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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 told us, Jim had no interest in being a soldier and had the distinction of having to repeat basic training. Ingrid explains how Jim got the idea for this song: "Leroy Brown is a guy that he actually met. When he was in the service - The National Guard - this guy had gone AWOL. He was a guy that Jim kind of related to, he liked to sing with him. This guy had gone AWOL but he came back to get his paycheck, and he got caught. Jim just thought he was such a funny guy that he thought he'd include his name in the song, and it just worked. There really was a Leroy Brown, and sometimes having a name helps you to build a song around it."
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.'"
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.
The piano riff at the beginning was based on Bobby Darin's "Queen of the Hop."
This was Jim Croce's first #1 hit ("Time in a Bottle" was the other). It topped the charts 10 weeks before he died in a plane crash.
This is sung by a parrot in the movie Home Alone 3. Shelly Smith covered it for that film's soundtrack. (thanks, Greg - Calgary, Canada)
In 2008, producer Warren Zide (American Pie
) bought the movie rights to this song. 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." (Read more in Ingrid Croce's Songfacts interview
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