A.J. Croce Makes His Dad’s Music Come Alive

by Pat Hill

AJ Croce is making three stops in Big Sky Country early in November, and the singer-songwriter is playing Bozeman’s Ellen Theatre on the 4th.

The son of the late singer-songwriter Jim Croce, who died in a plane crash in 1973, the 46-year-old AJ made his own way in the music world from an early age. His first paid performance ($20) was playing a Bar Mitzvah party at age 12, and by age 16, AJ was performing regularly at nightclubs around San Diego, California, where he and his mother lived after his father’s death. His first release, simply entitled AJ Croce, came in 1993, and in August, AJ’s tenth record, Just Like Medicine, was released.

The album, and one song in particular, is receiving some rave reviews. One of Jim Croce’s unreleased tunes is among the tracks on Just Like Medicine, the first time that AJ has recorded one of his father’s songs. Rolling Stone Country writes that “Joined by a band that includes Vince Gill, Colin Linden, the McCrary Sisters and original Swampers bassist David Hood, [AJ Croce] unearths “Name of the Game,” turning [his father’s] song into a modernized soul tune rooted in Muscle Shoals swagger and Motown strut.” AJ and the band worked from the only existing vocal and guitar recording of this, the last song his father wrote, when recording the work.

“The song was meant to be on the follow-up album to I Got A Name,” Croce told Rolling Stone, “although unfortunately it was never recorded or released until now – and by me. I’ve never had any intention of recording my father’s music. I like it and enjoy playing it from time to time, but this was different. This was a way that I could collaborate with my dad, who I never knew, and play an active role of interpreting the music. It felt right: a tribute and a collaboration.”

“I was just a kid when I started,” AJ told Bozeman Magazine in a recent telephone interview, “and it’s all I’ve ever really done. There were a couple of years where I was doing more writing and recording, and a couple years where I was doing more publishing stuff, but even during those periods I was always practicing, always playing. It’s been my life.” Over his 25-year career AJ has performed with artists from Lyle Lovett to Ray Charles, Béla Fleck to James Brown, Lenny Kravitz to Morphine and Rod Stewart to Dave Matthews. He’s also worked with Willie Nelson, Ben Harper, Ry Cooder, the Neville Brothers, and Waylon Jennings. And AJ has written with songwriters including Leon Russell, Gary Nicholson and Robert Earl Keen, and worked with legendary producers such as T-Bone Burnett, Jim Keltner and Allen Toussaint.

AJ has been busy on the touring circuit this year. He offers two different kinds of performances in his shows, one focusing on his own work, and another, dubbed “Croce: Two Generations of American Music,” which is the show attendees at the Ellen will see on Nov. 4.  AJ, who picked up the guitar later in his music career, said it took him years of practice on the guitar before he moved into that father-son concept of a concert.

“We usually only do that show five or so times a year, and I really enjoy it...this year we’ve played twice that many of the generational shows,” AJ said. “The performance is high-energy, and the band is great.” He said attendees at the Ellen show can “absolutely” expect some surprises during the performance.

“I might have 50 songs on my potential playlist, and I’ll just start pulling things out,” he said. “The band is really capable, and I think the crowd will really enjoy the show.”

Tickets for this Nov. 4 performance of Croce: Two Generations of American Music in Bozeman on Saturday evening, Nov. 4, are available at theellentheatre.com

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Pat Hill

Pat Hill is a freelance writer in Bozeman. A native Montanan and former advisor to Montana State University’s Exponent newspaper, Pat has been writing about the history and politics of the Treasure State for nearly three decades.

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