A.J. Croce has always traveled on his own musical road. For more than 25 years, the creative pop iconoclast has tapped a variety of Americana sounds in crafting his music. Croce’s nine albums have appeared on Top 40, AAA, Americana, College, and Jazz charts, and when his breakout sophomore CD That’s Me in the Bar was reissued recently, it wound up charting in two separate decades.
A.J. was only two years old when his father, legendary singer-songwriter Jim Croce, died in a tragic airplane crash in 1973, so he didn’t know his dad’s music firsthand. Instead, “I came to love it in the same way everyone else did,” he has explained, “by listening to the albums.” While he describes his father’s music as “part of me, part of my life,” A.J. doesn’t record the elder Croce’s music and mostly never performed the songs live. As a piano player, his interests tended to favor the blues and jazz-rooted music of musicians like Ray Charles and Allen Toussaint.
And even when A.J. began to present Jim Croce’s music in a special concert called “Croce Plays Croce” in large performing arts centers and concert series across the U.S., it wasn’t enough to inspire him to record his father’s work.
Last year, that changed when an ad agency reached out with a concept for him to record “I Got a Name,” his father’s 1973 posthumous hit, for a Goodyear commercial. Themed “Make a Name,” the ad follows Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s life, from watching his father, through his own race car driving career, to his recent retirement. As it happens, the song (written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel) was originally recorded by Jim Croce for The Last American Hero, abiopic about the life of legendary NASCAR driver Junior Johnson. The elder Croce titled what would be his last album after the song.Now, 45 years later, A.J.’s version will be released as a digital single, via Seedling Records on August 24, 2018, for a new generation to enjoy.
A.J. says, “I heard about the commercial when I was on tour and thought the concept was sincere. There aren’t a lot of people that grow up in the shadows of a famous musician, or race car driver. I get what he lived through and he gets what I lived through. Yet, we still pursue the thingsin our lives that make us happy and who we are.”
The artwork for the single salutes the original cover for the I Got a Name LP, which features Jim smoking a cigar in front of a wall with plants. The image of A.J. is by photographer/musician Joshua Black Wilkins and the art is by renowned illustrator Darren Grealish, who has created ’60s Fillmore-style concert posters for the likes of Jack White and Spoon, and is represented in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Jim Croce found long-overdue success in 1972 following years of struggling to make a name in the music business. That year he released two albums, You Don’t Mess Around With Jim and Life and Times, which spawned the hit singles “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels),” “Time in a Bottle,” and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” (the latter two tunes both reached Number #1). His final studio effort, I Got a Name, was released in December of 1973, less than three months after his death. Three more hits (“Workin’ at the Car Wash Blues,” “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song” and the title track) came from that album, which reached #2 in the album charts. A.J. notes that these three classic albums, amazingly, were recorded in just a one-and-a-half-year time period. Jim Croce, who was just 30 when he died, made folk-rock music that has remained popular over the years. His worldwide record sales have surpassed the 50 million mark, and his songs have appeared on more than 375 compilations.
A.J. Croce’s ninth studio album was released via Compass Records last summer. Produced by soul songsmith and producer Dan Penn (“Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”), it’s his most soulful effort to date. It was written mostly by Croce, with one song a co-write with the late great Leon Russell and one an original Jim Croce composition, never before recorded. The album features many music luminaries including Steve Cropper, Vince Gill, and Jeff Taylor (The Time Jumpers) and an all-star band with David Hood, Colin Linden, Bryan Owings, The Muscle Shoals Horns, and the McCrary Sisters.
Forbesmagazine said this about the “Make a Name” commercial: “The collaboration brings together many elements that make it an authentic story about carrying on a legacy that’s sure to be a hit with NASCAR fans.”