A.J. Croce wasn’t quite 2 years old when his father, singer/songwriter Jim Croce, died in a 1973 plane crash.
For several years, the younger Croce stuck to playing his own music and songs he loved. He toured with B.B. King and Ray Charles before he was 21.
But in recent years, he has embraced his father’s legacy.
“The concert is about connections between my father’s music, my music and the music that influenced both of us,” Croce said. “It’s really about the connection we all have to our parents, to our children, to the ones we love, to our friends. That being said, It’s a really energetic show.”
“Croce Plays Croce” is set for two performances at 5 and 8 p.m. March 19 at The Tarkington at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel. Both shows are nearly sold out.
Some of his father’s biggest hits include “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” “Operator (That’s the Not the Way it Feels),” “I Got a Name” and “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim.”
Croce said he has several favorites, but “Time in a Bottle” is personal because his father wrote the song when he learned his wife, Ingrid, was pregnant with A.J.
“We play the big hits, but it changes from night to night,” Croce said. “My father’s catalog is really three albums. I’ve had 30 years of recording to switch in and out of the show as well as thousands of songs we have in common.”
Croce, 50, said he began playing his father’s songs in concert five years ago.
“I got to the place where I had a bunch of chart success with 15 or 16 songs,” Croce said. “I played with all my heroes and done these different things and I feel like I had some integrity. I had offers to play my father’s music since I was 16, but it was not an inspiring thing for me.”
Croce said about 20 years ago he was transferring much of his father’s home recordings to digital.
“At that time, I found a tape that had all these covers. Obviously, he didn’t get to play his own music when he was playing little clubs around Philly,” Croce said. “This particular tape had 12 or 13 songs. About 10 of them were songs that I had been playing since I was a kid. They were obscure jazz and blues artists and some country stuff. But not only was it the artists we had in common, but the actual songs.”
Croce said the tapes included a Fats Waller song, “You’re Not the Only Oyster in the Stew,” which he also had on his first Columbia Records demo.
There were deep cuts from Mississippi John Hurt, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, and Bessie Smith.
“I’m a piano player, first and foremost. Around this time I had been gifted a guitar by my mother that was one he gave to her and he had written his first two albums on,” Croce said. “I felt an obligation to learn the instrument. It’s special to me and it’s also an amazing ‘30s Gibson.”
On what would have been his father’s 70th birthday in 2013, Croce said the family had a party to celebrate.
“I played a bunch of his songs, a few of mine and songs from that tape,” Croce said. “That was the catalyst for how ‘Croce Plays Croce’ began. I didn’t play another show like that for five years. Once I realized I’m not doing an impersonation of my father, this is a tribute to his music and his legacy. It’s something that I felt not just happy to do but I felt sort of an obligation of sorts to share his music.
“It’s not something I do every night, but when I do, it’s really enjoyable. I see how it affects the people in the audience.”
Croce has a setlist for the band but does deviate from it for each concert.
“The more into it the audience is, the more I can curate the set,” he said.
For more, visit thecenterpresents.com or ajcrocemusic.com.