‘Croce Plays Croce’ is a son’s tribute to family and a musical legacy
What: ‘Croce Plays Croce’
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 21 and 22; 6 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23
Where: Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St.
Cost: $35-$53 for Friday tickets; $39-$59 for Saturday and Sunday tickets
Singer and songwriter A.J. Croce, who performs at the Egyptian Theatre this weekend, says his show “Croce Plays Croce” isn’t a nostalgia trip solely fueled by the hits by his late father, Jim.
“It’s not so much that as it is a sort of a tip-of-the-hat to my family and the music that both me and my father loved,” A.J. said. “It may be nostalgic for some, because I tell the stories behind the songs, and I talk about where the original ideas come from, but it’s an energetic show. It’s fun. It’s emotional. And I think it will surprise the audience to see how it’s done.”
The show will feature the elder Croce’s hits such as “Time in a Bottle,” “Don’t Mess Around with Jim” and “Bad Leroy Brown,” which will be paired with songs written by the younger Croce, including a couple that he wrote for a new album that will be released in the spring.
“I play songs that might have a similar theme or similar influence,” A.J. said. “I hardly use a set list, but I know what the first and last songs will be.”
In between, A.J. may play something by Ray Charles, or he might do a obscure song by Mississippi John Hurt.
“I might also start a song off with stride piano, before pulling it into the country-western style,” he said. “With all of this going on, the band has to be on its toes.”
A.J. said his band shouldn’t have any problem keeping up with his whims.
Bassist David Barard hails from New Orleans, and he played with Dr. John for 30 years.
“Before that he was with Allen Toussaint and Etta James,” A.J. said. “He would fill in for George Porter in the Meters, and he also played with Erma Thomas and Lee Dorsey; all kinds of legendary New Orleans artists.”
Drummer Gary Malabar is a session player who can be heard on Van Morrison albums in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, including “Moondance” and “Tupelo Honey.”
“Gary joined the Steve Miller Band in 1972, and toured with them through the mid-’80s,” A.J. said. “He’s played with everyone from (Peter) Frampton and Jackson Brown to Iggy Pop and Los Lobos.”
Rounding out the band’s lineup is guitarist Garret Stoner.
“He’s a young guitarist, who is an absolutely great player,” A.J. said. “He complements the band really well.”
Throughout the concerts, A.J. will switch between his trademark piano and the guitar.
“I have always been a pianist first,” he said. “I picked up guitar in my early 30s and gravitated to finger-style playing because it made sense as a piano player.”
The idea for “Croce Plays Croce” blossomed a few years ago when A.J. was in his early 30s.
“I was digitizing music from reel-to-reels and cassettes that my father recorded, and I was backing them up on hard drives,” he said.
Most of the recordings were of the elder musician covering obscure songs by Fats Waller, Bessie Smith and Mississippi John Hurt.
“My dad’s music career was really only 18 months long, and before that, he had day jobs and would play music on the weekends,” A.J. said. “When he did that, people wanted to hear songs they knew, so he would, by and large, play a lot of covers and then throw one of his own songs in here and there.”
Luckily, the elder Croce recorded everything he would play, so he could hear where he could improve his playing, A.J. said.
“One of these cassettes had all of these covers on one side, and when I flipped it over, I heard the first couple of verses of ‘Time in a Bottle,’” he said.
That song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, and sold more than 500,000 copies. Croce wrote it in 1971 when he found out his wife was pregnant with A.J.
“From that moment forward, my dad wrote his first two records within the next year,” A.J. said. “In fact, most of the music people know of his were on three albums that were written, recorded and toured on in 18 months. And very few people got to see him perform live.”
Although the early sketches of “Time in a Bottle” caught the younger Croce’s ear, it was the cover songs that hit a nerve.
“I realized that I had also been playing some of those same songs on my own since I was 12, without knowing my dad had played them,” A.J. said.
Hearing those songs penned by the elder Croce created a connection with A.J., who was eight days away from his second birthday when his father died in a plane crash in Sept. 1973.
“As a music fan and record collector, it made perfect sense to put a show together,” A.J. said.
The younger Croce also emphasized that “Croce Plays Croce” is not a way for him to ride on his father’s coattails.
“I avoided using my father as a passport to earn money, and this is not why I chose to do this,” he said. “After uncompromisingly releasing 10 albums, and having 19 Top 20 songs and touring all around the world for 25 years, I felt it would be nice to reflect and incorporate the music my father performed.”
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