Success did not come quickly for James Joseph Croce, but from the viewpoint of the American public, it was all over in the blink of an eye.
It was 1961, when he first enrolled at Villanova University outside Philadelphia, and decided to make music his career. Throughout those college years, he “formed bands and performed at fraternity parties, coffee houses, and universities around Philadelphia, playing “anything that the people wanted to hear: blues, rock, a cappella, railroad music … anything.”  On November 29, 1963, Croce met his future wife Ingrid Jacobson, at the Philadelphia Convention Hall during a hootenanny.
Croce released his first album, Facets, in 1966, with 500 copies pressed. The album had been financed with a $500 wedding gift from Croce’s parents, who set a condition that the money must be spent to make an album. They hoped that he would give up music after the album failed, and use his college education to pursue a “respectable” profession.
In 1968, the Croces were encouraged by record producer Tommy West to move to New York City. […] During the next two years, they drove more than 300,000 miles, playing small clubs and concerts on the college concert circuit promoting their album ‘Jim & Ingrid Croce’.
Becoming disillusioned by the music business and New York City, they sold all but one guitar to pay the rent and returned to the Pennsylvania countryside, settling in an old farm in Lyndell, where after playing for $25 a night wasn’t enough money to live on, Croce was forced to take odd jobs such as driving trucks, construction work and teaching guitar to pay the bills while continuing to write songs, often about the characters he would meet at the local bars and truck stops and his experiences at work. (Wikipedia)
In 1972, Jim Croce signed a three record deal with ABC Records, and thus began an all too brief period of time when Jim Croce’s music and songwriting took over American culture.
The album, ‘You Don’t Mess Around With Jim’ was released in April of 1972. The title track immediately shot into the top ten. “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels)”, was the second single released later that summer, and was also a Billboard hit. The LP was stocked with what are now, very familiar songs, including “Time in a Bottle (#1)”, “New York’s Not My Home”, “Photographs and Memories”, and “Walkin’ Back to Georgia”.
The following summer saw the release of ‘Life and Times’, in July of 1973. “One Less Set of Footsteps” was the first single (which while performed admirably), was completely eclipsed by the albums second single, “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”, which rocketed to #1.
On September 20th, 1973, while on tour promoting the album, the band’s chartered Beechcraft crashed into a tree during takeoff from a Louisiana airfield, killing all on-board.
The American public was unable to process the news. How could someone who so deftly gave voice to multiple generations be taken so unexpectedly, so swiftly, far too soon.
Jim Croce only lived for a brief eighteen months as a nationally recognized performer, but his legacy and stature still defines the American singer-songwriter these many decades later.
One day after the Louisiana air crash, ABC Records released a scheduled single from what was to be his final studio album. “I Got A Name”. The LP’s title track served as an unintended epitaph for Jim Croce’s short career. The posthumously released album included more of Croce’s effortless songwriting, ” Workin’ at the Car Wash Blues”, and the ballad, “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song”.
We also must remember Maury Muehleisen, an artist and guitarist best known for his work accompanying Croce. Maury also lost his life in that Louisiana plane crash.
Croce’s catalog bursts with songs of the working man, compositions that paint a portrait of the America that we know by heart.
In the short time he was given, he ingrained his voice and music into American culture in a way that few other artists have ever achieved.
An early network appearance on the Dick Cavett Show • You Don’t Mess Around With Jim
Jim Croce • Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels)