I first met Jim Croce thirty years ago, on a snowy night two days before Christmas. I wasauditioning to be a contestant in an upcoming hootenanny at WEAS radio station in Philadelphia; asophomore from Villanova University, he was one of the judges for the contest.As I stood before the microphone, intently tuning my guitar, I got this funny feeling that someonewas watching me. I looked up through the smoky studio glass into the control booth and met thebiggest, saddest brown eyes IÕd ever seen. Jim grinned sheepishly, and his eyes relaxed theirhold. He was shy and at the same time, very intense; handsome, with his dark, curly hair croppedshort.
After the audition, Jim came into the studio. Clumsily, he tripped over the microphone cord, andcatching his balance, he managed, "I like your voice. Maybe we could sing together sometime."That night I passed the audition and made the first cut. I also fell madly in love. I was sixteen andJim was almost twenty.
He began our first rehearsal a few weeks later by telling me a story about Woody Guthrie andteaching me "Pastures of Plenty." With his 12-string in hand, all signs of shyness melted. Hisvoice was honest, gentle, and yet passionate. He taught me a harmony and our voices blendedseamlessly. We became best friends instantly and I knew we would marry.
Jim and I were together from that first rehearsal in January 1963 until his untimely death inSeptember 1973. This anthology contains a collection of JimÕs music, and some of ours, thatspans the emotions of those tumultuous ten years. Until Jim went on the road and became a publicfigure in 1971, we did everything together. We made love, made war, made music, and best of all,made our son, Adrian James Croce.
Jim would have been 50 years old this year and to this day, 19 years after the plane crash inNatchitoches, Louisiana, I am still blessed with the good feeling Jim gave to his fans. I have openeda restaurant/nightclub called "CroceÕs" in San Diego, and every day, people who were touched byJim stop by to say hello. IÕve met Vietnam vets, Manhattan lawyers, Montana ranchers, couplesfrom everywhere, tourists from England, France, Australia and Japan who come to tell me aboutthe time they met Jim after a concert or how a particular song helped them through somepersonal difficulty. At times like that I can still hear JimÕs sly, streetwise voice saying, "I findthat you can get a bunch of people from different backgrounds into one room for a concert and theywill get off on it when you present the basic experiences that are common to us all."
On January 10, 1943, James Joseph Croce was born in South Philadelphia into the Italian familyof James Albert and Flora Mary Babucci Croce. They had plans for his future: as the eldest son ofthe eldest son, he would be the first in his family to get a college education. Then he would marrya nice Italian girl and settle down nearby in their middle class, Italian community to a steady jobwith a pension.
Jim started singing at Sunday family get-togethers. By the age of four, he had a half-hourrepertoire of songs that included everything from Fats WallerÕs "Oyster in the Stew" to GuyLombardoÕs "Boo Hoo." Then at age five, Jim began formal training on the accordion.
The Croces were very proud of their "Little Jimmy" and paraded him and his instrument in frontof audiences of family and friends, at church functions and variety shows. Never shy on stage, Jimbegan early, practicing his music and his humor. The audiences loved him.
Around the age of 16, while working a summer job, he met two old black men who played guitarduring their breaks. Jim was mesmerized by their playing and asked for lessons. He was told thatif heÕd get a guitar they would teach him some chords. He took his brother RichÕs much neglectedclarinet down to a pawn shop on Race Street and traded it for an old Harmony F-slot guitar.
While a freshman at Villanova University, he auditioned for the college glee club and The Spireswith Tommy Picardo (West). Recognizing his talent, Tommy made Jim a soloist for the groupsand a long personal and professional friendship began.
At school, Jim was introduced to the humor of Lenny Bruce, the hipness of Lord Buckley and "TheNaz," the bawdy ballads of Oscar Brand, to Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan, to Woody Guthrie,Leadbelly, and RamblinÕ Jack Elliott. He absorbed them all and began to round them into his ownpersonality and performing style.
JimÕs father and mother, concerned about their sonÕs studies, put pressure on Jim to "getserious" about finding a real job. In the words of James Sr., "only bums make a living at playingmusic." But nothing that his parents could say would change his mind.
In early 1963, Jim took his ever growing repertoire and began to perform solo at small clubsand coffeehouses in New YorkÕs Greenwich Village. As a duo, we were writing and performing atlocal clubs like The 2nd Fret, The Gilded Cage, and The Main Point. Our song listincluded tunes by Ian and Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, Joan Baez, and Woody Guthrie.
Then Jim got his first long-term gig at a rural bar and steak house in Lima, Pennsylvania calledthe Riddle Paddock. Here Jim honed act. This 60-seat pub became a testing ground. He loved thevolatile mix of the audience, ranging from sheep herders, redneck construction workers and thelocal bar toads, to hippies, blacks, and college kids, all in the intimacy the Paddock provided. Inorder to keep the bar brawls to a minimum, Jim developed his raps and style of talking to thecrowd between the songs. He would hold their attention by telling them humorous stories or byeducating them about the origin and history of his favorite bawdy ballads.
We were married in 1966. In 1967 and 1968, while I was attending Moore College of Art, Jimworked two jobs. He was a special education teacher at Pulasky Junior High in Chester,Pennsylvania and he walked the streets of West Philly selling air time and writing commercialsfor a black radio station. We continued singing at the Paddock and writing together hoping thatJim could pursue his music after I graduated. In the meantime, Tommy West had moved to NewYork and formed a production company with Terry Cashman (Dennis Minouge) and Gene Pistilli.
Tommy called Jim in the fall of 1968 and enticed him to move to New York for a year. Hepromised Jim heÕd get him some gigs and enough publishing money to make it worth the move.There we became the first act to be signed to TommyÕs new production company: Cashman, Pistilliand West.
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