He briefly attended Glassboro State College in Glassboro, New Jersey. Muehleisen had written a significant catalogue of songs and was introduced to producers Terry Cashman and Tommy West, successful artists in their own right, who offered to produce an album of Maury’s songs. At that time, Croce was relatively distant from the music industry and was working a series of odd jobs in order to make ends meet. With Maury’s “Gingerbreadd” LP due to be released within a few months, it was then that, through a mutual friend, Muehleisen and Croce were introduced and developed an immediate and lasting rapport. With steady gigs and a growing fan base, Muehleisen invited Croce to back him up as a second guitarist at local Philadelphia-area venues just prior to the release of the “Gingerbreadd” album in November 1970 by Capitol Records. Though commercial results were minimal, the intricacy of the music and songwriting began to have a significant impact—the emergence of a new structural sophistication and commercial appeal—on the musical development of Croce’s own songwriting catalogue.
The result was a sound captured by Cashman and West’s sparse but highly effective production on Croce’s three albums—“You Don't Mess Around with Jim”; “Life and Times”; and “I Got a Name,” which was released posthumously. The resulting commercial success of the music vaulted Croce and Muehleisen into an 18-month series of relatively constant touring, both in the United States and abroad; seven national television appearances, including the Tonight Show, American Bandstand, The Dick Cavett Show, and the Helen Reddy Show; as an opening act for Randy Newman, Woody Allen, and Loggins and Messina; and numerous radio interviews. A typical concert venue was supported entirely by Muehleisen and Croce in a two-guitar acoustic duet, playing to audiences sometimes as large as 10,000 people (Chicago’s Ravinia Folk Festival – July 1973). Croce’s gregarious stage presence was perfectly balanced by Maury’s reserved and humble nature. Occasionally, producer Tommy West would join them onstage, typically on the TV appearances, playing the piano. With constant touring becoming a grind, and a #1 record on the charts (“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”) Muehleisen and Croce returned to New York’s “The Hit Factory” in the summer of 1973 to record Croce’s third record as a single artist.
Recording sessions were sandwiched between tour stops, and the final song was finished on September 14, 1973. Interestingly enough, one of Croce’s last songs recorded was a song penned by Muehleisen, titled “Salon and Saloon,” one of the few songs on Croce’s solo albums where he was not the prime song writer (the “I Got a Name” LP included two other non-Croce-written tunes.) Croce was also later posthumously inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. Working to meet obligations for touring, Muehleisen and Croce left New York to head to the Southeast United States to continue their tour. On September 20, 1973, they found themselves in a college town of Natchitoches, Louisiana at Northwest State University. Their entourage—the pilot, Muehleisen, Croce, and Croce’s road manager and his booking agent—arrived by small plane. With their typical crisp show behind them (opened by Maury's engine-revving introduction to "Rapid Roy"; Croce’s usual popular between-song banter; and a closing song of "Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown," Croce's #1 hit), the group was joined by the opening-act comedian and headed to the same local airport they had arrived at earlier that day for a flight to the following day’s concert venue in Sherman, Texas.
An interesting fact from the last concert's set list is that Croce and Muehleisen played the song "Thursday," written by the very individual who had originally introduced them to each other, Joe Salviuolo. Joe had met Muehleisen while he was a teacher at Glassboro State College and writing/performing under the name Sal Joseph, and included on the album, "I Got a Name." Croce also introduced the song "I Got a Name" that evening by mentioning that it had been written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox for the movie "The Last American Hero," who had also contributed the #1 hit "Killing Me Softly" to Roberta Flack. The plane never made it to Sherman, not gaining enough altitude to clear an area of large pecan trees at the end of the runway. The official report of the accident hints that the charter pilot, Robert Newton Elliott, who had severe coronary artery disease, and who had run a portion of the 3 miles to the airport from a motel, may have suffered a heart attack causing him to crash into the trees on a clear runway with excellent visibility. A later investigation placed the sole blame for the accident on pilot error. The pilot and all passengers were killed instantly at 10:45 PM EST on September 20, 1973, less than an hour after the end of their last concert.
Early the following week, Muehleisen was interred in Trenton. Croce was also laid to rest in the Philadelphia area, even though he had recently relocated to San Diego. Family, friends, and fans were stunned to learn of the premature demise of two gifted, gentle, and unpretentious singer-songwriters, who were taken well before their time. News of the premature deaths of the duo sparked a massive interest in Jim’s first two albums – “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” and “Life and Times” - as well as the “I Got A Name” single, which was released later that same week. This was followed closely by the release of the album of the same title.
Sales soared and resulted in three gold records. A “Greatest Hits” package released in 1974 also proved to be extraordinarily popular. The catalogue became a staple of radio play, turntables, cassettes, and CDs for years, still receiving significant airplay in the first decade of the 21st century. The music written by Croce, produced by Cashman and West, and impacted by Muehleisen’s musical genius has continued to remain popular because of its enduring qualities, unique musical structure, and relevance to people’s lives. Read more on Last.fm.
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