Natchitoches, LA

Jim Croce: The Tragic Death of the Pop-Rock-Country Music Star

Herbie J Pilato

Jim Croce remains one of the most beloved pop-rock-country music stars of all time, decades after his demise.

As explained on the performer's official website, when Croce "stepped on stage at Northwestern State University in Louisiana on September 20, 1973, he was riding a wave of long-overdue success. Over the prior year and a half, the 30-year-old singer/songwriter had gone from an opening act to the headliner. He had released two much-loved albums with a third, I Got A Name, due to come out in 10 days.

"Since the release of his ABC Records debut, You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, in early 1972," the website continues to document, "Croce had been working virtually non-stop. A surprise hit, the album produced three high-charting singles: the title track, 'Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels),' and 'Time In A Bottle,' and his follow-up, 1973’s Life And Times yielded his first #1 hit, 'Bad Bad Leroy Brown.'

"After his September 20th concert, Croce and his small crew, including guitarist and close friend Maury Muehleisen flew out of Natchitoches Airport on a chartered plane. Seconds after take-off, the plane crashed. No one survived.

"Ironically, it was the news of his tragic plane crash that made Jim Croce a household name. Upon its release, I Got  A Name quickly shot to #1, while his previous release, Life And Times, rose to #2 on the Billboard Album Chart (a feat unequaled until Guns and Roses achieved it in 1991). At the 1974 American Music Awards, Croce posthumously won 'Favorite Male Vocalist Pop/Rock' honors. Singles from all three albums crowded the top ten, with 'Time In A Bottle' reaching number #1 in 1974. The song’s powerful, poignant lyrics foresaw a short life and what was dearest about it.

"James Joseph Croce was born in South Philadelphia into a working-class Italian family on January 10, 1943. Croce grew up listening to all kinds of music, from Enrico Caruso to Fats Waller. After getting his first guitar, he became interested in R&B, rock, and roll, country, blues, and folk – music that influenced his own songwriting.

"Croce attended Villanova University (the first in his family to go to college). In 1963, Croce helped judge a Philadelphia hootenanny band competition. The winning group featured a 16-year-old singer named Ingrid Jacobson. Jim and Ingrid fell in love immediately. Soon the two began performing together and, in 1966, they married.

"Jim and Ingrid continued playing music while she attended art school and he joined the Army National Guard and then worked as a high school teacher, a truck driver, and a DJ. Capitol Records signed the folk-singing duo, but [with] their 1968 debut, Jim and Ingrid Croce fared poorly. After years of juggling jobs with making music, Croce saw himself at a career crossroads when 1970 arrived. Late that year, however, Jim learned that Ingrid was pregnant with their son, Adrian James, and he felt a renewed mission to make it in the music industry. That same night Jim wrote 'Time In A Bottle' for his wife and unborn son.

"After signing with ABC Records in 1971, Croce spent the next two years touring or in the studio away from his family and friends. Despite finding success, he was burned out from the road by September 1973. Broke due to bad business agreements, Jim moved with Ingrid and their baby to San Diego hoping for a fresh start. He planned on taking a break after his tour was done, but the tragic plane crash changed everything.  

"Jim Croce’s songs and his legacy, however, continue to live on. His record sales have surpassed the 45 million mark. His music has been covered by countless artists and appeared in many films and TV shows. In 1990, Croce was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame," the website concludes.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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