A.J. Croce Honors His Father Jim Croce With 50th Anniversary Concert In Red Bank
When singer/songwriter Jim Croce passed away in a plane crash in September 1973, his son AJ Croce was not quite two years old.
Now 50 years later, AJ is bringing his late father’s legacy to Red Bank New Jersey with the Croce Plays Croce 50th Anniversary Tour.
JIM MONAGHAN – Here on All Mixed Up at 105.5. WDHA my guest this morning, you’ll recognize the name, or you should at least. AJ Croce, good morning.
AJ CROCE – Hey, Jim. How are you?
JM – I’m good. I was a huge fan of your dad’s music, as so many people are, and I’m very excited about this. Croce Plays Croce 50th Anniversary Tour which gets into two dates in our area. October 30 in Red Bank at the Count Basie Theater and November 4 in Manhattan at Town Hall. You waited a long time before starting to play your dad’s music publicly. When you first did, what were the emotions like for you?
AC – It was terrifying when I first did it because I was been a piano player my entire life and in learning guitar in my thirty’s and starting to throw in a song of his every now and again, it felt a bit ominous. But as time went on it just became a joy. It became such a pleasure and really an honor.
JM – You just mentioned it. You waited a long time before learning the guitar. You started out as a piano player. Why did you wait so long?
AC – I wanted to be great. I wanted to be great at what I did. Also, my dad played guitar and so by playing piano and just being turned on by the instrument, that’s how it went.
JM – AJ Croce my guest this morning at 105.5 WDHA. One of the songs that stands out, that I know you’ll be doing is “I Got a Name.” And while your dad didn’t write that song, the line “I got a name and I carry it with me like my daddy did” – I get chills just thinking about the son of the man who made that song famous, singing it, AJ.
AC – It’s a pretty amazing thing. And I had Charlie Fox, who was one of the co-writers of that song, sit in with me in Los Angeles about a month ago and it was really beautiful because being able to share that song, my father loved that song because of the timing. He had just released his first album, was in the studio recording his second album with “Leroy Brown” and all that and Charlie and Norman Gimbal brought that song in for a film. It wasn’t supposed to be a single or an album cut or certainly not the title of his last album, but my grandfather had just passed away and had never seen my father’s success. So it was a really personal song for him. He really identified with it. And then, of course, I do, because of my father not being able to see his success.
JM – AJ Croce with us this morning here at 105.5 WDHA. AJ bringing the Croce Plays Croce 50th Anniversary Tour to our area for two shows, October 30 in Red Bank and then November 4 in Manhattan. What have you learned about your dad from playing his songs, AJ?
AC – He was very funny. He was a great songwriter. I love his storytelling. That is the thing that is really unique about him as a writer. He was able to do it and tell stories about people and make heroes of people who were everyday folks. And I love that about his writing. Obviously, growing up, playing different music, playing with Ray Charles and BB. King and those artists, I could always hear in my father those influences. I could hear Jimmy Reed in “Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” I could hear Chuck Berry in “Rapid Roy.” I could hear these influences of people that I was also influenced by. So that is something I always dig in playing this music is maybe taking a little bit of where that came from and getting to focus on it on a particular evening.
JM – And by the same token, what have you learned about yourself through this process of playing your dad’s songs?
AC – Well, I think one of the things is that I had always been afraid of touching his music. First of all, I didn’t think there was integrity in it for many years. And then I felt honestly afraid of the comparisons that would be made. But now, at my age, I’m 22 years older than my father at this point, I feel like it’s the time to celebrate his legacy and celebrate his music and really bring this joyful show to the public.
JM – I mentioned that I was a big fan of your dad’s music. In fact, I remember the moment when I heard on the radio the day that he passed away. And I just remember having to take a moment. For my generation, for many of us, your dad was our Buddy Holly who had passed away himself in a plane crash, as I’m sure, you know, some years before. And I think it’s kind of fitting that when this first leg of the tour ends in mid-December, you’re doing it at the Buddy Holly Hall in Lubbock, Texas. Kind of like bringing it full circle.
AC – It really is, in a way. And I always saw that similarity. Of course, Jim, because I love Buddy Holly. Who wouldn’t? I don’t think he wrote a bad song. He had a little longer than my father did. Surprisingly, when you think about it, my father’s career lasted 18 months. Three records in 18 months. And it was so many great songs in that short moment in time.
JM – Tell us about the band you’ve put together for this tour, AJ.
AC – It’s really wonderful. On the drums, Gary Mallaber who you’ve heard on Van Morrison records like “Moondance” and “Tupelo Honey” and “Saint Dominic’s Preview.” He was the drummer for the Steve Miller Band for 25 years. So all those records that you know of his and Joe Walsh and Peter Frampton and Bonnie Raitt and on and on. My bass player (David Barard) also sings background. He’s from New Orleans and you’ve heard him with Dr. John. He was with Dr. John for almost 40 years. And Allenn Toussaint, Erma Thomas and Lee Dorsey and Patty Labelle and Etta James and BB. And all these artists. And my guitarist is James Pennebaker, obviously we’re playing those two guitar parts. And James has done an amazing job of learning Maury’s parts, Maury Muehleisen’s original parts and then contributing his own parts to some of these things as well. And then the singers are just wonderful – Katrice Donaldson and Jackie Wilson. They’re just beautiful people. And it comes across.
JM – You mentioned Maury, and he was an incredibly underrated guitar player.
AC – He was. And he hadn’t played guitar for very long. He was a child prodigy on the piano. He’s a classical pianist. And when he switched, guitar was his rebellion, in a way. Musical rebellion. He switched over at 18. He was only 23, 24 years old when they passed. So he was very young. His musical identity had not even begun.
JM – The Croce Plays Croce 50th Anniversary Tour coming to the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank on October 30 and then Town Hall in Manhattan on November 4. You can get all the details on the tour and the shows at ajcrocemusic.com. AJ, thank you so much for your time this morning here on WDHA. And best of luck with these shows.
AC – Thank you so much, Jim. Take care.