Review: I GOT A NAME: THE JIM CROCE STORY by Ingrid Croce and Jimmy Rock

I Got a Name: The Jim Croce StoryI Got a Name: The Jim Croce Story by Ingrid Croce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For two years in the early 1970s, Jim Croce gave us hit after hit, and then he was gone, leaving behind three studio albums, one of them released posthumously. Croce’s songs—“You Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” “Operator,” “Time in a Bottle,” “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” and many others found a corner niche where folk meets pop. Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor and others were in the same neighborhood, but Jim Croce was earthier and funnier (when he wanted to be), and his songs crossed demographic lines that other folk-rock and folk-pop artists never approached.

I Got a Name: The Jim Croce Story is the best biography of Croce that we’re likely to ever get. Ingrid Croce, Jim’s widow, and her husband Jimmy Rock have given us the Jim Croce that most of us never knew. When we learn details about his relationships with his parents, his wife, and the blue-collar denizens of his working life, Jim’s songs acquire even more depth upon listening to them again. Ingrid Croce does an admirable job of straddling the line between objective biographer and key player in the events she writes about. In order to understand Jim, we have to understand Ingrid, and vice versa. This is not a sugar-coated story at all. Neither Jim nor Ingrid is presented as saintly, although both of them come across as complex and appealing.

Jim Croce’s blue collar persona was not an affectation. Blue collar is exactly what he was. Although he was a graduate of Villanova, he earned a living doing blue-collar work and playing music. When a photographer came to Jim’s house to take some pictures for his first album, he had two choices of what to wear: his wedding suit, or jeans, t-shirt, and denim jacket.

I Got a Name is not a story about a star. “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” becomes a hit about two-thirds of the way through the book. From that point on, the book details Croce’s quick success and its all-too-soon end. This is a story about living an artistic life—how one couple struggled to follow and develop their artistic instincts. We also see what happens when artists trust sleazy business types. Jim Croce had what must have been one of the all-time worst business arrangements in the history of popular music. For most of his two years in the limelight, Jim was receiving $200 a week, and Ingrid shopped in thrift stores.

The importance of Maury Muehleisen, Jim Croce’s “one-man band,” is also conveyed here. I’ve always been fascinated by Maury. He accompanied Jim Croce in virtually every appearance I ever saw. He is right there in all the videos, and he died with Jim. He was a brilliant guitarist and harmonizing vocalist, but I never heard him say a word. In I Got a Name, Maury Muehleisen finally gets his due as a sweet, sincere, humble musical genius. When Maury and Jim played and sang together, two voices and two guitars came together to form one tight musical entity.

Jim Croce has been gone for 40 years. He would be almost 70 years old. Am I alone in thinking it could be time for a stage musical about his life? The success of Once might indicate a market for a compelling story anchored by this kind of music.

 

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12 Responses to Review: I GOT A NAME: THE JIM CROCE STORY by Ingrid Croce and Jimmy Rock

  1. Tania Nelson says:

    Hi Gary, I’m hoping you can send me an email in regards to this post.
    My contact information is in the sign up.
    Thank you!

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  2. D.Meholic says:

    I’ve been a huge fan since 1970 and learned to play because of his music. I always heard Tommy West,the piano player on Bad Bad Leroy Brown and Jims “producer”, was a great friend to the Croces. Wow what an eye opener,the guy is a world class jerk. I read somewhere that someones wife arranged for her Jim Croce fan husband to meet West,he took them to a studio and let this guy play the Martin guitar that Jim played on Operator and others,my question is …why does he have it?
    He was a terrible producer,a sloppy pianist and an awful friend. Just too bad Jim couldn’t see it.

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    • Tommy West has the Gibson Dove that Jim Croce played on his three ABC Records albums because it was a guitar that Jim Croce bought for Tommy West. Tommy had it refurbished by Phil Petillo and then let Jim use it to record his songs. So, that’s why he has it – it’s his. With regard to West letting someone come to his studio to play some special guitars, I would say that was a pretty nice gesture.
      He co-produced several gold records for Jim, is a gifted musician and was one of the best friends Jim ever had – and Jim knew it and would want the world to know it, too.

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      • Randy says:

        Hi Mary, may I ask your view on the book and how accurate you feel it is. I havent bought it as yet. I just have a protective dome over Jim & Maury, sorta speak, I grew up with them. They were my friends , in song at least. Your brother was a gift to Jim and anyone knew knew him, you could just see it. I just dont want to change my views of either guy, just add good stuff to their memories. Thanks, Randy

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        • As with any book, there are more than likely some inaccuracies. It is just one someone’s side of a story. Surely, as someone who knew them personally, it is easy for me to be unhappy about various aspects of the way Jim and many people in his life have been depicted. My recollections are different. If you decide to read this story, just put yourself in the place of those mentioned and determine for yourself what feels right.

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          • Randy says:

            Nicely said Mary. I think I would rather read the story written by you. Thanks for the reply, I watched Maury and Jim on youtube for an hour this afternoon. Great stuff.

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  3. Pingback: My Books for 2012 | What's Not Wrong?

  4. Ralph Moses says:

    A terrific book, very honest and even painful in parts, about the life of Jim Croce, my favorite singer-songwriter. On 9/20, the 40th anniversary of Jim’s death, I intend to start reading “I Got a Name” for the second time.

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  5. Oleta Richards Cato says:

    We lived in the valley in California and were going to see Jim in Los Angeles in a few days, or was it a week? My husband was treating me to a Jim Croce concert, we were both crazy about Jim. I was listening to the radio early in the morning and heard Jim had been killed in an airplane crash. Everything stopped. It’s difficult to believe Jim has been dead for more years than he was alive. There will never be anyone like Jim.

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  6. mike gobler says:

    enjoyed ingrids book very much, learned a lot about what being happy really is. still miss maury and jim,they left us with a gift i will never lose.

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  7. Scott Deel says:

    I read it. There were so many things that just weren’t true that I know of that it is hard to believe that a lot of the rest of it was true as well. Just one example…the part that Jim and Maury were looking at the top songs on the chart and said that “Time in a Bottle” was one of the top rising songs in the country.( had a bullet next to it I think was the exact phase used). That must have been a conversation from the afterlife. Time in a Bottle wasn’t released as a single until a month after he died. The conversation that his wife claimed she heard simply didn’t happen.

    Just one example. There are many more that can be verified. How many more that cannot are false too?

    Sorry, interesting read but I don;t have a lot of faith that it’s very accurate.

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