Jim Croce’s first album was supposed to end his musical career before it ever got started.
In 1966, the young folk artist was planning to marry his sweetheart, Ingrid. As the oldest son of a large Italian immigrant family in the Philadelphia area, Croce was expected to use his college education for a respectable, financially stable line of work.
His parents gave Croce $500 as a wedding gift, with one stipulation: It must be used to record an album. Croce’s parents figured the task would be so difficult that he would give up on music.
But the plan backfired — 500 copies of the album quickly sold out among fans who heard Croce play at local bars, and Croce then devoted himself to music.
Now, 31 years after Croce’s death in a plane crash, Ingrid Croce and their son — also a musician — are re-releasing the album, “Facets,” along with a DVD of his performances, an early session recorded at the family’s kitchen table, and a collection of photos paired in a hardcover book with the lyrics to “Time In A Bottle” and family reminiscences.
The re-release, on the Shout Factory label, is made possible by the recent reversion of copyrights to Croce’s beneficiaries, Ingrid and A.J. Croce.
A real, raw sound
“Facets” is for the fan of Croce’s later hits — such as “Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels)” or “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” — who “wants to understand where did it all come from,” Ingrid Croce says at the bar-restaurant-performance venue she runs in San Diego. “It’s a very intimate look at Jim Croce, the college student about to embark on what his parents had hoped was a non-career, and something he hoped was a career.”
The album, a combination of songs by composers Croce admired and his own early work, is a remarkably unpolished recording by the 22-year-old musician and his buddies.
During a three-hour session at a Delaware studio, Croce and his friends laid down 11 tracks, almost all on the first take. The sound is raw: There’s an echo to Croce’s voice, breathing from the ensemble — even street sounds because the studio windows were left open because of the heat, Ingrid Croce says.
“There were no overdubs,” she says. “What you hear in ‘Facets’ is exactly what you get.”
Croce’s penchant for working-class tales is displayed in his covers of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Steel Rail Blues” and “Coal Tattoo” by Billy Edd Wheeler. His musical arrangement of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Gunga Din” is a melancholy ode to soldiers. And the upbeat “Sun Come Up,” written with his brother, Richard, stands out for its pop sensibility.
A bonus disc titled “Jim & Ingrid Too” features a smoother Croce voice partnered with his wife. (The couple met when Ingrid auditioned with her band at the radio station where he worked.) The seven tracks also have little production effects, but show off the couple’s natural knack as a duo.
“I don’t think there was any song on the album we ever did more than two takes on, maybe three,” she says. “Studio time was dear and people didn’t have money...You went in and you did the best that you could.”
Collector's itemNearly all the 500 original copies of “Facets” were sold within a week, with Croce keeping two. The couple were regular performers at a bar in Lima, Pa., and easily sold the LPs for $5 each. Fans ranged “from sheepherders to nuns and priests, and your average Joe, and your alcoholic who hung out at the bar,” she says.
The original album was issued in a plain copper-colored cover with a bright green label reading only “‘Facets’ By Jim Croce.” Ingrid Croce said a few of the originals, now collector’s items, have been sent to her over the years by fans. The re-release features a photo of Croce taken in 1966, wearing a Nehru jacket and a watch he’d received as an engagement gift from his family.
At Ingrid Croce’s bar, in the downtown Gaslamp area where the couple spent their final weekend together, albums, family photos, awards and even Croce’s leather jacket, hang on the walls.
The memorabilia and the business’ spotlight on live music draws Croce fans from around the world, many who confess to Ingrid the impact his songs have had on their lives.
Occasionally a couple will come in showing off a young child who’s learned the words to a Croce song.
Her late husband’s music, she believes, continues to resonate because of its sincerity, its musical appeal, and the lyrics’ celebration of the everyman.
“He knew how to take a common experience and express it in under three minutes...It was a gift. It was good fortune for all of us, and for him, that he was able to do that,” she says. “I think he would’ve been thrilled to know people were still interested, and were still listening.”