James Joseph Croce was born in Philadelphia on Jan. 10, 1943. Originally a university disc jockey, he played in various rock bands before moving to New York City in 1967, where he performed in folk clubs. By 1969, he and his wife Ingrid were signed to Capitol Records for the album Approaching Day. The album failed, so Croce returned to Pennsylvania, taking on work as a truck driver and telephone engineer.
Meanwhile, he continued with songwriting. After sending demo tapes to former college friend and New York record producer Tommy West, he secured a new contract with the ABC Records label. His second album, 1972's You Don't Mess Around With Jim, provided him with a Top 10 hit with the title track and, along with "Operator (That's Not The Way It Feels)," helped establish Croce as a songwriter of distinction. The album also climbed to the top of the album chart in July.
In April 1973, he topped the charts with the narrative "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," but a few months later, he died (along with four others, including the pilot) when a charter plane crashed into a tree at the end of the runway at the Natchitoches, La., airport. In the wake of his death, he registered another Top 10 hit with "I Got a Name," and the contemplative "Time in a Bottle" provided him with a posthumous No. 1 in 1974. During 1974, further releases kept him on the charts, including "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song" and "Workin' at the Car Wash Blues." His son, A.J. Croce, began his own recording career in the '90s, and the country label River North released a tribute to Jim in 1997.