A.J. Croce shares story behind ‘Twelve Tales’Written by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It started as a wish list. A.J. Croce jotted down the names of producers he wanted to work with, and it turned into a yearlong adventure across the country.
“The first thought was 12 [producers]; it was absolutely impractical. And then I thought it was cooler to do six because each producer would have basically a 45, a side A and a side B. They would choose which songs they liked, and we would go from there,” the singer-songwriter said.
“Cowboy [Jack Clement] was the first to sign on, and that really gave some name recognition for all the producers who wanted to be involved.”
Croce traveled to Nashville to work with Clement, the mastermind behind many legendary Sun Studio records. It was one of the producer’s last sessions before he died last year.
“Cowboy was ill when we were working together, and he was 81 years old. That being said, he was pretty engaged in the choosing of the songs,” Croce said during a call from his San Diego home.
“The formula for him — and a lot of classic producers — was pick a great song and think of the right players to play it, and then just record it until you have a good pass, and then you’ve got it. That’s what he did with all of the Sun Records stuff, Jerry Lee [Lewis] and Elvis, Carl Perkins and, of course, with Johnny Cash, who he worked with for so long.
“And every one of the producers, all from different eras, different genres, they were all of at that mind set: Get a great live recording of the song and picking the right song that they felt they could really identify with,” he said.
Clement and the other producers — Allen Toussaint, Greg Cohen, Kevin Killen, Mitchell Froom and Tony Berg — listened to Croce’s demos and selected their tracks for “Twelve Tales,” which was released in January.
New Orleans icon Toussaint chose “Rollin’ On,” a jaunty song Croce co-wrote with Leon Russell.
“I wanted to write something really in [Russell’s] style. I wrote the chorus, ‘Rollin’ on,’ there’s nothing to it, and it was such a sing-along chorus; it was a fun one. [Russell] got it and about an hour later, I got eight verses back and just pared it down in the studio when I was working with Allen,” Croce recalled.
“It was great to work with both those guys on that and a little daunting to be the piano player because they’re both so great.”
The son of Jim Croce is modest; he has a reputation for rollicking boogie-woogie key work. Songwriting must run in the family.
“I grew up listening to [my dad’s music]. When I was a little kid, he was playing when I was home. And then when he died, you know, it was on the radio all the time,” the 42-year-old said.
“I think those three records that he made in a lot of ways remind me of Buddy Holly in that there’s hardly anything bad on those records; they’re really good, like every song is really good. And it’s just three records, but for so few songs and a two-year career, he fit a lot in.”
Croce will play at 8 p.m. Aug. 4 at the Ark in Ann Arbor. Tickets are $20. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.