It’s been over 50 years since we saw Jim Croce in concert, August of 1973. It’s better to remember that excellent performance, than to recall his sad death a month later, September 20th, 1973. Jim Croce was only 30-years-old, and his accompanying guitarist and harmony singer, Maury Muehleisen, was just 24 when their small plane crashed on takeoff, killing all onboard.
But let’s go back to a little over a year earlier, mid 1972. Jim Croce released his breakthrough album, You Don’t Mess Around With Jim. That was also the name of his first Top-10 single at #8. His second single was “Operator”, and it reached #17. We bought the album at that time, and found it had other great songs, including “Time In A Bottle” and “Photographs And Memories”.
Jim Croce’s songs joined those by some of our favorite artists of that time, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Carole King, and other singer-songwriters. Croce, who was from Philadelphia, had his own style of songwriting. His album included uptempo urban stories, such as the pool hall setting of “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”, along with the insightful and emotional lyrics of his ballads. We also purchased Jim Croce’s next album in 1973.
Life And Times came out only a month before we saw his concert, but two singles from the album…”One Less Set Of Footsteps” and “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” had been released earlier, and “Leroy Brown” hit #1. Then we saw Jim Croce at the Hampton Roads Coliseum near Norfolk, Virginia.
It was August 6th, 1973, and Croce opened for Loggins & Messina. The concert was one of our favorites, and the musicianship was amazing for the whole night. We attended the show with friends Don and Linda MacLeod, and the four of us were in the second row. Don took the photos of Jim and Maury.
They performed the best songs from Jim’s first two albums, and we were also treated to new songs from an album he was recording. Those songs included “I Got A Name” (#10), “I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song” (#9), and “Workin’ At The Car Wash Blues” (#32). That last one is actually my favorite of his “character” songs, even though it wasn’t as big a hit as a couple others.
We left the concert very impressed with Jim Croce, and we were looking forward to his next album. Then came the tragic news of the plane crash on September 20th, 1973. The crash was listed as “pilot error”. He took off in darkness and fog, and didn’t clear a tree near the end of the runway.
The album, I Got A Name, was released December 1st, 1973, and went to #2 on the charts for two weeks. It was behind You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, which was #1 for five weeks after Croce’s death. Besides the three hits on Jim’s last album, there are a couple more songs of that quality…”Age (Right Back Where I Started)” and “Thursday (You Were Looking For A Friend)”.
“Time In A Bottle” was released posthumously as a single, because of how appropriate the lyrics are…”There never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do…”. The song reaching #1 was what helped pull Croce’s 1972 album to #1 too.
After 50 years, Jim Croce’s recordings remain popular with the public, and on our playlists.