A.J. Croce returns to Austin on Saturday at the Strange Brew thanks to February’s Twelve Tales. His father Jim Croce (“Time in a Bottle,” “Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown”) died in a 1973 plane crash when he was 2, but A.J. Croce’s been his own musician since the beginning, a dynamic performer and songwriter moving from blues to pop with ease and skill.
Now 42, Croce’s enjoyed a long, sustaining career as a musician and songwriter of his own renown. Twelve Tales took a year to record with six different producers, including “Cowboy” Jack Clement (Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash), Allen Toussaint (Dr. John, Paul McCartney), and Mitchell Froom (Crowded House, Los Lobos). There’s also his co-write with Leon Russell, “Rollin’ On.”
I spoke to Croce from his home in San Diego.
Austin Chronicle: Let’s talk about having six different producers and studios for your latest album.
A.J. Croce: It’s interesting. I’d produced my last three records and this time I really wanted to do something that was unique and something I could really learn from in the process. I was thinking about this idea of working with different people to bring different things out in my music. I really wanted to do something unique.
I didn’t want to impose my idea of how something should be on the producer. I gave them all raw demos without any of my production because I didn’t want anything to get in the way of what they would imagine. I went one producer and each song at a time, releasing a single a month on iTunes.
AC: You also have your own label. What inspired that?
AJC: My first two records were on a major label. I was on BMG and then when my label folded in 1996 my deal was over. I remember getting the call the day after I heard that everyone had been fired at the label. Then I got a call from a company out of Germany, saying, “Hey, would you be willing to do a blues record?” They didn’t know that my label had folded. They didn’t even know if I was signed or unsigned. It was perfect timing.
AC: It came time for your artist freedom and autonomy?
AJC: Yes, from that moment on I was an independent artist. It took a while to find the right home. Eventually I got a call from Yep Roc and they told me that they would help me start my own label. I took all that experience that I had from recording and promoting – radio – and the experience I had with publishing music I had been working on since I was 18. I put all of that knowledge into a label.
AC: What attracts you to the blues?
AJC: What draws me to it most is the first time I heard a blues scale when I was really young. There was just something there when I learned to play it. I was on a piano and I was just like, “Oh I got to learn how to play that” and I did.
AC: You were playing the blues professionally beginning at quite a young age.
AJC: I toured as an opener for B.B. King when I was 18 years old after the release of my first record.
AC: How do you feel about the constant questions you must get about your father?
AJC: There are aspects of it that are really amazing and great. When I started off as a teenager, I really did everything I could to avoid those questions. I’m happy and proud of my father for achieving that something that makes people’s world a better place because of what he did.
On the other hand, he died when I was just 2, so I didn’t know him and I came to know him the way that his fans came to know him. Of course, I also had my grandmother and my uncle and my mother and all the family that told my stories about him, so in that regard I know a lot more than his fans.
But the fact is I just didn’t know him that well, so for me to be able to share aspects of his personal life I don’t know what to say.
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