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Bad, Bad Leroy Brown - Jim Croce
I never really thought of my neighborhood in South Philly as being a neighborhood," said Jim Croce. "It was more a state of mind. For people who aren't familiar with those kind of places, it's a whole different thing. Like 42nd Street in New York City is a state of mind. I think that if 42nd Street were in China, they'd probably call it the Street of the Living Gargoyles. You see some very unusual people there, lurking in doorways. The people who live in phone booths are strange, too."
Jim Croce grew up in Philadelphia, watching his favorites perform on "American Bandstand."
"Certain groups really knocked me out -- Fats Domino, the Coasters, and the Impressions. The things the Coasters used to do, their visual act, was something I could always get into. It was something you could see around the neighborhood, too. It was real.
"That music was really goodtime music. There wasn't any heavy message in the delivery and the subject matter was just 'stomp your feet, get up and have a good time, dance, laugh, and forget yourself.' It wasn't the morbid 'ain't it terrible' school of songwriting. The stuff just feels good when you listen to it; you feel like moving around. I think people want to hear goodtime music."
The music of Jim Croce expressed many emotions, and much of it was goodtime. It was also real -- about ourselves, and characters we see on the street, everyday.
"Well, they're real people, and I think that anybody who's either traveled from one place to another or been in the service or worked, whether it's in a factory or an office building, will have seen the kind of people I sing about. 'Rapid Roy,' for example, with a pack of cigarettes wrapped up in his T-shirt sleeve."
The Croce hit streak began in 1972, with "You Don't Mess Around with Jim" and "Operator." Then, in 1973, he introduced his most famous character, "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown."
"I met him at Fort Dix, New Jersey. We were in lineman (telephone) school together. He stayed there about a week, and one evening he turned around and said he was really fed up and tired. He went AWOL, and then came back at the end of the month to get his pay check. They put handcuffs on him and took him away. Just to listen to him talk and see how 'bad' he was, I knew someday I was gonna write a song about him."
To emphasize the character even more, Jim described him in the lyrics as "meaner than a junkyard dog."
"Yeah, I spent about a year and a half driving those $29 cars, so I drove around a lot looking for a universal joint for a '57 Chevy panel truck or a transmission for a '51 Dodge. I got to know many junkyards well, and they all have those dogs in them. They all have either an axle tied around their necks or an old lawnmower to keep 'em at least slowed down a bit, so you have a decent chance of getting away from them."
"Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" was released in April 1973, and peaked at number one in July. It was still on the charts on September 20, the day Jim died in a plane crash in Natchitoches, Louisiana. He was thirty years old.