The weekend before Jim Croce left on his final tour, my husband and I made a dinner date. We had just moved to California and we were anxious to be together and explore our new hometown.
Unfortunately back then in 1973, the Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego reminded us of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” with empty storefronts, sailors, tattoo parlors and ladies of the night.
We searched endlessly to find a good place to eat. And still hungry, we ended up at the historic Keating building with no prospects in sight. Jim joked that night, that we should just open up a restaurant and bar right on the corner of fifth and F. We envisioned it as a place like our home in the country, where we would welcome folks to join us for dinner and wine and play music all night long.
That weekend was the best Jim and I had shared for a long, long time. After a dozen years of dreaming that he could make music his profession, it seemed things were finally going our way. Jim’s songs were on the top of the charts, he was scheduled to host The Johnny Carson Show and excited about doing a movie with Cheech and Chong.
When Jim left that weekend on tour we were both really happy. We couldn’t wait to celebrate Adrian James’ second birthday the following weekend.
Four days later, Thursday evening, September 20, 1973, Jim called, as always, to let me know he was leaving for his next show in Sherman, Texas. With only a couple more concerts to go, he was finally coming home. Jim called me on the phone that night and told me “I love you, Ing”, he didn’t need to say it in a song.
An hour later, the plane that was chartered for Jim’s make-up tour crashed on take-off from Natchitoches Louisiana, killing everyone on board.
Before Jim left on his tour, he had completed his third album with the song
“I Got a Name” by Charlie Fox and Norman Gimbel. It was a unique studio performance because unlike others, it was performed without his guitar in hand, which made him a little uncomfortable. Jim’s voice sounded strong but vulnerable. He told me that while he hadn’t written the song, he felt really close to it because his dad had recently passed away and Jim wanted to carry on his name in a good way.
After Jim’s funeral, when I heard Jim sing “I Got a Name” over the radio, I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t listen to this song without feeling Jim’s presence and his absence all at the same time.
Fast forward a long 12 years to 1985. I opened a small café and catering business in Hillcrest and had just received notice from my landlord that my “month to month” lease was over. Serendipitously a friend called to say she knew of an “open store front” in the Gaslamp Quarter. When I got downtown I recognized that I was standing on the very same corner where Jim and I had joked about opening a restaurant and live music bar. I knew it was meant to be.
Today, Jim Croce fans send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. I love hearing their stories of how Jim’s music has touched their lives profoundly. And I’m so thankful for the musicians who keep playing Jim’s songs and passing them on for new generations. But there have always been questions that folks who wished they had met Jim have asked. They want to know where Jim’s songs came from, who they were written for or about?
This book has given me the opportunity to answer some of these questions. When the folks at Hal Leonard called and wanted to do a new Anthology of Jim Croce’s music, I decided in spite of my trepidation of telling “The Stories behind the Songs”, that I’d take a chance. They were all for it and in the end, Jim’s music speaks louder than any words, so I’ve done my best, and all I can say is, Jim I hope I got it right!