It's been quite a journey for singer songwriter A.J. Croce to step outside his famous father's shadow and move ahead so life doesn't pass him by.
A.J was not yet two when his father, Jim Croce died in a plane crash. Later, his mother got involved with a man who beat him badly, leaving him partially blind. His wife died from a rare heart condition.
For years, he didn't want to play his father's familiar music. But now he connects with his Dad by performing those classic songs. He's also just released a new single called So Much Fun.
AJ Croce tells Jesse Mulligan his father’s music is still iconic and sells a lot of records in America.
“It’s one of those things where he’s kind of been side-lined and I think in that way, I’ve recognised a little bit of myself in that and recognised also the beauty of the music and the complicated elements of renown.”
He found solace in the piano at his grandmother’s house, which he says he used to crawl to before he could even walk.
“I fell in love with it and I wanted to get better and I think there was a part of getting better, once I was a little bit older, where I realised there was a certain jealousy and people felt like I would have this sort of easy go of it because my father did it, which is rarely the case.
“So I thought the best way of doing that [proving myself] was to really follow my own inclinations as a musician and that led me to all the things I’ve done.”
Being partially blind, he was drawn to artists like Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Art Tatum, he says.
“Anything that has heart, has an element of the blues in it, regardless of what it is, it could be rock ‘n’ roll, or it could be pop music, if it’s soulful, that’s all I care about.”
It’s something which he finds in his father’s songs too.
“There are these characters that he writes about and the ones he writes about are everyday people you might run into and he found a way to make heroes out of every man or woman.”
Another of his musical inspirations, Floyd Dixon took Croce under his wing when he was 16 and let him open up for him on tour. Then at 18, he went on to tour with B.B King.
“I felt like I got shot out of a canon. I was out with Taj Mahal, and Ray Charles, and Aretha and James Brown and the Nevilles and the Four Tops and Willie Nelson, just all kinds of folks.”
Croce slowly started to reconnect with his father’s music while transferring songs from reel tapes.
“It was all covers, he’s practising what he’s going to play on Friday night or Saturday night, and every single one was an obscure song by an artist that music fans would probably know, you know, it was a Fats Waller song but it wasn’t Aint Misbehavin’ or Honeysuckle Rose, it was You’re Not The Only Oyster In The Stew.
“It just went on and on and it was these exacts songs that I had played since I was 12 or 13 years old and I realised we had a connection and that connection was really tied in part to his record collection.
“I feel like his record collection was as much of an influence, probably more of an influence than he was. He wasn’t there, but his records were.”
Seeing the wonderful reaction to him playing his father’s music at what would’ve been his 70th birthday propelled him to delve into it more, he says.
“No one can be someone else, you can’t recreate the past as much as I love the old aesthetics and whatnot.
“You can try and recreate something, but it’s not ever going to work, you’ve got to make it your own and I think that was the thing that I learned from it. There are some songs that I play pretty similarly and then there’s others that I take a little bit of my own thing and put it in there.”
On losing loved ones, he says the longing and love for them never stops but time has helped him see things in a different perspective.
“The life that came before [the death] is what I remember and what I love and that’s what helps you move to the next place and meet new people and fall in love again and there’s a part of you that feels a little bit lost for a period but with patience it comes.”