Having a famous father can be a mixed blessing if you’re both singers, both songwriters, both musicians. Comparisons are almost unavoidable, and they’re not always fair.
A.J. Croce was barely 2 years old when his father, singer-songwriter Jim Croce, died on takeoff in a small plane leaving Natchitoches Regional Airport in Louisiana, an hour after he’d performed at Northwestern State University.
He was 30.
A.J. Croce got into music young.
The 49-year-old began singing and playing piano in clubs in San Diego while he was in his teens. Into his 20s and 30s, he was touring with B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, James Brown and the Neville Brothers.
Croce said when he heard his father’s music, it made him smile, but it gave him pause, too.
“Part of me is very proud of what he did,” said the singer, who performs April 16 on “Mountain Stage” at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington. “But my career has lasted as long as his entire life.”
A.J. Croce said he loves his father’s music, takes his role as caretaker and curator of his father’s legacy very seriously. But he’s not Jim Croce.
“My music is different,” he said.
And comparing the two can get in the way.
Still, Croce acknowledges that he and his father had some common musical threads, which he hoped to share when he played “Mountain Stage” in April. His set will be a sample of his 2021 “Croce on Croce” tour, which is a mix of the father’s songs, the son’s songs and some of the music they have in common.
The tour might have taken place last year, along with Croce’s latest record, “By Request,” which was released in February. But like everyone else, his plans were affected by the pandemic.
All of his shows were canceled, including an appearance with the classic rock band America, which was part of the spring Marshall Artists Series in Huntington.
Croce is only now getting back to performing in public.
“I’m not going to miss the pandemic, but I am going to miss the lockdown,” he said. “I had so much fun being able to practice and write and read and watch old movies and study things I just hadn’t had a chance to do in the same way since I was a teenager.”
Among other things, he spent a lot of time practicing the guitar.
His father sang and played acoustic guitar. A.J. Croce, mostly, plays piano and listens to a lot of piano music, including classical works by Bach and Chopin, as well as jazz artists like Duke Ellington and Teddy Wilson.
“I started playing the guitar later,” he explained.
During the lockdown, he worked on his music, which Croce said took time to get into muscle memory before it was ever ready to be played in front of an audience.
His new record, he said, was ironic for the pandemic year. While live performances in front of a live audience have been scarce, plenty of musicians have hosted intimate online shows through their websites or on social media.
“By Request” was devised as a collection of Croce house-concert favorites.
“These were all songs I played for friends, that they requested on evenings over the last 30 years,” he said.
The record was like an invitation to his house to hang out by the piano.
“I had no idea that it would have the relevance that it did when it got released,” Croce said.
Things appear to be changing. The number of people dying because of COVID-19 is declining, restrictions for live performance are beginning to ease, but the singer/songwriter is adding bookings slowly.
“I’m ready to go if it’s safe for everyone,” he said. “I want my band to be safe. I want the audience to be safe. I want the people at the venue to be safe.”
In the meantime, he said he was excited to bring his “Croce plays Croce” show to the “Mountain Stage.”
“It’s the first time we’ve shared this music with the nation on radio,” he said. “I’m really excited to do that.”