Now, this is a treat for me as I love both Jerry Reed and Jim Croce.
Even if Jerry just does rudimentary versions of Jim's songs that would be enough to keep me entertained.
How this album came about I have no idea.
I don't know if Jerry knew Jim though they were contemporaries on different musical scenes.
If they were friends then Jerry took his time in releasing this "tribute". Jim Croce was killed in a plane crash in 1973 and Jerry recorded this album in 1980.
There is a "Thank You Jerry Reed, Ingrid Croce" from Jim's wife on the back sleeve but otherwise no indication of any familiarities..
Thirty minutes on the information highway reveals nothing.
Perhaps they played a show together, perhaps Jim's wife or Jerry's wife would know (Jerry died in 2008).
Country musicians covering folkies is no more unusual that folkies being turned on by country music sounds but a whole album?
Jerry clearly liked Jim Croce otherwise why do an album some seven years after the mans death. Jim's profile and popularity were not on a revival so there is no commercial reason to do it (if that is a motivation, and it often is). And, Jerry had already covered Jim before on his "Mind Your Love" album from 1975 where he had done "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" so he is well aware of him.
But the question remains, what does a good ol' boy, country guitar picker from Atlanta Georgia see in the urban folk of a son of Italian American migrants from South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania?
The answer seems to be in outlooks on life.
Their musical personalities are not widely different and I suspect that's what Jerry Reed sees in Jim Croce's music.
Jerry's obvious main persona was a good ol' boy jokey country singer (which is a stereotype, albeit one encouraged by him) but he had a sensitive side which often comes out in his music. But, amid the bluff and bravado there is a guy who can be quite sensitive (and even maudlin in that country way) at times. Check out "A Thing called Love", "Patches", and covers like "Early Morning Rain" and "City Of New Orleans". Jim's persona, on the other hand, was from the big city urban folk school where you wear your heart on your sleeve, get wounded in the process and otherwise sensitive and pensive in that singer-songwriter way. Yet, amongst that he, very unlike others of his genre, has a swagger, a strut and a defiance in his music which is brims with good natured humorous arrogance. Check out "Jim", "Leroy Brown" and "Rapid Roy".
So, despite the different locales, country and urban, this is where the two met musically … the tough country boy with a sensitive side and the sensitive city boy with a tough side who tackle life and all of it's paths with humour.
For Jerry Reed to cover Jim Croce is an almost perfect partnership of musical personality to songwriter.
1980, though, was part of a dangerous time for country music. Nashville slickness reigned supreme, and there is some of that here. Strings (luckily by Bill Justis so they are tasteful) abound, slick chorused backing vocals crop up everywhere, the jagged edges have been rounded off, but we do have Jerry Reed's wonderful guitar playing which is inherently, and wonderfully, unpredictable and he is backed by a Nashville A-team who play to the producers demands.
And here the producer is Jerry (with Chip Young).
Still, hard core country lovers won't be convinced by some of the more quirky folk observational lyrics and blinkered folky singer-songwriters won't be happy about the country arrangements but there is plenty to like here if you like Jerry Reed or Jim Croce or, especially, if you like both.
For more detail on Reed check my comments. Some Jim albums to come in the future.
All songs by Jim Croce unless otherwise noted.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Workin' At The Carwash Blues – a very "street" song but big country towns have streets, and car washes, and dreams failed, and carwash blues.
- One Less Set Of Footsteps – a great "kiss off" song and one that works perfectly in a country musical setting.
- You Don't Mess Around With Jim – a brag of a song with Jim a city cousin to Jerry's "Amos Moses".
- I Got A Name – (Norman Gimbel , Charles Fox) – a beautiful song and Jerry does it beautifully, country style … you can see him driving a truck singing his heart out with this. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Got_a_Name_(song)
- Time In A Bottle – schmaltz. It works as a singer-songwriter song but as a country song it becomes maudlin the only thing that saves it is Jerry's gruff voice.
- Age – Potentially maudlin but handled straight and it comes off well
- I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song – This beautiful song could have collapsed badly as a country song … and it starts to with strings and whatnot but Jerry's straight vocals and magnificent guitar picking save the day. And, of course, the song is magnificent.
- The Hard Way Every Time – Nice but not memorable here.
- Bad, Bad Leroy Brown – Jerry's second chop at this song. He did it on his "Mind Your Love" (1975) album. That version is perhaps slightly better.
- Careful Man – some great Reed picking.
It's hard to remain unbiased so I won't bother, I love this … I'm keeping it.
1980 Age Country Singles #36
1980 #56 Country
One Less Set Of Footsteps
You Don't Mess Around With Jim
I Got A Name
Time In A Bottle
The Hard Way Every Time
Bad, Bad Leroy Brown
I contacted Jim's widow ms Ingrid Croce via the internet and asked her, "Did Jim Croce ever know or meet Jerry Reed?" in an effort to find out why he may have recorded an album of Jim's songs.
Her response was,
"I know that Jim Croce would have been very honored that Jerry Reed did an album of his songs.
I believe they met in Nashville and Jerry sent me a lovely plant after Jim passed.
Other than that, I really can’t say why?"