It was a snowy night two days before Christmas in 1963. I was auditioning with my band “The Rum Runners,” to be a contestant in an upcoming hootenany at WDDS radio station in Philadelphia.
Close to the station’s parking lot, our old clunker had gotten stuck in the snow and for fear of being late, I had jumped out to push our car while my band members, six husky military cadets, sat inside the sedan, teasing and chiding me on.
After the automobile was liberated, I looked up and saw this handsome, curly haired guy staring up at me from inside his V.W. Beetle. At sixteen, I wanted so much to impress him by looking older and cooler than I was.
But instead, I waved at him impulsively, like a little kid wearing my mittens. He smiled at me sweetly, and drove on.
Once inside the studio, as I stood before the microphone, tuning my guitar, I had this funny feeling that someone was watching me. I looked up through the smoky glass into the control booth and there he was again.
That cute guy from the parking lot was the judge for our audition! Self-consciously I began to sing. Then wanting to impress “the judge”, I decided to improvise. Raised on Gershwin, show tunes, and the Hit Parade I mimicked the words acapelo, in a husky, sexy voice voice and sang “The Girl who invented Rock and Roll”, the song Marilyn Monroe sang from the movie Some Like It Hot. “You’ve heard of instant coffee, you’ve heard of instant tea, well you just cast you’re little ol’ eyes on little ol’ instant me.” I went with it completely, body language, gestures and all. And when I finished, my band, though dumbfounded, picked up their instruments, and joined me promptly, in our unrelated folk song, “The Midnight Special.” Next we played “The Cruel War” and completed our audition with a Pete Seeger’s song “Where Have all the Flower’s Gone?”. When we finished, “my” audience came into the studio, and clumsily tripping over the microphone chord to reach me, introduced himself.
He told us we had won the audition and then managed to say, “I like your voice,” Ingrid. “Maybe we could sing together sometime.”
When we finished, my audience smiled at me sheepishly and clumsily tripping over the microphone chord to reach me, introduced himself as Jim Croce. “I like your voice,” he managed. “Maybe we could sing together sometime.”
I thought that sounded great! I couldn‘t wait to see him again.
Two weeks later, at the hootenany at Philadelphia’s Convention Hall, Jim Croce sought me out and found me practicing my guitar. I had selected my dress carefully that night wanting to look hip and older than I was.
My hair was long and straight and I wore my black tall black boots and a tight white sheath with black stripes running up the sides. Jim, in contrast, dressed conservatively in his collegiate highly starched light blue oxford shirt, navy blue v-neck and light beige jeans with pressed creases, and highly polished cordovan loafers. I thought he looked so grown up!
Before I could catch my breath, he planted his foot firmly in his mouth and bantered, “That’s a nice dress you’re wearing. You look like a little skunk!”
Mortified by his comment, I withdrew, dropped my chin to my chest and put down my guitar. Jim moved closer and realizing he had hurt my feelings with his candid humor, he apologized and told me sweetly, “But you, look really pretty, Ing”.
Very politely he asked if he could play me a song. I had never heard Jim sing and had no idea of the treat I was in for.
He tuned my guitar and sang me a haunting, traditional blues ballad called “Cotton-eyed Joe.” I was mesmerized.
His voice so warm and sincere and it healed all my wounds. That night, we won the contest but it wasn’t nearly as important as winning his heart.
Our first practice and first date was a Sunday afternoon at my house. Jim was shy and self-conscious when he first arrived. I answered the door dressed casually in jeans and a baggy sweatshirt and there was Jim, standing awkwardly with a guitar case in each hand, dressed in a brown three-piece-suit with a biting, starched, button down collared shirt. He apologized immediately for his formal attire and explained he was just coming from his cousin Patty’s wedding, which of course he was not.
We went to my room to practice and the moment his guitar was in his hands he relaxed and took control. He told me stories about the great depression, the “dustbowl” and Woody Guthrie. Then he taught me “Green Pastures of Plenty” and “This Land is Your Land”. We practiced harmonizing “Four Strong Winds” our first Ian and Sylvia song. From the start, making music with Jim was like making love. Our voices blended naturally, sensually and the physical feelings we held in check for each other were played out in our songs.