You Don't Mess Around With Jim

Album: You Don't Mess Around With Jim (1972)
Charted: 8
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  • A classic Jim Croce story song, this one is about Big Jim Walker, a pool hustler who has built quite a reputation. Everyone knows there are certain things you just don't do:

    Tug on Superman's cape
    Spit into the wind
    Pull the mask off the Lone Ranger
    Mess around with Jim

    We'll one day a guy Jim hustled, Willie "Slim" McCoy, comes to town looking for revenge. By the time he's done, Jim is a bloody mess and the legend is now his:

    You don't mess around with Slim
  • The "Jim" in this song is not Croce. Ingrid Croce, who was married to Jim when he died in a 1973 plane crash at age 30, told Songfacts the story: "Jim [Croce] sold air time for a radio station. When he got out of college, his parents wanted him to get a good 9-to-5 job. We had always intended to do music, but he'd had a college education and the first to graduate from his family with a college education, they wanted him to become a professional, to really do something that would get pension, and good solid work.

    So Jim went out, because we were married, and he got a job helping me to get through school at the time, and he started selling air time in a really shady area down in south and west Philadelphia. He used to go to some of these pool halls to sell the air time, because it wasn't a very good neighborhood. He would sit there and watch the pool games and see what people were doing, and he ended up with a guy named Jim Walker, who was one of the guys who used to play pool there. And that's really the story behind it: he used to hang out at any of those little shops down on South Street and down in west Philly where it really was quite unacceptable for him to be trying to sell air time down there, but it was one of those things where he was hoping someday he could actually bring his music to the radio, so he thought it might be a good way to get going as a salesman.

    Then later he met a guy whose name was Melvin Goldfield, and Melvin was an artist, and he grew up in areas like that. Melvin used to take him down to the dumps down in south Philadelphia and tell him about all kinds of stories that went on down there, and introduced him to a lot of the guys. Jim actually did run into this guy, Big Jim Walker, pool-shootin' son of a gun. And so that story really comes out of an experience that he kind of put the story together."
  • Ingrid Croce added to Songfacts: "I think that often in Jim's songs there's a composite situation, but when he sat down to write, usually the song would come out altogether. There might be a verse that he'd add later, but usually he'd sit down and play. I've got hundreds of tapes of Jim performing - playing at home and the two of us singing, or just having friends over and singing, whether it was the Manhattan Transfer, James Taylor, Arlo Guthrie, Bonnie Raitt... people that just come over and we'd hang out and sing. It was very comfortable to just put everything down on tape back then. People weren't as worried about who wrote the song as they were about writing it."
  • "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" was Croce's first single. After several years struggling for success and battling music industry politics, the song got the promotion it deserved when rep at ABC/Dunhill named Matty Singer visited radio stations in the Philadelphia area to promote the song. It got solid airplay and national attention, which was followed by lots of positive press for the album. You Don't Mess Around With Jim wasn't released until nine months after it had been recorded, so Croce and his musical partner Maury Muehleisen had perfected the songs in performance, earning rave reviews.

    In Croce's all-too-short career, he wrote tender love songs like "Time In A Bottle" and "I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song," but would also write rambunctious songs about colorful characters. His most famous character is Leroy Brown, who like Jim Walker, gets his comeuppance in a violent finish.
  • The You Don't Mess Around With Jim album was produced by Terry Cashman and Tommy West. At first, no record company was interested, but when Cashman and West recorded an album for ABC/Dunhill called A Song or Two, they were able to pitch the label on Croce and got him signed to a deal.
  • On the Netflix series Stranger Things, this is police chief Jim Hopper's (David Harbour) favorite song. He dances to it on the season 2 episode "Chapter Three: The Pollywog" and sings along with it on the season 3 episode "Chapter Two: The Mall Rats" after scaring off the boyfriend of the young girl (Eleven) he is caring for.

Comments: 15

  • Duane from VirginiaIf you look on Google Earth, you can see the outhouse behind the farm where the Croces lived
  • Micheal Walker from New Caney Tx.I would just like to go on record saying that the Big Jim Walker that was named in the song is my grandfather. Unfortunately he passed away two days ago and I will be attending his funeral today. Big Jim Walker lived to the age 75 and passed away amongst friends and family in Kingwood Texas. I know it's a little late but I would like to thank Mr Croce. That song has been a story my grandfather told me since I was very young.
  • Susan from Atlanta, GeorgiaThis album was the first cassette I ever owned, and I still have it. It was given to me by my brother-in-law as a gentle reminder not to mess around with him -- his name is Jim.
    I had the opportunity to see him in concert in spring of 1973, and even then I regretted not going, never dreaming that I would never get another chance.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn August 12, 1972, Jim Croce performed "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" on the Dick Clark ABC-TV Saturday-afternoon program 'American Bandstand'...
    At the time the song was at #17 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart, three weeks later it would peak at #8 {for 2 weeks} and it spent 13 weeks on the Top 100...
    James Joseph Croce passed away at the young age of 30 on September 20th, 1973 {plane accident}; ten days after his death his "I Got A Name" entered the Top 100 chart at position #76 ...
    May he R.I.P.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn June 25th 1972, Jim Croce's debut record, "You Don't Mess Around With Jim", entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #60; and on August 27th, 1972 it peaked at #8 (for 2 weeks) and spent 13 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #4 in Canada and #9 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart...
    In his short four year recording career (1972 - 1976) he had ten records on the Top 100; with five of them making the Top 10 and two reaching #1 ("Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" for 2 weeks in 1973 and "Time In A Bottle" for 2 weeks in 1973)...
    May he R.I.P. (1943 - 1973).
  • Edward from Foster City, MiHoward, you got part of the lyrics wrong. It's actually "You don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger".
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxAccording to Ingrid Croce's book, the original lyrics were "You don't piss into the wind." I bet sang the line that way in club performances.
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnI remember hearing the song for the first time 40 years ago before moving to Minnesota from New Jersey and it put Jim Croce on the musical map. It was a piece of realism that was drawn from his own experiences in the Philadelphia pool halls, though he refers to New York in the opening lines "Uptown's got its hustlers, The Bowery's got its bums."

    It was also the song that got me hooked on Croce's music as a preteen and I'm still a fan to this day, since he wrote about real-life situations that listeners like me can identify with. Although he died tragically in a plane crash in 1973, You Don't Mess Around With Jim to me brings back a lot of memories since I first heard it on WABC in New Jersey.

    "You don't tug on Superman's cape,
    You don't spit in the wind.
    You don't pull or mess with the old Lone Ranger
    And you don't mess around with Jim.

    I should also add that on an episode of "Hee Haw", Johnny Bench who was the catcher for the Cincinnati Reds sang his version of the song.
  • Ed from Asheville, NcBig Jim met his match
    Find out where its at
    And its not hustling people strange to you
    Even if you do got a two-piece custom made pool.cue.
  • Drew from B'ham, AlAmazing... a country boy can shoot pool with good enough aim & strong enough to wound Big Jim, draw blood & send him to the floor. Did Jim hafta pay back those he hustled? Could he still afford to pay all those hospital bills? One could only wonder.... Same for Leroy Brown, except that Leroy didn't hustle everyone.
  • Michael from New Lebanon, OhI never did agree with what most people say about the spoken lyrics near the end of the song. The words never did make sense to me. But of late I've listened to them more closely; and right now this is what I think Croce is saying:

    "Yeah, Big Jim got it bad..
    Find out where it's at;
    and tonight I'm hustling people's dreams to you,
    even if you DO got a two-piece custom made pool cue."
  • Thomas from Somerville, AlThere never was before, and there never will be again, another Jim Croce.
  • Anthony from Houston, TxGreat musician wonderful storyteller
  • Karl from Akron, , Oh I believe Ingrid once said in an interview on television that the picture of Jim that was on the Album cover of him looking out a small window of a white building was actually an outhouse on Jim's farm and it was still standing at the time of the interview and they (The camera crew) took some video of it
  • Jamie from Bethesda, MdI am so surprised how similar this song is to Leroy Brown. A tough guy who meets his match at the end of the song. "Big Jim hit the floor" "Leroy Looked like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces gone"
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