eventually went to #9, making it Croce’s last Top 10 single.
There have been several compilation albums and posthumous releases, most notably Photographs & Memories: His Greatest Hits, The Faces I’ve Been, and Time In A Bottle: Jim Croce’s Greatest Love Songs. The DVD Have You Heard: Jim Croce Live, as well as its companion album, were released in 2006. Despite his short life and career, Croce’s contributions as a songwriter have a great impact, and for those he was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1990.