In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
“Jim Croce knew about the America he sang of; he was a sweet, peaceful person who had tasted of life, and having tasted, desired only to tell people through song about the people he knew and the feelings he had…. The world is full of people like Big Jim Walker and Leroy Brown, but maybe without the music and poetry of Jim Croce, it’ll be a little harder to find them.”
Those words come from a PBS broadcast of a concert Croce gave less than six weeks before he died in a plane crash at the age of 30. Were he still alive, he would be turning 73 today.
It may indeed be harder to find people like Big Jim and Bad Bad Leroy today, but Croce’s songs about them aren’t going anywhere, and neither is the rest of his music. His catalog is smaller than anyone would like, but its riches are still being revealed, both in their original forms and in the ways they are interpreted. The five covers below are excellent works; we can be thankful to both Croce and the artists who covered him for their existence.
Tori Amos – Operator (Jim Croce cover)
Tori Amos has told audiences that the song “Operator” was special to her because her late brother Michael used to play it for her on the guitar (“Poor thing, he was tone deaf, but a fantastic guitar player,” she said). One can imagine her drawing strength from her memory of him as she sings this cover. No, come to think of it, one doesn’t have to imagine it – it’s right there in her singing.
Mike Gordon – You Don’t Mess Around With Jim (Jim Croce cover)
“Jam in the ‘Dam” was a three-day music festival held in Amsterdam that spotlighted American jam bands. They haven’t had any since 2012 thanks to the rising cost of airfare, but they went out with a bang, featuring Keller Williams, Lotus, the Dark Star Orchestra, moe., and Mike Gordon of Phish, who marked the occasion by debuting a cover of “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim.” Not bad for the first time around.
Sonny & Cher – Bad, Bad Leroy Brown (Jim Croce cover)
Commenting on the similar storylines of “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” Croce said, “If you dig it, do it. If you really dig it, do it twice.” Sonny and Cher dug “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” enough to do a version on TV and illustrate it with an animated video.
Richard Walters – Time in a Bottle (Jim Croce)
Croce sings the verses of “Time in a Bottle” with a wistfulness and the choruses with sad acceptance. Richard Walters turns that around in his version; the verses feel more haunted, the chorus more dreamy about the way things could be. Add to that the change of instrumentation from guitars to piano & cello, and you’ve got a cover that’s all the better for its exploration of the roads less traveled within the song.
Lena Horne – I Got a Name (Jim Croce cover)
One of Croce’s biggest hits was one he didn’t write; “I Got a Name” was penned by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, who also wrote “Killing Me Softly With His Song.” Lena Horne performed the song on the first season of The Muppet Show; her appearance boosted the show’s credibility, which considerably helped the show’s producers in getting quality guest stars. Whenever the Muppets approved of a performance, they’d all nod most sincerely at each other; they do it here, and you may find yourself nodding along with them.
I Got a Name: The Jim Croce Story, written by his widow Ingrid, is available from Amazon.