A.J. Croce Talks Covering His Father's Posthumous Hit 'I Got a Name': Premiere

A.J. Croce
Sebastian Smith

A.J. Croce

A.J. Croce sings his late father Jim Croce's songs in his occasional Croce Plays Croce concerts. But he's stayed away from recording any of them -- until now.

The younger Croce is releasing a new version of his father's posthumous 1973 hit "I Got a Name," premiering exclusively below. Just out via digital retailers and streaming services, it was commissioned for a new Goodyear campaign paying tribute to retired race car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Croce tells Billboard the parallels between he and Earnhardt -- both players in the same "family business" as their famous fathers -- made doing the cover appealing.

He also notes that both versions of "I Got a Name," written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, were recorded for outside concerns -- Jim's for the movie The Last American Hero and A.J.'s for the Goodyear spot.

"I thought it was a really sweet idea, and there was certain sincerity about it," A.J. Croce tells Billboard. "There was also a certain irony in it because of all these common facets. Usually I don't find that appealing, but this time I did. I think it's funny that we both recorded it for different commercial purposes that were not necessarily for a record, and it's interesting that both of us, being writers and performers, were doing someone else's piece."

The original "I Got a Name" was released the day after Jim Croce died in a plane crash on Sept. 20, 1973, and hit No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. A.J. Croce recorded four versions of the song -- the full version and three ad-length takes -- in Nashville during a four-hour session that included a guest appearance by the McCrary Sisters. He laughs as he recalls that the studio's younger engineers were awed by the old-school, analog process. "They had never seen a song completely recorded in one day," Croce says. "They had never seen anyone walk into a studio with a full group and record a song. They were like, 'Wow, THAT's how it's done!'" For the single's art Croce also came up with the idea of recreating the iconic image of his father smoking a cigar from the 1973 release. "I thought it was funny and kind of just tongue-in-cheek, and a nice nod to (the original)," he says.

Having performed the song live, Croce says that the emotional weight of recording one of his father's hits was mitigated by the creative drive to make it good. "I wasn't thinking about the heaviness of it that maybe someone outside would be thinking of," he explains. "I was thinking about playing this right, doing the best job I can and really make it about the musical experience of being in the studio and being in the moment instead of being in someone else's moment."

Don't look for Croce to start recording more of his father's music, though. "I would be a very wealthy man if I'd taken those opportunities, but I've turned every one of them down in the past," he says. "I don't know what the point would be. If you want to hear Jim Croce, go buy the records." He does not rule out the idea of documenting a Croce Plays Croce concert for release at some point, however.

Croce has started work on his next album, a set of songs inspired by origin stories that he calls "a bit complicated" and currently in its early stages. He hopes to record later this year and early next with members of Antibalas and the Dap-Tones crew. "It's pretty heady, but I never lose sight that you need to be able to dance to it and enjoy the music, whether you're paying attention to the world or not," says Croce, who lost his wife, Marlo, during July. "That’s part of the reason I like this group; It's soulful and we're doing something that's a little outside of my thing and a little outside of their thing but really shows who we are as musicians and writers and artists. I'm looking forward to finishing it and putting it out."