I can’t say that I remember it as if it were yesterday. Heck, I was just on the verge of turning four on September 20th, 1973 and about the only thing going through my mind at the time was probably wondering whether or not Sesame Street was coming on anytime soon. Although I have no personal recognition about that day in particular, I still feel as if I were somehow there.
It’s hard to believe that forty years have passed since the lives of Jim Croce, Maury Muehleisen and four others were tragically cut short when the twin-engine plane in which they were traveling crashed shortly after takeoff. Croce and Muehleisen had just finished performing a show in Natchitoches, Louisiana and were en route to another show in Sherman, Texas when the crash occurred.
As I look back now, I wonder if Jim and Maury were aware of the impact they were going to have. Because I can still remember the very first time I ever heard their music.
It was sometime in the mid 1970′s when my father took me and my brother on our first overnight camping trip to a place called Camp Hugh Beaver.
At the time, I recall being extremely excited about going camping; that is until after we had actually arrived at the campsite and the realization of being away from home hit me like a ton of bricks. From that moment on, I immediately wanted to go home and let my father know it every chance I could, through both tantrum and tears.
Dad initially ignored my pleas, but by the next morning just couldn’t take it any longer and finally gave in to my childish demands. Shortly after breakfast, we packed up our things and began making the long drive home.
Why do I remember this you ask? No, it’s wasn’t because it was one of the many times I was being a spoiled brat (although I was). Rather, the real reason I remember this so vividly is because on the drive home the song “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” came on the car radio…and I was mesmerized. I distinctly remember asking my father who it was that was singing the greatest song any seven-year old had ever heard in his life and finding out all about Jim Croce.
Dad told me all about Jim and his other great songs like “Time In A Bottle” and “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”. How Jim had appeared on television shows and how his songs and stories related to the “common man”.
Then he told me about the plane crash and how Jim and his lead guitarist, Maury had both died. In the naivety of youth, I didn’t really understand what he was saying to me at the time. I thought Dad telling me that Jim and Maury “died” just meant that they went away and would eventually be back. Sadly, it wouldn’t be long until I discovered what death really meant and realized that we (the world) had lost two of the greats.
Less than two months after Jim and Maury’s untimely deaths, Croce’s “I Got A Name” album was released. Songs like the title cut (which still gives me chills listening to it to this day), “Workin’ at the Carwash Blues” and “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song” only remind me of what could have been.
“I Got A Name” is also an apropos title, considering the names Jim Croce & Maury Muehleisen won’t soon be forgotten. Sure, it may have been the last album from two guys whose careers were only beginning to take off, but here I am still thinking about them and their music, forty years later.