A.J. Croce Revisits His Father’s Music

Despite having nine critically acclaimed solo albums of his own (including last year’s Just Like Medicine), A.J. Croce will always be associated with another musician: his father, Jim Croce. The late great American folk and rock singer scored a string of hits in the early ‘70s like “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and “Time in a Bottle,” before tragically dying in a plane crash in 1973. But A.J. embraces the affiliation. He recently started performing “Two Generations of American Music” concerts, in which he performs his father’s classics, some original material, plus songs that both he and his father shared a love for. Long Islanders can catch the show at the Boulton Center for the Performing Arts in Bay Shore on April 27. 

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Let’s talk about your new album, Just Like Medicine.
This album was unique in that I think if you’re with an independent label, you really need to focus on having a story behind any kind of project that you do. And we really did with this. Dan Penn produced it—he is an engineer at Muscle Shoals—and Steve Cropper [from Booker T & the MG’s] was a part of it. The whole band was just dynamite—the Muscle Shoals Horns, the McCrary Sisters. We didn’t want to be doing covers of Memphis stuff and Motown. We weren’t trying to copy anything. 

We also made it a mono recording, 16-track, live to tape…On some of the songs, I’m playing percussion while I’m playing piano, and it’s completely live. It’s just like a concert. But the mono concept wasn’t meant to be corny in any way…I thought it was a pretty cool way of being able to make stuff sound good on an iPhone because we’re kind of listening to transistor radios like we did when we were kids with these little speakers.

The album features an unreleased track that was written by your father, “The Name of the Game.”  
I had heard this recording for many years. I had a cassette of it and thought it was a really soulful tune. I never really thought of recording something of my dad’s because he did a great job of recording his own stuff. But this was kind of a special thing and I threw it in with a bunch of other songs I had written. I wrote a lot with Leon Russell in the final years of his life and I threw it in with that, and said, “Dan, pick the stuff you like.” Because he is such a great writer…I thought, “He’s going to know what stuff is good.” And he picked it. It was special. I got to arrange this song that my dad never had a chance to. I should also mention it was a song written to follow the album after I Got a Name. So, it was probably the last thing he wrote. 

How many of your father’s lyrics were probably autobiographical? 
I think of there being three kinds of songs that he wrote. There’s the character songs, which are very inspired by Leiber and Stoller—“Leroy Brown,” “Car Wash Blues” or “Rapid Roy.” They’re kind of like R&B songs that the Coasters would have played. And they were about people he met; it’s not really about himself. Then, you have songs that are very personal, like “Time in a Bottle,” “These Dreams” or “Lover’s Cross.” And then, you have something like “Operator,” which is more him stepping back from his perspective and looking at it from another person’s story. 

Although you were only about 2 years old when your father passed, do you have any memories of him? 
I have this sense of security, this sense of being held. Like, when you’re a kid, you don’t necessarily remember everything, but you have a sense of someone. As a kid, you feel safe in your parent’s arms. It’s something that is hard to talk about because it is an ethereal thing. But through every friend, my mother, all the stories and photos and tapes to have gotten to know him by, the one thing that he said to me—and recorded for me—was a very simple advice. He said, “Adrian, I want you to know…don’t be an asshole.” [Laughs]

What can people expect at the upcoming show in Bay Shore? 
This “Two Generations” show is a pretty energetic concert where you get a sense of my dad’s music of course, my music and the music that connects us. Whether it’s ‘20s blues or some kind of ‘30s jazz, or whether it’s ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll or ‘60s soul music, if my dad covered it, then we might touch on it. There were a lot of songs that we had in common by Bessie Smith, Fats Waller or it could be a Louis Prima thing, or Sam Cooke or Otis Redding…There were a lot of songs that I never knew he covered until I was in my thirties. A lot of people don’t know anything about my music, and that’s totally fine. I do this because I love it, not because I wanted to be famous. I’ve done it for 25 years now…And what people know of my father’s music was 18 months. It was a very brief period of his life.

greg prato

greg prato

Greg Prato has lived almost his entire life on Long Island. He has written for Rolling Stone, and has penned many a book on either rock n’ roll or sports. See what he’s up to on Twitter @gregpratowriter.