Remembering the Late, Great Jim Croce

croceHis songs are still on the radio, some of them anyway.  Oldies stations play only the ones that move fast.  I think they’re afraid younger, short-attention span listeners will tune out a love song or a ballad.  Not me.  Jim Croce only had a big-time career for 18 months or so, but man, did he make an impact.

He’s the guy on the left (above).  Those of us who grew up in the pre-MTV days of album cover art would recognize that mustache anywhere!  As the title of a Jim Croce album puts it so well, “Photographs and Memories.”  That album was released after he died in a plane crash on September 20, 1973: just over forty years ago.  The guy on the right is Maury Muehleisen, not as familiar name or face, but I’ll bet you’ll recognize the guitar riffs and vocal harmonies.  He was on that plane too, which crashed shortly after takeoff.  Croce and company were leaving one show in Louisiana, enroute to another one in Texas.

“Operator” was one in a nice string of hits Croce and Muehleisen recorded and performed in 1972 and 1973.  The music was memorable, but so were the words.  I have so many favorite Croce lines.  From “Operator,” I love the way he sings, “Operator, oh let’s forget about this call, there’s no one there I really wanted to talk to. Thank you for your time, oh you’ve been so much more than kind. And you can keep the dime…”

Most oldies stations today pump out his first hit, 1972′s “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” which took us to 42nd Street, where we met Big Jim Walker, that pool-shooting son of a gun.  A year later, he went uptempo again with another summertime smash, “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.”  Say those words to anybody who grew up in the 70s, and I guarantee you they’ll come right back with “the baddest man in the whole damn town.”  That’s another one you hear in the background a lot these days.

Many of his other hits are not as familiar to today’s listeners.  “Like the pine trees lining the winding road, I got a name,” he would sing, painting word pictures.

A few months after his death, his recorded words spoke for so many of us tongue-tied guys: “I know it’s kinda strange.  Every time I’m near you, I just run out of things to say.  I know you’d understand.  Every time I tried to tell you, the words just came out wrong, so I’ll have to say I love you…in a song.”

All this and more, recorded and released in about 18 months.  These days, the major hit makers might treat us to two big hits in that period of time.  Croce was from a different era, when the Beatles, CCR, Elton John and so many others cranked them out, every 3 months or so, year after year.  They wrote them, sang them and produced them.  No  AutoTune, no tricks.  It was the real thing.

Everybody I mentioned seemed to be most productive and commercially successful in their 20s. That’s the nature of the business, it’s a young person’s game.  They all kept recording, and those who survive still do, but they’re mainly known for their youthful-era hits.  We’ll never know if Jim Croce would have given us more musical photographs and memories.  Maybe those songs he left us were the best he’d ever record.  But something tells me there were more stories to tell, more characters to create, and more heartfelt words we couldn’t bring ourselves to say.

When I posted his most famous song, “Time in a Bottle,” on Facebook on the 40th anniversary of his death, I was touched by a response from Elaine Kirby McEwen, who wrote, “My husband used a (Jim Croce) quote to propose to me. “I’ve looked around enough to know, that you’re the one I want to go through time with.”

I was disappointed that the 40th anniversary of Jim Croce’s death didn’t get much mainstream media attention.  There’s a memorial concert here and there, and an observance or two, but on a national scale he’s fading quickly into the fog of obscurity.  Sirius XM’s bland 70s music channel (70s on 7) plays his two upbeat songs regularly, but ignores the others.  They didn’t even take the time to acknowledge the anniversary of his death on their Facebook page.

That points out a great benefit of our modern-day era, with our mobile devices, iPods and computers that store the songs we love, some even with video.  Hard as they may try, the national radio programmers and consultants haven’t taken Jim Croce’s music away from me.  I am proud to share a little of it with you today, and hope you’ll find more when you get a chance.

About David Carroll

David Carroll grew up surrounded by the sights and sounds of broadcasting. As a teenager, David began his radio career in South Pittsburgh, Tennessee before making it to the “Great Jet-Fli,” WFLI, the 50,000 watt rock ‘n roll voice of Chattanooga. David was the first voice on the city’s powerful KZ-106 rock station before switching to TV. Since 1987 he has anchored the evening news on WRCB Channel 3, the NBC affiliate. Since April 2013, he has blogged purely for his own amusement, but hopes others enjoy it as well. To contact David, Email: 3dc@comcast.net

Comments

  1. Wow I’m glad I stumbled upon this site.
    I’ve been a Jim Croce fan from the first time I heard one of his songs in the early to mid 70s
    Can’t recall the 70s all that well ; )

    Jim Croce is a genuine musical genius.
    His talent was so vast that very few musicians can begin to compare with just how brilliant this man truly was.
    Nobody told a story in music like Jim did.

    He could sing you a story song that would leave you rolling on the floor in tears with your sides splitting.
    “Doin 90 days for non support”
    “They wouldn’t listen to the fact that I was a genius”
    I love it !!!!

    Then Jim would sing those great lost love ballads
    He was truly the master and they never failed to move you.
    And then he would hit you with “The Top Hat Bar & Grill”
    What I always found so unique about Jim is that he wasn’t just an amazing singer song writer and story teller.

    Jim was also a great teacher about life and living.
    Jim made many people understand that life could be very painful at times and we are all going to loose a great love and feel the overwhelming pain .

    But he also made it clear that Tomorrow would indeed be a brighter day and that the same overwhelming pain would become laughter,joy and tremendous fun

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