Jim Croce’s son A.J. bottles time show remembering Jim

Jim Croce’s son A.J. bottles time show remembering Jim

Louise Hoffman Broach – Special to The Free Weekly

For a long time, A.J. Croce wasn’t interested in playing his father’s music. It wasn’t that he had anything against “Operator” or “Time in A Bottle,” or the other songs that endured after the elder Croce died in a plane crash when A.J. wasn’t yet 2 years old, way back in 1973.

But like most of us who don’t want to just be our parents’ children, he wanted to make a place for himself, his talent at the keyboard and his breathy voice at the microphone.

“I always knew I wanted to be a musician, but as a teen, when I started out, I had to get around the shadow of my dad,” Croce, now 52, says in a recent telephone interview from his home in East Nashville in anticipation of his show March 26 at TempleLive in Fort Smith. It is part of the Croce Plays Croce 50th Anniversary Tour that started last year and has been extended into 2024.

At first, he admired his dad’s record collection: blues and jazz, some on old 78s, that took him “down the rabbit hole” more than his dad’s actual music did, he admitted.

Croce, who was involved in the publishing side of the family business, says he didn’t see himself having a lot in common with his dad musically until he came across a practice tape of Jim Croce singing the obscure “You’re not the Oyster in my Stew,” made famous by Fats Waller in 1934.

“I was really turned on by the connection, with the love of the great old songs,” says A.J., who had also recorded the song.

So how did he know it was the right time to start playing his dad’s stuff?

“I already had a lot of chart success with my own music,” A.J. says about what would eventually be 10 studio albums of mostly original songs. His albums have all made it onto an impressive array of charts: Top 40, blues, Americana, jazz, college and Radio 1. His songwriting and style has evolved from jazz and blues on his debut and sophomore albums, to the roots-rock of collaborative recordings like “Cantos” with Ben Harper, “Twelve Tales” with the late Alan Toussaint, and “Just Like Medicine” with Vince Gill.

“So about 11 years ago, for his 70th birthday celebration, I started to sing one or two, and it was so much fun,” Croce says about performing his father’s songs in concert. The reaction he got from the audiences further encouraged him to embrace the exuberance of bringing the songs live as only he could do — as Croce’s son.

He continued to do “a song or two” of his father’s each show until the current tour of Croce Plays Croce, which includes most all of Jim’s hits (“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” “Time In A Bottle,” “Operator,” “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”) along with A.J.s music, which he performs with drummer Gary Mallaber (Van Morrison/Steve Miller Band), bassist/singer David Barard (Dr. John), and guitarist/violinist James Pennebaker (Delbert McClinton). He is accompanied by background singers Jackie Wilson and Katrice Donaldson.

Some of his own songs, “Just Like Medicine,” and “Hung Up on You,” echo some of his father’s voice and ragtime range. Croce says he can’t remember a time when he couldn’t play piano, but it wasn’t until he was 17 and playing in Arlo Guthrie’s living room in western Massachusetts that things fell in line in a big way.

A.J. became close to the Guthrie family through Arlo’s daughter, Cathy, who attended college in San Diego and worked for A.J.’s mom, Ingrid. Another visitor to the house at the time was Mae Axton, who was not only singer Hoyt’s mother but the writer of Elvis’s “Heartbreak Hotel.” She heard Croce and immediately reached out to Cowboy Jack Clement, a singer, songwriter and record producer in Nashville.

“She told him, ‘You gotta sign this guy,’” Croce says. And no cared, he adds, who his father was.

He hopes that what influenced him most about his father’s life’s work is his ability to communicate and connect with his audiences.

“I have recognized his great ability to tell a story in a song, and very few people have that gift,” Croce says. “I hope that I’ve grown into it. I’m not so worried about being famous as being good.”

Louise Hoffman Broach is the Sunday Editor at the Finger Lakes Times in Geneva, N.Y. She has been an editor and writer for almost 40 years and loves entertainment writing — music especially and roots music specifically. She does freelance writing for other publications on a regular basis.



Croce Plays Croce:

50th Anniversary Show

WHEN — 8 p.m. March 26

WHERE — TempleLive in Fort Smith

COST — $40-$89

INFO — fortsmith.templelive.com

Categories: Music