He returned to Philadelphia and had decided to be "serious", but it was hard to make a living playing in a band. His determination led to a job at a Philadelphia R&B radio station, where he translated commercials into Soul. "I'd sell airtime to Bronco's Poolroom, and then write the spot: 'You wanna be cool, and you wanna shoot pool...(dig it).'" Increasingly frustrated, he quit to teach guitar at a summer camp and even enlisted in the U.S. Army.
After his military stint was over, he briefly went back to the radio station again, and then tried teaching "special education" to discipline problem students in a Philadelphia high school. Finally he decided to give his music a chance.
After playing mostly in some pretty tough bars, he and his wife, Ingrid, whom he had married on August 28, 1966 , moved to New York and began working in coffee houses. Tommy West, who had attended Villanova College with Jim, introduced them to Terry Cashman, and in 1969, Cashman and West produced an album for called "Jim and Ingrid". They remained on the coffee house 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. Ingrid learned to bake bread and to can fruits and vegetables and Jim, like a rich lady selling her jewels, sold the guitars he had accumulated, one by one. When the guitars ran out, he worked in construction again and did some studio work in New York. "Mostly background 'oohs' and 'ahhs' for commercials. I kept thinking, 'maybe tomorrow I'll sing some words.'"
When Jim got a chance to record again, he turned out an album called "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" and the title track was released as a single. Surprisingly, it reached the U.S. Top 10 and Jim's easy going style suddenly made a definite impact on the American public. The second single pulled from the album, "Operator" received substantial radio air-play and was respected by music people even more than his first single. "One Less Set of Footsteps" was played but never sold very well nor was it too highly regarded for its artistic merit. The fourth single, however, "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" became a gigantic single record reaching #1 on the national charts in July of 1973, ultimately selling more than 2,000,000 copies.
By August 1973, "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" was the #1 single in the country. Jim travelled back and forth across the United States playing every major coffee house and club and appearing in hundreds of concerts. He had appeared on national television no fewer than seven times. In June of that year he hosted The Midnight Special, recorded "I Got A Name" and had sold out the prestigious L.A. club, The Troubadour, for a solid week's engagement. In late July he drew 12,000 people to the Ravina Folk Festival outside Chicago and all involved in his career realized that these events were the sure signs that long-term success was inevitable.
In the early part of September, Jim's own song, "Time In A Bottle," was used as the theme of an ABC Television movie called "She Lives." This movie was seen nationally and the next day major radio stations across the country began receiving an extraordinary number of requests for the relatively obscure album cut. "Time In A Bottle" was destined then to become another #1 record for Jim.
But Jim Croce would never see his song top the record charts. On September 20th, just after playing what would be his last concert, at Northwestern State University, Natchitoches, Louisiana, his small charter plane, a Beechcraft D-18, was taking off in bad weather and hit a tree just after take-off. He and Maury Muehleisen, his lead guitarist, were both killed in the crash, along with the other members of the plane's crew. Jim is buried at Haym Salomon Memorial Park in Frazer, Pennsylvania.
Jim Croce was one of the most superb songwriter/guitarist of his time. His ability to create songs was almost unmatched. He used no amps, just an acoustic guitar, and a microphone. Maybe this is part of what makes his music so incredible. No electric effects or distortions, just plain, good, old acoustic guitar.
Jim was described by everyone who knew him as "an easy going, all around, nice guy." A lot of this is shown in the majority of his songs. His songs were "human" in nature, almost all of which deal with real life situations. Speaking about his style of music, Croce said, "I kinda like to write songs about things that a lot of people have experience with, 'cause it really makes the songs communicate".
After Jim's death, "Operator" started getting even more airplay and the singles "I Got a Name", "Time in a Bottle", "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song" and "Workin' At The Car Wash Blues" were posthumous Top Ten hits. A fourth album, "Photographs & Memories" was packaged as a greatest hits collection in the Fall of 1974.
In 1985, Ingrid opened an upscale restaurant, called Croce's Restaurant & Jazz Bar, which is located in the Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego, that is dedicated to Jim's memory. Her administrative offices are across the street and are home to her publishing companies, Time in a Bottle and Avalanche Records And Books. She has also opened Jim's official website, JimCroce.com. Jim's son, A.J. Croce followed his father's footsteps and released an album called "Fit to Serve".
Croce's catalog became a staple of radio play for years and still receives significant airplay on a variety of radio formats into the new millenium. In 1990, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
In 2000, the Martin guitar company produced 73 guitars in honor of Jim Croce. In each of these guitars, an uncirculated 1973 dime was inserted in the neck near the third fret, in reference to the line from "Operator", You can keep the dime.
In May, 2008, as a tribute to the 35th anniversary of Jim's death, Rhino Records announced that his three studio albums will be reissued on CD. 1972's "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" and the following year's "Life and Times" have never been available in that format, while 1973's "I Got a Name" was issued on CD, but has been out of print for the better part of the decade.
Jim Croce's Greatest Hits:
You Don't Mess Around With Jim -- 1972
Operator (That's Not The Way It Feels) -- 1972
One Less Set of Footsteps -- 1973
Bad, Bad Leroy Brown -- 1973
I Got A Name -- 1973
Time In A Bottle -- 1973
I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song --1974
Workin' At The Car Wash Blues -- 1974
For more, be sure to read Gary James' Interview With Ingrid Croce