By ROB NAGY
For 21st Century Media
For singer songwriter A.J. Croce, fame and fortune was never on the radar of this highly-gifted artist. Standing in the shadow of his late father, music legend and Philly native Jim Croce, A.J.’s desire for creative self-expression was a necessity early on.
“When I was young I really wanted to find an identity of my own, but it was hard,” recalls Croce. “You get the interest because you’re Jim Croce’s son. As I got older, I accepted it more. It was, ‘Hey, that’s part of my life and who I am.’ At some point I felt a sense of confidence. I wasn’t looking at fame. I just wanted to be creative. I wanted to make the best music that I could, and I wanted it to have integrity.”
“There were all kinds of benefits from it, especially when I started,” added Croce. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I don’t know how much my name helps me 20 some years into making records. I think it initially got people curious about it. It offered me opportunities that I probably may not have had as an artist that was new. The flip side is that there was no way for people to listen to my music without thinking of the flip side of someone else’s music, and I think that’s still the case.”
Days before his second birthday, Sept. 20, 1973, Croce’s father tragically died in a plane crash following a concert in Natchitoches, La. Having relocated to San Diego, Calif. the year before, Croce’s mother Ingrid faced the reality of life as a single parent.
Two years later, at age four, Croce suffered a brain tumor, which completely blinded him until the age of 10, when he regained his sight. It was during this time that Croce gravitated toward the piano, forging the foundation of his imminent career as a musician.
Performing his first paid gig at age 12, he became a fixture on the San Diego club scene as both a front and sideman.
At 19, Croce released his self-titled debut album, “A.J. Croce”(1993), produced by the legendary T-Bone Burnett. Croce continued to perform. He released follow-up albums, “That’s Me In The Bar” (1995), “Fit To Serve” (1998), “Transit” (2000), “Adrian James Croce” (2004), “Early On — the American Recordings 1983-1998” (2005), “Cantos” (2006) and “Cage of Muses” (2009).
Garnering critical praise, a loyal fan base and admiration from his fellow musicians along the way, Croce has shared the concert stage with numerous music icons, including Lyle Lovett, James Brown, Ray Charles and Willie Nelson.
Television appearances have included “The Late Show” with David Letterman, “The Tonight Show,” “Conan O’Brien” and “Austin City Limits.”
Working with half a dozen legendary producers, including Jack Clement, Kevin Killen, Allen Toussaint, Mitchell Froom, Tony Berg and Greg Cohen, Croce’s latest album release “Twelve Tales” (2014), serves as his most musically diverse and challenging effort to date.
“The process was long,” says Croce. “I had been creative. It was just not for myself. It wasn’t for my own projects. I had been living in Nashville doing four or five co-writes a week for about 2½ years. Then I was doing session work as a keyboard player in Nashville — not of my own music, but other people’s stuff — as well as singing. Between writing every day and recording all the time, I was writing stuff for myself.”
“Starting in 2013 I released one song each month from “Twelve Tales.” So while the recording of “Twelve Tales” started in 2012, the actual release started coming out one song at a time. There were many times I was under the gun. I recorded Thursday and Friday in the studio. Saturday I would mix. Monday I’d master, and on Tuesday it would be released on iTunes. That’s a lot of work, and it was incredibly unorthodox. The whole project was really flying by the seat of my pants. It was sort of like this Zen puzzle.”
“I think it touches on just about every style that I’ve touched on as an artist in my career,” added Croce. “It pulls together all of my influences. It’s pretty eclectic. I’m very pleased with how it turned out.”
With more than two decades under his belt as a successful solo artist, studio musician and songwriter, Croce has never lost sight of the personal connection his music brings to his fans.
“Music puts us in a different frame of mind,” says Croce. “It cheers us up or inspires us. When people come to my show, I want them to completely forget everything that’s going on outside of that room and to have as much fun as I do. I want the people that are in the audience to experience the joy that I get from doing what I love. As long as that happens, then I feel like I’ve done my job.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: A.J. Croce
WHERE: Steel City Coffee House, 203 Bridge St., Phoenixville.
WHEN: Friday, May 16 at 8 p.m.
INFO.: Tickets can be purchased by calling (610) 933-4043 or at www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com.
CONNECT: On Twitter @steelcitygalaxy