Discovering a deep connection, A.J. Croce honors dad with tribute show

A.J. Croce, musician and son of folk music legend Jim Croce, is performing a tribute to his late father, featuring songs from both father and son, as well as the musicians that influenced them, at the Appell Center for the Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, June 1.

Jim Croce's music connected with so many people — even though he recorded and toured his albums all in the last 18 months of his life.

His son, A.J. Croce, became a successful musician himself — with nine albums garnering 18 top 20 singles and spanning decades. He never really knew his father, but he discovered a deep connection later in life. 

This led him to create "Croce Plays Croce," a show featuring songs by both him and his father, as well as artists that influenced both of them. On Saturday, June 1, it will be coming to the Appell Center for the Performing Arts, where it will be recorded and filmed.

No-win situation: "I spent my whole career avoiding my father's music," Croce said.

Jim Croce died when A.J. was just 2, and as the son started his own career, he said, he felt taking opportunities based on his connection with his father was a no-win situation. 

"When you’re the son of a musician, people somehow want you to be their carbon copy and somehow don’t want you to be that," he said.

But about six years ago, when A.J. learned his father's songs on guitar to pay tribute to him on what would have been his 70th birthday, he "felt so much love from the audience."

While transferring home practice demos his father recorded before his career as a musician, the younger Croce discovered his father had chosen many of the same songs that had influenced him.

"It was then that I realized the connection we had that was really unique," he said.

Similar but different: Both were influenced by artists such as Allen Toussaint and soul artists of 1950s Philadelphia, but the product of these influences was rather different.

Jim Croce encompassed the singer-songwriter folk of the 1970s with hits such as "Time in a Bottle" and "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," and his son demonstrated a range of styles from roots, blues, folk, jazz, soul and country — and was especially drawn to Ray Charles after losing his sight as a child.

But there are more similarities in their music than meet the eye, Croce said.

For example, his father used classic R&B chord changes on his up-tempo songs and similar choruses to A.J.'s own, which he noticed when switching from piano to guitar.

"He made heroes out of everyday characters — that was his real gift, and it was sincere," said Croce, who also saw that sincerity in the music he loved.

Like his father did, Croce enjoys the spontaneity of connecting with an audience in between songs. 

Collaboration: Croce had two opportunities to, in a way, collaborate with his father.

One was his father's unreleased demo "Name of the Game," which A.J. recorded in 2017 in his own modern, soulful style, and the other was one of his father's hits, "I Got a Name," which Croce re-recorded for a Goodyear Tire ad portraying NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his father.

Jim Croce had originally recorded the song for a movie about NASCAR driver Junior Johnson, so it really came full circle with "these two generations of people who followed in the family business but had different styles," Croce said.

In the June show, Croce will talk about how songs were created, play some songs just like the originals and play some differently every night — just like his father did, he said.

The music will be energetic, featuring a strong rhythm section of both contemporaries of Jim Croce and those that worked with influences of him and his son. People will really appreciate it because most didn't get the chance to see him, Croce said.

"It should be fun, and it should pull everyone out of where they were and bring them to a new place," he said.

If You Go:

What: "Croce Plays Croce"

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 1

Where: Capitol Theatre at the Appell Center for the Performing Arts, 50 N. George St., York City

Tickets:  $35-$45;