Over 60 years ago a tragedy struck the world of rock and roll when three of its brightest stars fell from the sky. It was February 3rd, 1959 when a plane carrying Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. “the Big Bopper” Richardson crashed into an icy field in Iowa.
|What greatness awaited Buddy Holly?
Valens was 17 and Richardson 28. Buddy Holly was only 22 but had already released three albums with hits including “Peggy Sue” and “That’ll be the Day”. His brief musical career influenced performers from the Beatles and Mick Jagger to Bruce Springsteen.
Small wonder February 3rd is often referred to (with inspiration from Don McLean) as “the day the music died.”
When you think of Buddy Holly, it is easy to wonder what might have been. Where would his unique talents have taken him?
This past February 3rd, I started thinking about another uniquely talented singer who left this earth far too soon: Jim Croce.
Just months after “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” hit the charts, Jim Croce died in a plane crash near Natchitoches, Louisiana. He was 30 years old. His first solo album had been released the year before and included the hits “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim”, “Operator” and “Time in a Bottle”.
|Croce and son Adrian James
Croce had been trying to make
it as a singer/songwriter since 1966. To make ends meet he often took odd jobs
and was in the Army National Guard for a short time. After his son was born in 1971, he paid
the bills driving trucks and working construction. During those days he wrote songs
about unusual characters he met at bars and truck stops.
In fact, most of Croce’s songs were inspired by observing everyday life. During his stint in the Army he watched soldiers lined up to call home, often receiving “Dear John” news from girlfriends and wives. The result was the song “Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels).”
Operator, well, could you help me place
See, the number on the matchbook is old and faded
She's living in L. A. with my best old ex-friend Ray
Guy, she said she knew well and sometimes hated
The posthumous release of Croce's third album I Got a Name in December 1973 included three hits: "Workin' at the Car Wash Blues," "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song" and the title track. The cleverly written “Car Wash Blues” is one of my personal favorites.
Well, I had just got out from the
Doin' ninety days for non-support
Tried to find me an executive position
But no matter how smooth I talked
They wouldn't listen to the fact that I was genius
The man say, "we got all that we can use"
Now I got them steadily depressin', low
down mind messin'
Working at the car wash blues
“Time in a Bottle” is one of Croce’s most beloved songs. Interestingly, it was never intended to be a single. However, after his untimely death, the song was re-released and hit #1.
Time in a Bottle (music and lyrics)
As with Buddy Holly, it is easy to wonder what might have been. Thanks to so many of his thoughtful and engaging songs, he is remembered as one of the most superb songwriters and guitarists of his time.
But Croce’s future was about to take a dramatic turn before the plane crash. He found himself becoming increasingly homesick while touring. He wrote to wife Ingrid he had decided to take a break from music to be with the family. He wanted to write short stories and movie scripts for a living. Maybe pursue a master’s degree.
The letter arrived after his death.