While attending Villanova College, the Philly born singer/songwriter formed various bands, doing fraternity parties and playing "anything that the people wanted to hear: blues, rock, acapella, railroad music...anything." One of those bands was chosen for a foreign exchange tour of Africa and the Middle East. After a stint as a university DJ, Croce played in various rock bands before moving to New York to play in folk clubs in 1967.
He and his wife Ingrid were signed to Capitol Records and released the unsuccessful recording Approaching Day. The album's failure led to Croce's returning to Pennsylvania and taking on work as a truck driver and telephone engineer (an experience that perhaps later inspired one of his most memorable hits, "Operator.") Tommy West, who had attended Villanova College with Jim, introduced them to Terry Cashman, and in 1969, Cashman and West produced their album, Jim and Ingrid. They remained on the coffeehouse circuit for a year and a half, involving themselves in the music business and collecting guitars. They soon became discouraged by the agitation and pressures of city life, and moved to Lyndell, Pennsylvania, where they had their son, Adrian James (now a New Orleans flavored solo artist in his own right). Ingrid learned to bake bread and to can fruits and vegetables, and Jim sold the guitars he had accumulated, one by one. When the guitars ran out, he worked construction again and did some studio work in New York.
His first album, 1972's You Don't Mess Around With Jim, was an instant success. Jim immediately became a top billed club and concert performer. The title song, "Time in a Bottle" and "Operator" culled from the album, were highly successful singles. The personal warmth of Jim's performances garnered him a variety of audiences. Jim remarked at the time that he was glad he was no longer," running jackhammers. It's a lot easier to have a good time. I think music should make people sit back and want to touch each other...I just hope people get a kick out of it."
Apparently, they did. Croce's second album, 1973's Life and Times provided him with another hit, the funky "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" which, along with "Operator" and "Time In A Bottle," helped establish Croce as an above-average songwriter and unique performer. The album also climbed to the top of the US album chart.
His last album, I Got A Name, was released in December 1973. Completed in September 1973, a week later his plane snagged in trees at the end of the poorly-lit runway at Natchitoches, Louisiana, and along with his guitarist Maury Mulheisen and four other passengers, Jim was killed. He was 30 years old.
In the wake of his death, he scored another US Top 10 hit with "I Got A Name," which was featured in the Jeff Bridges movie The Last American Hero. The contemplative "Time In A Bottle" provided Croce with a further posthumous U.S. #1. It was a fitting valediction. During 1974, further releases kept Croce's name on the U.S. charts, including "I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song" and "Workin' At The Car Wash Blues."
Over 30 years after the abrupt end of one of the early 70's great folk rock careers, Jim Croce's image and namesake is alive and well in downtown San Diego, where his widow Ingrid has run a jazz club, Croce's Top Hat, for several decades.