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'Croce Plays Croce' — A.J. pays tribute to his father Jim in Durham

AJ Croce wearing a black jacket and sunglasses
Joshua Black Wilkins
Submitted image
A.J. Croce will perform at Durham's Carolina Theater on Sept. 8, 2022.

A.J. Croce has built a 30-year recording and touring career since he started playing piano as a teenager. He's released 10 albums of mostly original material and shared stages with Lenny Kravitz, Willie Nelson and B.B. King.

On his latest tour, he's sharing the stage with the memory of his late father, Jim Croce, whose career was cut short by a plane crash when A.J. was just two years old. “Croce Plays Croce” makes a stop at the Carolina Theatre of Durham on Thursday night.

WUNC caught up with A.J. Croce recently on the phone to talk about the tour, his father, music and what's next.

This is an excerpt of an edited transcript of that conversation. You can hear the full interview by clicking the LISTEN button at the top of this post.

You've recorded just two of your dad's songs. His short career contained a lot of big records that you can still hear on the radio. What made you decide to get out there and embrace his catalog for this series of shows?

"Well, I'll tell you, it's the 50th anniversary of 'You Don't Mess Around With Jim.' We're going to play two sets. And the first set is the entirety of that from beginning to end. We'll have a brief intermission and the band will come back out we'll do a more standard approach... We'll play my father's music that wasn't on the first album, my music, and the music that really connects us.

"There's a lot of video footage of during the first set of all kinds of things. Some of it is things that are put together based on the songs and other videos that are going to be going on behind the band are family images and videos. And it's very emotional. It's funny, and I think it's something that people are going to be very emotional about."

 A.J. Croce
Joshua Black Wilkins
submitted image
A.J. Croce has released 10 albums of mostly original material and shared stages with Lenny Kravitz, Willie Nelson and B.B. King.

As a two-year old, did you have memories of your dad?

"I think it was more a sense of, you know, being held or feeling secure and feeling safe. You know, those simple and important emotions we have as as as children."

'Time In A Bottle' was written for you. You couldn't have known that at the time, but looking back, your dad had one of his biggest hits with a song you inspired. That one must be special.

"Absolutely. In fact, it took a long time to even be able to perform it — you know, very emotional song. It's wonderful. I mean, I think a lot of people have a connection to the song, whether they were married to it or whether they just had it in their life at a certain time. And it resonated. That's how music is, you know?"

You've got a new song of your own called 'So Much Fun.' It really sounds like New Orleans to me. Is this a taste of a new album?

"It's certainly one of the directions that the next record could go. New Orleans Music has always been a big part of what I learned to play. And so, yeah, it definitely has that vibe to it. I wrote that song with a gentleman named Gary Nicholson. We've been writing together on and off for 25 years. And it was kind of funny because it really relates to the time we're in at the moment where we're getting to reconnect with friends and have social events and be able to go to concerts and hang out at people's houses, and it's so much fun to have people come and visit, and then it's equally wonderful when they leave. And that is in a nutshell what the song is about."

“Croce Plays Croce” is A.J. Croce’s tribute to his father Jim. He'll pull up to the piano Thursday night at the Carolina Theatre of Durham.

Eric Hodge hosts WUNC’s broadcast of Morning Edition, and files reports for the North Carolina news segments of the broadcast. He started at the station in 2004 doing fill-in work on weekends and All Things Considered.
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