On Sept. 20, 1973, Jim Croce died in a tragic plane crash. At 30, the legendary singer-songwriter was at the height of his career. Known for his signature handlebar mustache, jean jacket and humble everyman demeanor, Croce enamored audiences with hit songs like “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” and “Time in a Bottle.” Yet, fans may have known less than they thought about the man behind the mustache.
“I Got a Name: The Jim Croce Story” (Da Capo, $25) is a revealing biographical memoir of the entertainer’s life as told by his widow, Ingrid Croce. The pair connected over music, fell madly in love when they were just kids — Ingrid a 16-year-old Philadelphia-based high school student and Jim a sophomore at Villanova — and were married just a few years later. The story Croce narrates is not always pretty, but it’s honest, personal and told with love.
The biography recounts Croce’s childhood and upbringing in a hardworking South Philly Italian family, his college days spent making music and working at the Villanova University radio station, his short time in the Army national Guard base camp (where he met Sgt. Leroy Brown), and his various friendships with the eccentric blue-collared characters who inspired many of his songs. The bio contains a litany of images and intimate love letters to his wife, and readers are sure to be charmed by his wry sense of humor revealing a young couple struggling to succeed as artists. Croce’s eventual rise to fame came at the cost of a bad contract, endless days on the road and overbearing exhaustion. Croce was prone to outbursts of anger, as evidenced in a violent attack against Ingrid. His recreational drug use turned dangerous and his occasional affairs with groupies threatened to ruin his marriage. Croce was trying desperately to make things right by his wife and their two-year-old son when his life was cut short.
“From ‘Bad, Bad Leroy Brown’ to ‘Time in a Bottle,’ Jim’s writing and heartfelt songs touched me in a way that left me excited and yet speechless,” noted fellow singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder. “His spectrum of creativity told me that he had so much to say in his writing, in his music, with his instrument, with his voice and in his songs. His gift haunts me forever.”
When Croce’s biggest single, “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,"” hit No. 1 on the American charts in July 1973, the Croces relocated to San Diego, Calif. Croce had just finished recording the album “I Got a Name” just over a week before his death. His widow raised their son, A.J. Croce, who, despite losing his sight in childhood, has followed in his father’s footsteps and has released five music albums of his own. Today, Ingrid Croce is an artist, entrepreneur, restauranteur, singer-songwriter and author of several books, including “Photographs and Memories — Recipes from Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar (www.croces.com).”