By David L. Coddon
You can go home again.
After living and writing music in Nashville, A.J. Croce is back in San Diego, where he was raised on love and music. The son of Ingrid and the late Jim Croce is back in the town where he played his first gig: a bar mitzvah party when he was 12 years old.
Now 40 years old and eight albums and too many live performances to count later, A.J. Croce is enjoying a musical career that happily defies categorization. His influences range from pop and rock to R&B and jazz, and they’re reflected in his songwriting and piano playing.
Croce, speaking by phone from Paso Robles, site of a gig, says his eclecticism “happens naturally. I get to play what makes me happy or I’m not happy doing it. I’ve always been drawn to different kinds of music. To me, it’s more exciting. It’s more interesting.”
“I’m a songwriter and a piano player more than anything else. I write songs and I play them.”
Not surprisingly, the music his father listened to proved a powerful influence.
“I was fortunate to have all these recordings he made in the living room or in the kitchen on an old reel-to-reel,” Croce recalled. “I got a sense when I was 30 about what he was into, and I was completely amazed that we had so many of the same influences, from Fats Waller, Bessie Smith, Woody Guthrie, Mississippi John Hurt, country artists like Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell and Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, and rock ‘n’ roll stuff and all sorts of R&B – Sam Cooke and Otis Redding.
“Where our styles separate is I got more into jazz stuff and a little more into the rock ‘n’ roll music of my generation, and he got into folk music like the Weavers and the East Coast coffeehouse scene of the ‘50s.”
Those who attend A.J. Croce’s show July 18 at Anthology in Little Italy are in for a treat. “For 20 years, I never played my dad’s stuff, but I’m going to play a handful of songs of his,” A.J. said. “I’ve been doing a couple for maybe a year now because I just love his music. In January, we did a tribute on his birthday, and it was so successful that I’ll definitely do three or four of them.
“As much as I like stuff like ‘Rapid Roy (The Stock Car Boy)’ and those kinds of tunes, I really like some of the lesser-known songs of his that are more serious and down to earth,” Croce said, citing his father’s “Box Number 10” and “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be A Brighter Day.”
Whatever Jim Croce songs A.J. performs at Anthology, they’ll be performed on guitar. “I didn’t play much guitar in the past, and I’ve really picked up the instrument,” he said.
On the subject of guitar, one of the all-time finger-picking greats, Leo Kottke, follows A.J. Croce into Anthology. Another musician whose work draws from multiple idioms, Kottke, now 66, will perform two shows, on July 19 and 20.