Inquirer Anniversary: Croces capture time in a bottle

To mark the 180th anniversary of its founding, The Inquirer is reprinting an article from its archives every Monday for 18 weeks. Today’s offering, the 15th in our series, was published Aug. 13, 1967, and describes an interview with Jim Croce before he achieved fame as singer and songwriter.

Jim and Ingrid Croce are waiting to be discovered. They are in no great rush for they - and just about anyone who's heard of them - feel it's only a matter of time.

Jim and Ingrid are folk singers, but they're more than that. Jim teaches guitar privately and social studies in high school. Ingrid is a talented artist who specializes in ceramics.

And together they make some of the grooviest music that can be heard on the local folk-pop-rock music scene today. And when they do get discovered - by the right agent and the right recording company - they should go far.

Jim, 24, and Ingrid, 20, both born in Philadelphia, now live in Media. Jim was a social studies and psychology major at Villanova University, where he was graduated in 1965. Ingrid attends the Moore College of Art after a year at Rhode Island School of Design.

Jim and Ingrid are products of the "folk explosion" of the early 1960's.

Jim recalls his start. "I had a folk music show on the Villanova radio station," he said, "and I just picked it up. I never took any lessons. I just watched performers, listened to records and started coming up with some of my own ideas."

In his sophomore year, along with nine other students, Jim formed the Coventry Lads, a folk group which played engagements in the Midwest, Boston and Washington.

This led to the greatest experiences of his young life, in the summer of 1964: A six-week cultural exchange tour sponsored by the U.S. Information Service and the National Student Association.

Saw Back Country

Four folk singers, one from each corner of the country, were selected to travel through Turkey, Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Tunisia, Nigeria and several other countries.

"Mostly we stayed as guests of the student leaders and went to the back country where people still have their unspoiled folk cultures," he said.

"Our group, by use of folk songs, traced the history of American and showed how it developed. Politics really wasn't an important thing and we weren't sent there for propaganda. We had a great chance just to talk to the people."

Winning Finale

Ingrid started singing folk music with a group of five college students when she was 15. She met Jim - just in passing - at a radio interview. She met him again at a large benefit in Convention Hall.

"There were 50 folk groups competing for awards," Ingrid said, "and Jim was one of the judges. Our group had decided to break up and this was going to be our last performance. We were one of the winners."

The Coventry Lads were breaking up too, so Jim asked Ingrid to sing with him. They decided they made beautiful music together, Wedding March variety, and got married last August.

At first Jim and Ingrid skipped the folk clubs and college concerts that are the mainstay of most folk singers.

Served in Guard

"When you're at a club," Jim said, "you really have to be good - and serious. We were still experimenting and were willing to wait."

They frequently sang at the Riddle Paddock, in Lima, until Jim went on active duty in the National Guard for four months - a week after the Croces' honeymoon.

"When I got out of the service," Jim said, "we started playing country clubs, college concerts and we were the second act twice at the Main Point." The Main Point, in Bryn Mawr, is the area's largest folk coffeehouse.

Writes Own Tunes

For a while Jim sold air time for a radio station but gave it up to devote more time to music. Other jobs included teaching guitar and, for a summer, both taught at Camp Lighthouse, a music and arts camp for talented children near Pottsville.

Jim will be a full-time substitute in either Philadelphia or Chester public schools in September.

At first he and Ingrid mainly "interpreted" other folk writers. Canadian Gordon Lightfoot and Len Chandler are among their favorites. But more and more the couple have been writing their own songs.

"You can't actually write folk music as such anymore," Jim said. "You can write in the folk vein and that's what we do."

Their songs are not the protest songs that dominated early stages of contemporary music. They could better be called social documentaries.

Called 'Truth'

Jim wrote and sang the soundtrack for the WCAU-TV documentary "The Miner's Story." He did a demonstration album alone a year and a half ago and now Jim and Ingrid are ready for another such recording.

The couple works on the words and music of a song together. A song called "Truth" came to them one day on the beach. They had a polished version ready by the time they arrived home.

The song's chorus goes:

For the times have made me
what I am
And you can't change me,
understand?
The world is crumbling in
your hands,
Change it first, and then
change me.

Another of their songs, "Schoolyard," tells the plight of slum children neglected by their parents, yet who still have a chance. The song has a simple, lilting melody to evoke a child playing.

"We've written about 20 songs and we still do a little over half," Jim said. "We try not to overstate, but instead make the listener think about what we are saying. The words are very important to our songs."

Jim likes to experiment and now is building himself a "one-man band" outfit complete with 1890 steel-body guitar, washboard, cowbell, auto horn, nose flute and kazoo.

"I love the 1930 sound," Jim said, making his voice sound like Russ Columbo and launching into such oldies as "I Never See Maggie Alone" and his version of Sophie Tucker's "Nobody Loves a Fat Girl But Oh How a Fat Girl Can Love."

Jim and Ingrid have also been experimenting with what they call "folk jazz" and have adapted the Lovin' Spoonful's "Coconut Grove" to fit their own style. 

Like Happy Music

Altogether, Jim and Ingrid have a repertoire of more than 1000 songs. They intend to start singing them at college concerts in September. They'll also be back at the Main Point in the fall.

"There's no great rush to get discovered," Jim said. "After all, the longer you play the better you get."

And with that, Jim and Ingrid started singing a Winchester Cathedral-like "You Better Watch Out for the Eggplant that Ate Chicago." They were obviously having a ball. 

Jim Croce was "discovered" six years after this interview with The Inquirer, when his song "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" soared to No. 1 in 1973. He was killed in an airplane crash on Sept. 20, 1973, shortly after appearing at a concert in Louisiana.


Jim and Ingrid Croce article in The Philadelphia Inquirer