Fifteen years ago I heard a song by a guy named A.J. Croce that made me stand up and take notice. Actually, it made me stand up, take notice, and dance a twisting hoochie koo. His last name was obviously familiar, but as he was a pianist – and not having seen his picture – I didn’t give it much of a thought. And then I didn’t hear of him again, until this month, with the announcement of Croce’s newest album release, “By Request,” a collection of 12 song re-interpretations covering artists as diverse as Neil Young and the Beach Boys to Sam Cooke, Randy Newman, and Croce’s musical hero, the late, great Crescent City piano man (and composer, arranger, producer), Allen Toussaint.
What got my attention again was this live version of the first single, which finds Croce and his supporting 3-piece band working out the 1974 Billy Preston nugget, ‘Nothing From Nothing.’ Part New Orleans, part juke joint, part soul, and full-time barrelhouse boogie woogie, Croce retains the familiar Preston funky framework, but then tears it open (at 1:17, after casually muttering “Lemme play”) with raucous double-fisted flair: his left hand pounds out the rib-shaking bassline while his right goes on frenetic, fast-fingered flourishes. My friends, I assure you, this is a fine way to spend your next 3-and-a-half minutes.
Which then led me to briefly look into the artist who I’d once encountered, forgotten, and stumbled back onto again. And guess what: he is, in fact, the son of Jim Croce. Adrian James Croce was a week short of his second birthday when his legendary father died in a plane crash at just 30 years old, two months before the posthumous release of the album he’d already completed recording, 1973’s “I Got A Name.” I also found out that A.J., now 49, has enjoyed a three-decades long music career, having gotten his first paying gig at the age of 12, and generated a total of ten studio albums between 1993 – 2017, leading up to this year’s cover tunes recording. And by the way, that he’d also accomplished all this despite having gone blind at age four (he later regained partial vision in his left eye).
Seeking to establish his own identity, A.J. studiously avoided the music of the famed father he never knew. Until recently. In 2018 he created his own version of the song ‘I Got A Name,’ releasing it as a single, marking the first time he’d recorded any of Jim’s material. Maybe it’s just a coincidence of superb, relatable songwriting, but this couplet basically leapt out of the speakers when I gave it a turn, like I’d never heard it sung before:
“I’ve got a name, I’ve got a name / And I carry it with me like my daddy did”
A.J. Croce, he’s got a name. Plus he can also do some serious damage pounding on the piano keys. And you don’t mess around with the son of Jim.
This is the first song of his I heard, back in 2005. If you enjoyed the prior one, you’ll like this one even better.
Fun fact: Billy Preston performed ‘Nothing From Nothing’ when he was the musical guest on the inaugural episode of Saturday Night Live (October, 1975).