Courtesy of R&CPMK and BMG

A.J. Croce Embraces the Unknown & the Catalog of His Late, Great Father

The Croce Plays Croce 50th Anniversary Tour isn’t here to tie up loose ends – it’s here to remind generations that worthwhile art will always lift our spirits and outlive us all.

The loss of Jim Croce was a tragic one; shocking and heartbreaking didn’t cut it then, and it definitely doesn’t cut it 50 years later. Nevertheless, the music lived on. Croce’s talent transcended decades and remains notable today. There was strength in his three albums that persevered, but also seeped into the soul of one A.J. Croce, the son of the late singer-songwriter.

Like his father, A.J. is a storyteller. There is something in their DNA that makes writing a song and creating a harmonious world come effortlessly (or at least sound like such). While his solo stylings tend to lean more towards the roots rock end of things, A.J. carries the folksy, bluesy torch into a contemporary age – merging his lengthy career with the much shorter, but largely emotive one of his father. During the Croce Plays Croce 50th Anniversary Tour, a special event coming to Town Hall this weekend, fans of all ages can experience the hits, favorites, stories, and heart of both musicians; 30 years since A.J. released his first album and 50 years since the world lost Jim.

I love the concept of this tour. It’s going to resonate with so many people and it probably already has now that it’s begun. What have these first couple shows been like for you and the band?

It’s been really fun. The concept of the Croce Plays Croce show has been around for a few years, but this is different in its scope and in the fact that there are so many alternative songs that are part of this, because it’s so focused on my father’s three albums. In that way, every night is really uniquely different. This show is a little different than the other show. Not that the other show didn’t have lots of improvisation – I’m pulling things all the time – but as far as my father’s music, there’s just so much more of it because every night I ask the audience to call out their requests and I open up the request line. Everyone has just been so amazing about it. People want to hear popular songs and deep cuts and all this stuff – even some of my older stuff, too, so it’s really interesting and we play it all. Yeah, every night is really uniquely different.

This tour sounds so fulfilling for everybody in the room each night.

That’s the goal. [Laughs]I really hope so; that’s why I think doing it this way has been successful so far. In general it has made the show a lot of fun, and it’s why people have come to see multiple shows! People that were at the show in Boston the other night are driving here, to New Jersey, for the show this evening to see it again.

That is something that is a testament to the catalog that both you and your father have, but also in the way you have set this show up, so congratulations on that.

Thank you. Thank you.

You’re welcome. There is a pretty expansive catalog altogether. If you think of the deep cuts and the fan favorites and the B-sides and all these different things you can pull from, what are your favorite songs to bring to life on stage that you’ve done so far?

You know, music is about emotion. So much of this is about emotion and about your mood, so there’s not a particular favorite song… just like there’s not a favorite song or band of mine, or even a composer or artist. It is about mood. Of course there’s favorite songs for other people, but what’s really interesting about this particular show is that sometimes because I have a space in the show where those requests are going to fall and there are other songs that we haven’t played, for example like on this run so far, we haven’t played “Alabama Rain” yet and we haven’t played “Lovers Cross.” We haven’t played, probably 10 or 15 songs that we have down, and it’s really important that we keep those under our fingers because we have to be sharp. Sometimes we throw one of those into the the set somewhere – something we haven’t played in a week or something we haven’t played since we were rehearsing it – and that is really fun for me. 

I grew up playing jazz and blues and rock and roll. I love the improvisational aspect to music and the set in general. Whenever I’m pushing myself and the band to try something a little different, that’s gonna be my favorite. Because when you do that, you have this absolute possibility of failing or having a musical train wreck. It’s like that for me, so then pulling it off is one of the most exciting parts of live music. Regardless of whether I was performing my father’s music or mine or someone else’s, I would certainly feel the same about that.

That’s really cool. It’s like a challenge –not in a way that it’s difficult, but you just don’t know the outcome. What an energy! 

It sure does have that. I think it’s embracing the unknown.

A.J., you are so talented as a multi-instrumentalist, a singer, a songwriter, and someone who is just a really amazing performer in all facets of what you do. I want to commend you for being able to do that, being yourself wholly and yet never erasing your father’s impact, inspiration, and legacy.

Well, thank you. Finding that balance is the goal and I think that, honestly, the way that this started was such an organic process. I did not set out to be a soundalike with this. I did not set out to be a cover band. We are, of course, performing my father’s music and the music of other folks, but I think when you’ve performed your own music for long enough, sometimes you can still feel like a cover band if you play it the same every night. It’s too much the same as the recording. I think playing his songs and other songs in our style makes it so much more fun to really play with what you’re feeling in the moment. It allows it to be unique.

Absolutely. There is a quote in the press release that stood out to me, as it most likely did for others, too. You say how fans go into this concert expecting one thing – possibly a more somber, reflective night of music – and instead leave shocked that they were up on their feet, singing and dancing.

And it’s true.

Why was that important to you? Better yet, when did you notice that people were coming in with the expectation of a more introspective night of music rather than the upbeat one they get?

I feel like so much of this is a celebration of life – of the lives of all of us who are present in the theater, of the life and celebration of my father’s work and his life and life experience. For that to be a celebration, it needs to be joyous. Yes, people are gonna come for the reasons of nostalgia, but anyone that ever saw this performed live, saw these songs performed live by my father, they never had the chance to see it performed with a full band. That didn’t really happen. They saw a more intimate performance with two guitar players, and at the very end, after “Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown,” a piano player may have popped into a show or two, but it was very rare. This became another facet of what made this unique: this amazingly talented group of musicians. We’re all there to have fun and celebrate the joy of music.

For people who maybe are just discovering you or are just discovering your father in this modern day age of streaming and whatever else, is there a particular song from your catalog and from his that you think is a good introduction to the soundscape that both of you have created?

They’re different, but I see the similarities between us. That’s how I’m able to do what I do in a performance.

I think the album Just Like Medicine has a good sort of sonic soundscape and vibe. It does capture a lot of different sides of what I do, but it stays in this world of soulful music and rock and roll. You can hear the blues influences and jazz influences, but it’s uniquely what I do. With my dad, I think if you were gonna get one album, I would say you Don’t Mess Around with Jim. This was his first album and his first album is really amazing and iconic – not just as a first album, but song for song. It starts with a great song, “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” and then goes into “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be a Brighter Day,” and you’ve got “Operator” and “New York’s Not My Home” and “Time in a Bottle.” It’s just a really great album and I’m proud to be able to perform those songs. I feel like if you haven’t heard it, that’s a really good place to start.

I love all of that, and for those unfamiliar, they’re not overly complex listening and are just honest collections of songs. Croce Plays Croce, as a tour, is kind of reminiscent of something that you would see on Broadway. You are playing Town Hall, though, which is right in the Theater District. Have you ever been approached about a Broadway show? Or thought about doing something with the Jim Croce catalog in a Broadway sense? There are just so many amazing narratives to be heard on that stage, whether it be in a story or on its own. Has that ever crossed your mind or came across your desk?

I absolutely have. I’ve been approached many, many times in all different capacities from the perspective of a jukebox musical from the perspective of Croce or just things based on the characters of my father’s songs as completely original, but fictional interpretations of them. I’ve also been approached about performing the show that we are bringing to Town Hall and sort of expanding upon it, bringing slightly more structure to it and making it a more concise book, so to speak. It’s definitely come my way. Who knows what will happen? I’m open to anything.