The Late, Great Jim Croce Gets a 70th Birthday Celebration

Jim Croce
Jim Croce

The passing of Upper Darby, PA, singer-songwriter Jim Croce and guitarist Maury Muehleisen in a September, 1973 plane crash may have ended  the lives of two talented musicians whose songs like "Time in a Bottle," and "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song" would become hits posthumously. What Croce and Muehleisen’s passing did, beyond creating a legend, was rally together their friends, family, fellow musicians, and, of course, fans. This weekend in Philadelphia, they celebrate what would have been Croce’s 70th birthday and commemorate the 40th anniversary of the plane crash, with the Jim Croce Weekend, September 20 through September 22.

“Jim, Maury and their music has been well remembered through the years, with a newer younger audience of listeners joining in year after year,” says Mary Muehleisen, the sister of the then-24 year old lead guitarist.

The Jim Croce Weekend in Philadelphia – September 20 through September 22 – holds informal gatherings at the Philadelphia Airport Comfort Inn on Friday and a Saturday morning “Memories” bus tour narrated by Croce's cousin, Steve Angelucci, to spots like Methodist Hospital (Jim's birthplace) and his alma mater, Upper Darby High School.

“There is a continuity to honoring Jim that goes back a number of years,” says Angelucci, a one-time writer for The Distant Drummer, an early Philly alternative newspaper. He helped super-fan Tom Orecchio book the first Croce gathering in 1998, and with Ron Gletherow and Maggie Caferelli (now Gletherow) took on the responsibility of producing this upcoming charitable event. “Jim should be inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame - an honor which is long overdue.”

The weekend’s main event takes place Saturday night at the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center’s tribute concert featuring Maggie's Guitar, the pre-eminent Croce tribute band starring British-born Gletherow, who portrayed Croce on the U.K. television program "Stars in Their Eyes", and his wife Margaret, who met at that 1998 Croce gathering. Also appearing Saturday will be The Villanova Spires a cappella group, and Mike Di Benedetto, a Philly guitarist who appeared on Croce’s first album, Facets.

“I spent as much time at Jim's house as I did at my own, and Flora, Jim's mom, treated me like her third son,” says Di Benedetto, who met Croce in 1961 while registering for freshman classes at Villanova University. Their continued friendship brought them to Villanova talent shows, the university’s radio program,  Facets’ recording sessions in Wilmington, DE, and Dylan shows in Rhode Island. “We would always play and sing the time away.”

While Di Benedetto spends his time on stage singing Facets songs, folk traditional tunes, and pieces that he penned about his pal, the Gletherows will focus on Croce’s hits and celebrate the legendary singer-songwriter’s memory by donating proceeds from the weekend to a music scholarship for the Upper Darby High School in Croce’s name

“The event is not just honoring Croce, and Mary's brother, Maury Muehleisen,” says Gletherow. “We're also honoring Joe Salviuolo, Jim's best friend and the guy who introduced Jim to Maury. Sal was also our best buddy until we lost him to cancer three years ago. We’re all family when it comes to Croce.”

The Jim Croce Tribute Weekend is Friday, September 20, through Sunday, September 22. On September 21, there is a bus tour in the morning, and the "Time in a Bottle: The Jim Croce Tribute Concert" hosted by Gene Shay, at 7:30 PM at the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center, 601 Lansdowne Avenue, Upper Darby, PA. Tickets: $17 - $20. Information: 610.622.1189

Photo courtesy of Jim Croce Fans website

Posted on Friday, September 20, 2013