Photo by photo by Sebastian Smith
Alas, the public imprint from having notable parents. I’d resolved not to make mention of mother Ingrid, the famous restaurateur, nor Jim, the famous singer who died in his prime. But in the end, I relented. Why? Because A.J. Croce recorded a song that was recorded, but never released, by his late father. It’s called “The Name of the Game,” and A.J. made a version of it for his tenth full-length album, Just Like Medicine.
A.J. Croce, "Texas Ruby," 2011
Released this year, Medicine is a collection of soul filled with lovely influences: Macca, Dr. John, Aretha, Joe Cocker, Van Morrison, and more. You can feel them in Croce’s gritty voice.
- Wednesday, January 3, 2018, 8 p.m.
Belly Up Tavern,
143 S. Cedros Avenue,
$17 - $19
The hook was set for me back when A.J. was still gigging venues like Lestat’s in Normal Heights. I recall an evening in particular when Croce was doing his best to come off like Billy Joel or Bob Dylan until someone called out a request: “Trouble in Mind,” the old Richard M. Jones tune. On that date, A.J. savaged it with a double-time jump. By then, his left hand was a stride piano weapon, a gig he surely polished while on the road with BB King, opening on piano for the blues legend at age 18.
Adrian James Croce is now 46, married, the father of two. He lost his own father at age 2 and his sight at the age of 4. He learned piano by ear. He listened to a couple of other blind entertainers — Stevie Wonder, and Ray Charles. Eventually, Croce got vision back in one eye. He’s been all over the board musically, but that didn’t dissuade the San Diego Music Awards from honoring him in 2004. Same with Rolling Stone in 2009. Their critics gave Cage of Muses four out of five stars.
Even though peripatetic from a style standpoint, A.J.’s always been his own man. The one musical influence absent from his sound? His dad’s.