James Joseph Croce (January 10, 1943 – September 20, 1973) was an American folk and rock singer-songwriter. Between 1966 and 1973, Croce released five studio albums and numerous singles.
His first two albums were commercially unsuccessful, failing to chart or produce any hit singles. During this period, Croce took a series of odd jobs to pay bills while he continued to write, record, and perform concerts. After forming a partnership with songwriter and guitarist Maury Muehleisen, his fortunes turned in the early 1970s. His breakthrough came in 1972; his third album You Don’t Mess Around with Jim produced three charting singles, including “Time in a Bottle”, which reached No. 1 after his death. The follow-up album, Life and Times contained the song “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”, which was the only No. 1 hit he had during his lifetime.
On September 20, 1973, during Croce’s Life and Times tour and the day before his ABC single “I Got a Name” was released, Croce and all five others on board were killed when their chartered Beechcraft E18S crashed into a tree during takeoff from the Natchitoches Regional Airport in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Croce was 30 years old. Others killed in the crash were pilot Robert N. Elliott, Maury Muehleisen, comedian George Stevens, manager and booking agent Kenneth D. Cortese and road manager Dennis Rast. An hour before the crash, Croce had completed a concert at Northwestern State University’s Prather Coliseum in Natchitoches; he was flying to Sherman, Texas for a concert at Austin College.
An investigation showed the twin-engine plane crashed after clipping a pecan tree at the end of the runway. The pilot had failed to gain sufficient altitude to clear the tree and had not tried to avoid it, even though it was the only tree in the area. It was well after sunset, but there was a clear sky, calm winds and over five miles of visibility with haze.
The report from the NTSB named the probable cause as the pilot’s failure to see the obstruction due to physical impairment and because fog reduced his vision. The 57-year-old Elliott suffered from severe coronary artery disease and had run three miles to the airport from a motel. He had an ATP certificate, 14,290 hours total flight time and 2,190 hours in the Beech 18 type airplane. A later investigation placed the sole blame on pilot error due to his downwind takeoff into a “black hole,” severe darkness limiting his use of visual references.
Croce was buried at Haym Salomon Memorial Park in Frazer, Pennsylvania.