Bad, Bad Leroy Brown

Album: Life And Times (1973)
Charted: 1
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  • 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. "Leroy Brown is a guy that he actually met," said Ingrid. "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."
  • 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."

Comments: 25

  • Leroy from ManilaI am named after the song, just want to know what's the story behind it
  • Lynn Oliver from From GeorgiaI think I heard a song from Jim Croce about politicians. Still waiting for it to come up on my brother's music list again.
  • Al F from MassachusettsAs an adolescent, I used to accompany my father on odd painting and wallpapering jobs. While working, we listened to music from his "paint radio" - a bible-sized thing covered with drops of paint. "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" was one song I distinctly remember. My father was adamant the lyric was "baddest man in the whole down town." I said, "No Dad, it's "DAMN town". I know he has been a bit hard of hearing, but back then, mostly, I think he was just being a Dad. A "damn good one", too!
  • Jack from IowaIf you listen closely to the song (and I have heard it hundreds of times because my two year old loves it), you will see that the winner of the fight isn't mentioned in the song. Nevertheless, the assumption in several writeups is that Leroy lost but listen to the song. If we look at the clues in the song then the winner is clear. They are both pulled from the floor. Leroy is still alive and is just missing a few pieces and Jim Croce still says he is the baddest man in the whole damn town. It's pretty clear to me that Leroy won the fight. Unfortunately, Jim Croce died before he could record a sequel to the song where we would see all see that.
  • Seventhmist from 7th HeavenMore or less the same song as "You Don't Mess Around With Jim," but both are great.
  • Susan from Atlanta, GeorgiaI was in high school when this song came out. At that time, my parents and another couple would go out to their company dances and events together, and my mom told me later that on their way home afterward, she and the other lady would sing this song at the top of their lungs, usually under a little bit of "spirit"ual influence. I always think of that when I hear this song, and it's such a wonderful memory.

    I also saw early on the similarities between this song and "Don't Mess Around With Jim", but each song can stand on its own as a great song.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaWish I could have seen Jim and met him. Love the piano on this tune. Who played it?
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyAmazingly Frank Sinatra covered this record and even charted with it, peaking at No. 83 on Billboard in 1974...
  • Jas from Clifton, TxUmmm Drew, you definitely should not have taken the red pill. In fact, I'm a little weirded out by that whole comment. Forced labor? Bonnie & Clyde? Before you start the usual of how people don't understand you as an artist because they are somehow not up to your level, consider that you're taking a pretty good story/song written by one of the great singer/songwriters of all time and injecting it with stuff Timothy Leary wouldn't even touch. Just enjoy this wonderful song.
  • Drew from B'ham, AlKnow what would make for an interesting story? If either "Slim" McCoy or "Big Jim" Walker is the jealous fellow who draws his knife on Leroy Brown. I think Big Jim is more of the type that would react like that. Moreover, a story in which "Slim" visits them both in the hospital & leads them out to teach them respect via forced labor to build character. To top it all off, the character building labor lying in the criminal path of Billy Joe & Bobbie Sue, who are similar to Bonnie & Clyde, but organized like Al Capone. Other criminals y'all can think of who were weaned to be mean could be thrown in.
  • Jas from Clifton, Txtaylor in columbia, there is no such thing as "a-wall." It's AWOL, or Absent Without Official Leave. That aside, I have always loved listening to Jim Croce. He was one of the true great songwriters in the world, and he was a man above the times. While the US was in chaos and every other person on the street wanted to be a singer and make some great political statement, Jim Croce was able to look past that and simply write about what he saw without pretending to change the political scene with a song. That's an artist in the purest form. He just loved music and he wanted to share it with the world. This is a great song that almost everybody knows.
  • Bianca Sanchez from Alburquerque, NmGreat song!!!!!!!!!

    My Dad told me that when he was in Middle School he was singng this while walking down the hall and when he said "baddest man in the whole 'Damn' town all the teachers started looking at him, and teachers could paddle you then for saying something like 'damn' so he says "I said 'baddest man in the whole 'down' town"
  • Derek from Cambridge, New ZealandVinnie Jones, the former soccer player for England, and now actor, recorded this song in 2003, and actually made a fairly decent effort!!!
  • Darrell from Eugene, United StatesThis song is NOT about the main character of a series of well-known children's detective novels (Leroy "Encyclopedia" Brown), and Jim Croce probably never picked up an Encyclopedia Brown book in his entire short life. I should know. When I was kneehigh to an idiot, I loved those books. I still have them all.
  • Taylor from Columbia, United StatesIt says that he wrote that song while he was in the army, he was stationed at Fort Jackson in Columbia South Carolina...Leroy Brown was a big black guy in his company who went a-wall and went back to chicago and got into a bar fight and arrested, thats how they caught up with him, so Jim decided to turn the story into a song...which is my favorite karyoke jam
  • Jay from Atlanta, GaYes, I agree with you Jamie (Bethesda), but in "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" if you listen close at the end he says "You don't mess around with 'Slim'".
  • John from Yardley, PaJim and his wife lived in the Philadelphia area when he was getting pretty famous. The line" meaner than a junkyard dog" came to him when he and a friend were walking in Philadelphia and came upon a junkyard. The dog behind the gate started barking and going nuts when the two approached. Jim's friend remarked something like" man, that's one mean junkyard dog". The rest is history.
  • Bobodobo from Los Angeles, CaI love Jim Croce but I never cared much for Bad, Bad Leroy Brown. To me it seems like a carbon copy of Jim Croce's earlier but less popular song, "Don't Mess Around With Jim" - the story line and verse/chorus layout is exactly the same. I also thought the sparse instrumentation (acoustic guitar lead, bass and drums only) and scat singing on DMAWJ was more effective that the honky tonk piano on BBLB.
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnThis was a prime example of Jim Croce's outstanding songwriting. My favorite line was "Leroy looked like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces gone."
  • Donald from El Dorado, ArIn some states this song was banned, from being played on radio. Because it glorified gangsters.
    The 1970's was a decade of the Me! generation. All of the hippies and flower children made an affect, on the way the 1970's became. Women exchanged dresses for bell bottoms and men let their hair grow long. It was a real crisis.Not to mention crooked politicians and hard times.
  • Sean from Toronto, CanadaThis song was referenced in the "Friends" episode "The One With All The Resolutions" (and had the second line of the chorus sung by Jennifer Aniston), and also sung by Coby Bell and Skipp Sudduth in the "Third Watch" episode "Sunny, Like Sunshine".
  • Jay from New York, NyLeroy Brown is bad because everyone thinks he is bad. He's big and looks tough. No one had ever challenged him to a fight; they took one look at him and decided it was better not to risk it. It turns out that he was not as tough as his reputation.
  • Jamie from Bethesda, MdIf Leroy Brown is so "Bad"....why does he get his Ass kicked at the end of the song by some other guy. Maybe the song should be about the guy the Kicks Leroy Brown's Ass. Just a thought...Im almost sure the same thing happens in the song about 'Jim"
  • Aj from Cleveland, GaI love this song I am a huge Jim Croce fan
  • Ayns from Vancouver, CanadaIt was sung in Chinese in the movie Sneakers.
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