Jim Croce – Bad, Bad Leroy Brown

Jim Croce was the first time I ever heard about a star dying. I heard it on the radio when I was 7. My sister had his greatest hits and I played it non-stop. This one is easy for kids to remember. This song has been played to death and I wasn’t going to post it…but after listening to it I have to admit I was enjoying the song again.

Jim Croce and guitarist  Maury Muehleisen died in a plane crash on September 20, 1973. The song peaked at #1 in July of 1973 and was still on the charts when the accident happened.

Jim Croce: This is a song about a guy I was in the army with… It was at Fort Dix, in New Jersey, that I met this guy. He was not made to climb the tree of knowledge, as they say, but he was strong, so nobody’d ever told him what to do, and after about a week down there he said “Later for this” and decided to go home. So he went AWOL—which means to take your own vacation—and he did. But he made the mistake of coming back at the end of the month to get his paycheck. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen handcuffs put on anybody, but it was SNAP and that was the end of it for a good friend of mine, who I wrote this tune about, named Leroy Brown.

“Yeah, I spent about a year and a half driving those $29 cars, so I drove around a lot looking for a universal joint for a ’57 Chevy panel truck or a transmission for a ’51 Dodge. I got to know many junkyards well, and they all have those dogs in them. They all have either an axle tied around their necks or an old lawnmower to keep ’em at least slowed down a bit, so you have a decent chance of getting away from them.”

From Songfacts

Set in the hardscrabble section of Chicago, this song tells the story of Leroy Brown, the “baddest man in the whole damn town.” He’s big and dangerous, loved by the ladies and feared by the men. But one day he picks a battle he can’t win, making a move on the wife of a guy who leaves him looking like a jigsaw puzzle with a some missing pieces.

The story is based on truth, but embellished. Jim’s wife, Ingrid Croce, told Songfacts the story.

Jim Croce joined the US National Guard in 1966, hoping it would keep him from getting sent to Vietnam. He married Ingrid that year, and hoped to continue his education and launch his music career. Unfortunately, Jim was sent for training less then two weeks after their wedding. As Ingrid explained, Jim had no interest in being a soldier and had the distinction of having to repeat basic training. But he did meet a guy who inspired one of his most famous songs. 

When Jim Croce would introduce this song, he said there were two people he encountered in the military who inspired this song: a sergeant at Fort Jackson and a private at Fort Dix. The actual Leroy was the sergeant, but it was the private who went AWOL and returned for his paycheck.

Croce had his breakthrough in 1972 with the album You Don’t Mess Around with Jim, which had hit singles in the title track and “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels).” “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” appeared on his next album, Life And Times, and gave him his first #1 hit, topping the Hot 100 on July 21, 1973. On September 30, Croce died in a plane crash at age 30. After his death, “Time In A Bottle,” a track from You Don’t Mess Around with Jim, was released as a single and also went to #1.

The piano riff at the beginning was based on Bobby Darin’s “Queen of the Hop.”

Ingrid runs Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar in San Diego, where she keeps Jim’s legacy alive and hears from many patrons who were touched by Jim’s songs. Says Ingrid: “I have a lot of staff members that come up to me and say, ‘You know what, there’s a guy named Leroy Brown, he kind of looks like the part, and he’s sitting at our bar right now.’ I say, ‘Well, I’ll be glad to come over and say hi.’ There’s so many Leroy Browns who have come up to me and said, ‘I’m sure I’m the one he was talking about.'”

Croce was a peaceful guy, but two of his biggest hits end in violence. In his first single, “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” the title character gets it even worse than Leroy, getting “cut in in about a 100 places and shot in a couple more.”

This is sung by a parrot in the 1997 movie Home Alone 3; Shelly Smith covered it for that film’s soundtrack.

Other movies to use the song include Sneakers (1992) and Easy Street (1987). TV series to use it include Psych (“Dis-Lodged” – 2008) and The Wonder Years (“Scenes from a Wedding” – 1992).

This wasn’t the first hit from the ’70s to feature a “Leroy.” In Todd Rundgren’s song “We Gotta Get You A Woman,” the lovelorn character is named Leroy. In real life, he was Paul, but Rundgren couldn’t find a good rhyme for that name.

The song gets a mention in the 1999 episode of Friends, “The One With All the Resolutions,” when Joey walks out Phoebe’s guitar lesson and she yells at him, “Don’t come crying to me when everyone is sick and tired of hearing you play ‘Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.'” Rachel then walks in singing the song.

In 2008, producer Warren Zide (American Pie) bought the movie rights to this song, but nothing became of it. Ingrid Croce said: “We’ve always wanted to do a movie with one of Jim’s character songs – we just want him and his memory and his music to live on. Most importantly, it sounds as if it’s going to be a lot of fun. And Jim liked to have fun.”

Bad Bad Leroy Brown

Well the South side of Chicago
Is the baddest part of town
And if you go down there
You better just beware
Of a man named Leroy Brown

Now Leroy more than trouble
You see he stand ’bout six foot four
All the downtown ladies call him “Treetop Lover”
All the men just call him “Sir”

And it’s bad, bad Leroy Brown
The baddest man in the whole damned town
Badder than old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog

Now Leroy he a gambler
And he like his fancy clothes
And he like to wave his diamond rings
In front of everybody’s nose
He got a custom Continental
He got an Eldorado too
He got a thirty two gun in his pocket for fun
He got a razor in his shoe

And it’s bad, bad Leroy Brown
The baddest man in the whole damned town
Badder than old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog

Now Friday ’bout a week ago
Leroy shootin’ dice
And at the edge of the bar
Sat a girl named Doris
And oo that girl looked nice
Well he cast his eyes upon her
And the trouble soon began
And Leroy Brown learned a lesson
‘Bout messin’ with the wife of a jealous man

And it’s bad, bad Leroy Brown
The baddest man in the whole damned town
Badder than old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog

Well the two men took to fighting
And when they pulled them off the floor
Leroy looked like a jigsaw puzzle
With a couple of pieces gone

And it’s bad, bad Leroy Brown
The baddest man in the whole damned town
Badder than old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog

And it’s bad, bad Leroy Brown
The baddest man in the whole damned town
Badder than old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog

Badder than old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog

 

 

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

20 thoughts on “Jim Croce – Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”

    1. He had some intricate guitar passages. He was on the soundtrack of my childhood. Operator is one I liked also. “Time In A Bottle” really sets a mood with it’s melody.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Another excellent song from a wonderful singer who was gone too soon. His life would make a good movie- parents wanting him to be a doctor, financing his first record hoping it would show him music was futile but instead fueling his career; ths sudden stardom, a decision to step away a day too late (he apparently had written that he planned to quit touring as soon as he finished the show he was on his way to when he died.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. His wife said he would have filled in for Johnny Carson at the time…that is why they moved to San Diego…so he would have been more famous than he was.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I didn’t know that. He might’ve been a good tv show host. I think he had aspirations to be a writer/author too; with his colorful characters in songs he might have done well

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes…They were going to spend the night but they called the pilot up and he had to walk like 3 miles to get there. Could have been they were just ready to wrap it up.

        Like

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