The night our band won the hootenanny at Convention Hall, there was another judge for the contest, Jim’s friend and later our producer, Tommy Picardo (West).
Jim and Tommy met in 1961 when they were both students at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. Jim was a freshman on his way to his first Glee Club rehearsal, and Tommy, a junior was the leader of the Glee Club.
Tommy noticed this guy walking into practice with a 12-string guitar and asked Jim if he could play it. He had wanted one since he had seen the Kingston Trio play a twelve string in concert. And on that day Jim and Tommy formed an instant friendship, along with another cohort, Joe Salvioulo, Sal, was a flamboyant folklorist, singer-songwriter who, like Tommy, engaged Jim’s humor. All three spent hours together at the Croce’s home, playing music, philosophizing about the world at large and enjoying the delicious Italian treats Jim’s mom would prepare for them.
Tommy and Jim played together in many bands and later Tommy wrote, “We were even in a rock and roll band together. We used to do songs like “Big Boy Pete” and “Searchin”.
“Big Boy Pete” is really the musical forefather of “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim.” If you really check it out, the lyrics involves a bar room fight and one guy gets killed….it kind of set Jim up to write those funky things later on. Jim’s own experience around pool halls was “enhanced” in 1969 when he got a job at a black radio station in West Philadelphia, to support his “music habit” and to pay the bills. He liked to introduce “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” this way in concert.
“I remember a couple of things that really got me interested in the pool shark syndrome. The English have that fancy billiard, and you walk around with a brandy glass and stuff like that. But the poolrooms over here are somethin’ else. There used to be a place in Philadelphia that was an institution, called Allingers. I went up there one time to watch the best of the best, and they were gonna have one of these matches up there. It wasn’t gonna be on TV; it was gonna be one of those underground things.
There were these lights over’ the pool tables, and all these little bent people. ‘Cause when you shoot a lotta pool ya ’know, you get a little bent. And I said something to somebody, and somebody said something to me and I said something back and before I knew it I went down two flights of concrete steps, hitting the steel lips on my backbone, all the way to the subway. Ssshhheww! That sure put me into-a- world… I mean that’s a whole different world by itself, the world of pain. Some people get off on it, the warning system of the human body, and you get to see the American phenomenon of pool cue justice.