We were getting off of Route 202 in the community of Frazer in Chester County when “You Don’t Mess around with Jim” came on the radio. A strange silence came over the vehicle as the song filled the air.
“Do you think it is a good sign or a bad sign that this song just came on the radio?” Zech asked . “Of the thousands of oldies to choose from, it is odd this one came on at this moment.”
I didn’t answer because I had to agree with the odd timing of the song. We were in the area to visit the grave of Jim Croce, the man who wrote and sang that song. I turned left onto Route 401 – known locally as Conestoga Road – and drove a short distance before turning left onto Moores Road. Just before the intersection with the Phoenixville Pike I turned left onto the sacred grounds of Haym Salomon Memorial Park.
I drove slowly up the hill towards the office building, I parked the vehicle at the last section on the right, next to the walkway.
“Where’s he buried?” Zech asked as we got out of the vehicle.
“His grave is along the walkway,” I answered as I walked over to join him. A short walk later we stood the grave of Jim Croce. We paused at his grave- which was covered in coins and trinkets – to pay our respects to a man whose song had just been playing on the radio. Although neither of us is old enough to remember him while he was alive, both of us had an appreciation for his music.
James Joseph “Jim” Croce was born January 10, 1943 in South Philadelphia. He was raised in Upper Darby, just outside of Philadelphia, and after graduating from high school, he attended Villanova University. In 1963, Croce met Ingrid Jacobson while he was judging a musical competition she was performing in. They fell in love and married in 1966,
In 1968, Jim and Ingrid released an album as a duo, but the album was far from being a success. By 1970, Jim was at a point of no return. Over the years he held numerous jobs including a teacher and truck driver, while trying to make it in the music industry. He had to make a choice to pursue music or give it up.
That year, after learning Ingrid was pregnant with their son Adrian, Jim wrote “Time in a Bottle.”
With his love of music renewed, Jim signed with ABC Records in 1971 and spent the next two years constantly touring. The following year Croce released You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, which included the singles “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” “Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels),” and “Time in a Bottle.” Other notable songs included on the album are “New York’s Not My Home” and “Photographs and Memories.”
In 1973, Croce released his second album, Life and Times., which had the singles “One Less Set of Footsteps,” “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” and “It Doesn’t Have to be That Way.” His single “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” would become Croce’s only number one single while alive.
Croce had planned on finishing the tour and then taking a break from music. But on September 20, 1973, Croce’s career came to a tragic end. Still touring for Life and Times, Croce had finished a concert at Northwestern University and had boarded the plane with three others and the pilot to fly to Austin, Texas. As the plane attempted to lift off from Natchitoches Regional Airport (Louisiana), it failed to clear the row of trees at the end of the runway. All five onboard were killed instantly.
Jim’s final album, I Got A Name, was released in December 1973. “I Got a Name,” “I Have to Say I Love You in a Song,” and “Workin’ at the Car Wash Blues” were all singles from the album.
In 1990, Croce was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.
We finished paying our respects to the singer and songwriter whose music has become a part of my life, leaving him to rest beneath the simple plaque adorned with the gifts left by his countless fans. As we left the lyrics to “I Got a Name” flowed through my mind –“Movin’ me down the highway / Rollin’ me down the highway / Movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by.“