In your book you share the story behind the song "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song." Could you repeat it for us?One weekend, after being on the road for many months, Jim got a chance to come home to relaxwith his family. We settled in to enjoy our time alone together. Though Jim was expectingcompany the next day, avoiding confrontation he never told me that we were to be joined by anentire film crew! The next morning, fifteen people from Acorn Productions descended upon ourhouse to record a promotional film of Jim Croce at Home on the Farm.
I prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner for the whole film crew and after the group left, Iquestioned Jim about our finances. After a year and a half of his working so very hard on the road,we were barely making ends meet, but Jim wouldn't talk about it. He hated questions as much ashe hated confrontation, especially about money. He stormed out of our bedroom and went down tothe kitchen table to brood. The next morning he woke me gently by singing his new song. "Everytime I tried to tell you/the words just came out wrong./So I'll have to say I love you, in a song."
You recall how grateful Jim was for the success of "You Don't Mess Around with Jim," but stillshy about being famous. What are your recollections of this particular time in your life?Once "You Don't Mess Around with Jim" reached Number One on the charts, Jim started getting awhole lot of recognition, not just in the industry but also in the streets. By now he was a realstar, and there was hardly anywhere he could go that someone didn't recognize his face or hisname. As grateful as he was for acceptance of his music, Jim was rather shy about being famous.When we were together he avoided crowds and conspicuous places, opting for unpopulated beachesor staying home. Though he had renown, Jim's pockets were still empty. The fact is, he hardly hadany pockets at all. By now we had moved to San Diego; one weekend, we went down to a thrift storein Ocean Beach to outfit him for the road. As we were roaming the isles of used jeans, the storeclerk walked clumsily up to Jim to help him find stuff. When the clerk got a good look at Jim, hiseyes bugged out and he spoke in a slow, stoned drawl. "Hey man, you look just like Jim Croce,man. You could make a lot of money pretendin' to be him, man." "Do ya think so?" Jim queried,and walked on shyly with a pair of used, faded blue jeans in hand, heading toward the counter.After paying for the Levi's with his last dollar, Jim was about to leave the store when theunsuspecting salesperson stopped Jim again. "Hey man, I mean it. You look just like Jim Croce. Hemust be some kinda millionaire or something. You should try it, man." We weren't aware of anymillions. In fact, we were livin' on small potatoes, and deeply in the red.
Jim told the following story of the pool game that inspired "You Don't Mess Around with Jim" inone of his "raps," taken from a live performance.
"I remember a couple of things that really got me interested in the pool shark syndrome. TheEnglish have that fancy billiard, and you walk around with a brandy glass and stuff like that, butthe poolrooms over here are somethin' else. There used to be a place in Philadelphia that was aninstitution, called Allingers. I went up there one time to watch the best of the best, and they weregonna have one of these matches up there. It wasn't going to be on TV, it was gonna be one of thoseunderground things. And while everybody's getting it together I went up there to see what washappening. And the lights over the pool tables, and all these little bent people. When you shoot alotta pool you get a little bent, y'know. And I said something to somebody, and somebody saidsomething to me and I said something back and I went down two flights of concrete steps hitting thesteel lips on ‘em, like you find down in the subway. And I went down there on my backbone.Ssshhheww! And that put me into-a-world. I mean that's a whole different world by itself. Theworld of pain. Some people get off on it, the warning system of the human body, and you get to seethe American phenomenon of pool cue justice. I don't know if you've ever seen anybody hurt withone of those, but they really do a thing on you. Not even your mother will recognize you after youget hit with one of them. Whack! Boom! Fall down. Y'know they can really do a number on yournose."
Tell us about Jim's childhood growing up in Philadelphia and how that influenced the creationof songs like "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" and "You Don't Mess Around with Jim."Jim came from a traditional Italian middle-income family. While he was born in colorful SouthPhilly, he moved to Upper Darby and to Drexel Hill at a young age. Here in the suburbs, hisfamily lived in a comfortable two-story home. Jim attended St. Dorothy's Church on Sundays, andhis parents insisted that Jim graduate from Villanova and be the first in his family to earn acollege degree.
While Jim's mother, Flora, cooked memorable Italian feasts, Jim's father, the eldest of thirteenchildren, presided over frequent Croce family get-togethers at their home with aunts, uncles andcousins. These relatives provided Jim with his first audience and his first recognition for what helater termed "characters."
Jim always sought out the bizarre and unusual people, and from a very young age, endearingly, hemimicked his relatives and anyone else who caught his fancy, exaggerating the obvious. His timingwas right on.
I'll never forget meeting Uncle Sam on my first visit to the Croces' home.
"Uncle Sam," or "Uncle Meat," as Jim referred to him, was a savory Sicilian married to Jim'sfavorite aunt, Ginger. There I was sitting in the living room, feeling nervous about meeting hisfamily for the first time, when Jim comes from behind me and whispers apprehensively in myear, "Watch out for Uncle Sam, Ing. He's got a gun."
Jim also gathered his material from his experiences as a child, going into work with his dad downon Race Street, where the alleys were seedy, with pawnshops, drifters and colorful transients,who Jim thought were just great.
In a very intelligent, comical way, Jim lived vicariously through others and used his musicallanguage to interpret the fun and goodness he found in humanity, no matter how difficult theirplight.
In the early seventies, one of Jim's best friends, Melvin Goldfield, took Jim down to PassyunkAvenue, out by the airport, to a junkyard near where Melvin grew up. Melvin pointed to avicious, angry hound there, and referred to the barking canine and a "junkyard dog." Jim wentback home to the country in Lyndell and wrote "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown." That afternoon, theexpression "junkyard dog" was coined forever, for Americana.
Jim's music inspires and invigorates, but best of all, it often helps us to see ourselves in acomical, non-self important way. It encourages us to have a good time and not take life soseriously.
Jim Croce describes wonderful archetypes from the people he met along his way. With humor, hecould characterize the guy working at the car wash, dreaming of being an executive "sittin' in anair-conditioned office in a swivel chair," and "Rapid Roy the Stock Car Boy" with one tattoo on hisarm that says "Baby" and another one that just says "Hey." And the "Roller Derby Queen," builtlike a refrigerator with a head." She was "five foot six and two fifteen/A bleached-blond bomber,with a streak of mean."
Anecdotes From the Early Years
From Rocky Beginnings...
The Story Behind "I'll Have to Say I Love You In a Song"
Why Jim Croce Wrote "Operator"
Biography | Discography | Image Gallery | Periodicals | Memories | Home
© 1999 Croce's