‘By Request’: A.J. Croce Discusses Covers Album, Upcoming Performance At New Hope Winery

Photo: Joshua Black Wilkins

He may be the son of the legendary Jim Croce but for more than two decades A.J. Croce has been traveling his own musical road. The multi-talented pianist, singer/songwriter who was born in Bryn Mawr, PA, has had his soulful music appear on a variety of music charts, including the Top 40, Americana, College and Jazz.

The idea for Croce’s most recent album, By Request, came from his love of entertaining friends in his home. It’s an ubiquitous album which finds the Croce not only paying homage to some of his favorite musical memories from artists like Billy Preston, Faces, The Five Stairsteps and Tom Waits, but also celebrating friendship and camaraderie.

Fans will get to experience a multitude of songs from the artist’s work, including a few songs from his father’s catalog, on Friday, August 6, when Croce performs an intimate show at New Hope Winery in New Hope, PA.

I recently spoke with A.J. Croce about his upcoming performane in New Hope, his album, By Request, and more in this exclusive new interview.

What can fans expect from your upcoming performance at New Hope Winery?

Croce: It’s a duo concert and very intimate show. David Berard, who’s played bass with Dr. John for more than thirty years and with so many other artists, will be with me playing and singing. I usually hate sticking to a set list so it will be a lot of fun to have the flexibility to just pull things out of thin air and work with the feeling and the moment.

Does the area hold any kind of special meaning for you?

Croce: Absolutely. I was born in Bryn Mawr and have visited the area just about every year since I was born. My grandmother is in Philly, my godmother is in Phoenixville and I have aunts, uncles and cousins that live in the area as well.

How would you describe your sound? Is there a way you could put into words what your music is all about?

Croce: I usually try to let others describe it because when you try to compare yourself to something else it puts you in a box. I always thought of it as soul music, but over the last thirty years I’ve recorded albums that lean more towards jazz, blues, rock and R&B.

Where did the idea for your album, By Request, originate and what was the criteria for selecting which songs to cover?

Croce: I started out playing in jazz bars, piano clubs, and blues bars, so playing other people’s material was never a foreign thing to me. But I had never recorded an album of covers. I’ve always loved entertaining in my home and often have friend over. Some of my friends are musicians and others are just music fans who would come over and say, “Hey, will you play this…” or “Hey, do you know this song?…” The songs I chose for the album were ones from particular evenings that were memorable. Having gone through what we did over the past year in terms of the pandemic, I think there’s a real connection for people with this album because getting together was something we couldn’t experience. The album was recorded live as much as possible, and I want the listener to feel like they were a part of the house party.

I want to ask you about a few of the tracks on the album and get your thoughts, starting with “Ooh Child” — The Five Stairsteps

Croce: Every song on the album was from a particular evening that was memorable for me. In the case of The Five Stairsteps, that was something that David had requested. We had been in our van driving when that song came on the stereo. We started singing along and David said it would be a great song to cover. So we started messing around with it on stage before sound check and it just clicked.

“Stay With Me” — Faces

Croce: The one was requested by a friend of mine. I had toured with Rod Stewart, Santana and Jeff Beck years ago and always loved Rod’s voice in Faces. I also dug [keyboardist] Ian McLagan’s playing and interpretation.

“Nothing From Nothing” — Billy Preston

Croce: That one I wanted to arrange a little bit differently. I wanted it to have a funkier horn arrangement and took some inspiration from Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder.

What’s your own songwriting process like?

Croce: It’s interesting you ask because in the past what I’d do was to take a piece of music I’d written and the words would come, or I’d take a line or cliche that sounded good and then turn it on its head. Other times I’d have a story line in mind and write the song around that. In the last year or so I’ve found myself writing a lot of music and then thinking about it and seeing how it makes me feel. Then I write a story around that feeling. It all happens naturally.

You’ve no doubt had lucrative offers to go out and perform nothing but your father’s music. What made you decide to do otherwise?

Croce: There’s just about every reason not to do it. I love my father’s music and enjoy performing Croce plays Croce shows, but if that’s all I did I wouldn’t want to play. It’s also nearly impossible because my dad had such a unique style. I also wasn’t a guitar player. I played piano first and guitar came later. Having said that, I see the beauty of performing his music in my show and the music that connects us. There’s a nostalgia people feel and an emotional aspect that’s really beautiful. With music it’s not only about how it makes you feel when you’re with friends and everything is wonderful, but also when things aren’t going so well. I think that’s why his music connected with a lot of people.

What excites you the most about this next phase of your career?

Croce: Honestly, it’s the unknown. I’m grateful for being able to do what I love. As far as this record goes, I couldn’t ask for more. I’m excited about anything creative I can do, whether it’s writing music or performing. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

A.J. Croce will perform at New Hope Winery on Friday, August 6.

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