When A.J. Croce was a week past his second birthday, his father, singer-songwriter Jim Croce, died in a September 1973 plane crash. A few years after A.J. and his mother Ingrid arrived in San Diego, he developed a brain tumor that cost him his eyesight. This was the beginning of what would become a success story for this nearly native San Diegan.
By his early teens, A.J. Croce had regained most of the vision in his left eye and become an accomplished piano player and songsmith. Supporting his musical endeavors was his mom, who’d sung on early records with her late husband and whose Croce’s nightclub was an early linchpin in downtown’s unlikely transition from shore-leave sailors to Gaslamp glitterati.
Since his self-titled debut in 1993, A.J. has worked with T. Bone Burnett, Jim Keltner, and Ry Cooder, among others. “I’m pretty eclectic. I’ve been filed in five or six different genres in stores and on the radio, so it may be easiest to describe my music as Ray Charles meets Ray Davies, or Elvis Presley meets Elvis Costello, or John Hurt meets John Lennon, or maybe Randy Newman meets Jim Croce, which was my first concert.”
A.J. currently plays organ with local rockers the Amandas, as well as maintaining his solo stage act. “I’ll be in Nashville on and off through the spring,” A.J. tells the Reader. “And I was invited to play keys on Mondays with some of the Band of Joy guys, which seems like a lot of fun.
“I have a short tour of the Northwest in April, some touring over the summer, and then to Europe in September and October with Gregory Page.”
WHAT’S IN YOUR MUSIC PLAYER?
1) Link Wray, Jack the Ripper
2) Little Richard, Here’s Little Richard
3) Glenn Gould, Bach: Two and Three Part Inventions and Sinfonias
4) Buttshakers! Soul Party
5) The Sun Records Collection
6) Curtis Mayfield, Curtis/Live!
1) “I saw a Gypsy band at a Russian restaurant in Brussels that had everything I’m looking for. I was actually crying; it was so amazing.”
2) “I saw Ray Charles when I was opening the shows at Wolftrap and Ravinia [festivals], and it blew me away that he could play so slow and was so relaxed and perfect in his way.”
3) “Willie Nelson playing solo and duo with Leon Russell was raw and amazing.”
FEARS OR PHOBIAS?
1) “I fear illness but not death.”
2) “I fear having my fingers broken or mutilated.”
3) “Being buried alive should also be included.”
IF YOU HAD A TIME MACHINE, WHEN/WHERE WOULD YOU VACATION?
“Paris in the 1890s, Harlem in the 1920s, Memphis in the 1950s, London in the 1960s, and the year 2525, to see if man is still alive.”
EVER BEEN INJURED ONSTAGE?
“I broke my face on a microphone at a festival in Chicago. I couldn’t get to a doctor for a couple of weeks, so I felt like hell when I got home from the tour. I lost a tooth, and it took a year and a half to heal.”
WHERE DO YOU HANG OUT FOR FREE?
“I like to ride my bike around my place in University Heights and through Balboa Park.”
WHAT REMAINS ON YOUR BUCKET LIST?
“I want to drive around the world with my wife. We’d drive to Alaska, take a ferry to Russia, and head south and west to see where we ended up. A lot will depend on which countries are safe to travel through at the time.”
FAVORITE SONG OF YOUR DAD’S?
“This changes, depending on the mood I’m in. Today, it’s ‘Tomorrow’s Gonna Be a Brighter Day.’ I like the chord changes and the hopefulness. ‘Lover’s Cross’ and ‘Box #10’ are two others I love. He wrote a lot of great songs between 1970 and 1973, so it’s hard to choose.”
THREE THINGS WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU?
1) “I obsess about generally unimportant things all the time. It may be a philosophy, an artist, an architect, a musician, a guitar, or a tone on a record. It may be a mispronounced word and how amazing it is or how it annoys me. My mind doesn’t rest easily.”
2) “I love to cook. I came to it late because my mom was a great cook when I was growing up, and my wife is a great cook, so they sort of kept me out of the kitchen.”
3) “I went to a Hebrew school for junior high. I followed that with a bar mitzvah and followed that with 25 years of questioning faith and answering questions with questions. How am I doing?” ■