Jim Croce's signature song was "I Got a Name," the only major hit he did not write.
It was composed by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox as the theme for the 1973 movie "The Last American Hero" starring Jeff Bridges. The new memoir by Croce's late wife Ingrid and her current husband Jimmy Rock is "I Got a Name: The Jim Croce Story."
But "I Got a Name" is the anthem for the characters in the biggest selling hit of Croce's career, "Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown," which celebrates its 40th aniversary next year. The song is heard everywhere.
It is the John Doe of rock n' roll........
.......The late Freddy Mercury wrote "Bring Back That Leroy Brown" for Queen's third album. Just a couple weeks ago "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" was the walk-in song for light heavyweight boxer Tommy Karpency of Adah, Pa. in the fixed main event at the UIC Pavilion.
Even Frank Sinatra took a shot at "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown".
A stroll through Chicago area phone directories reveals hundreds of Leroy Browns (thanks to Sun-Times ace reporter Art Golab!). A meaningful exercise in checking out the Leroy Browns are to hear their own stories.
Croce wrote the swaggering ballad about a sergeant from the South Side of Chicago that he met while in the Army at Ft. Jackson, S.C.
He has nothing on the Leroy Brown I found in southwest suburban Bolingbrook.
Leroy Brown is Deputy Mayor of Bolingbrook and has been a village trustee for 20 years. He has been a Du Page Township Male Citizen of the Year.
Brown, 68, is a Vietnam veteran who was a Green Beret.
He is a security coordinator with the Valley View School District--very timely as I write this, and he is a Big Brother.
He is a good, good Leroy Brown.
"I get this all the time," Brown said last week while visiting his mother in a nursing home. "Governor Thompson used to say Bolingbrook was the only town where an elected official had his own theme song. It is just weird. Every time we go to a function the mayor has the DJ play 'Bad Bad Leroy Brown.' I went to the airport and gave the lady my credit card. She said, 'Are you him?' I answered, 'Yes, I'm Leroy Brown its on my credit card.' She said, 'No, no the bad, bad Leroy Brown from Jim Croce."
Yet, he actually named one of his two sons Leroy Brown, Jr.
Leroy Brown, Sr. of Bolingbrook was born in Lake Charles, La. and moved to Clarksville, Tenn. when he was 9 years old. He attended Burt High School in then-segregated Clarksville. The high school also produced legendary Olympic runner Wilma Rudolph. "The same year (1960) she won the three gold medals we won our national basketball championship," Brown said. "She was three or four years ahead of me. I got a full basketball scholarship to Philander Smith in Little Rock, Arkansas."
The Leroy Brown name game worked so well with a Leroy Brown I found on the South Side of Chicago, I thought I'd give it a spin with Dept. Mayor Leroy Brown.
Here's how the Croce song begins:
"Well the south side of Chicago
Is the baddest part of town
You better just beware
Of a man named Leroy Brown."
"When I first got out of Vietnam I moved to 82nd and Langley (the south side of Chicago)," Brown said. "I taught martial arts at St. Mel's. (in Chicago) If you talk to some of the martial arts people in Chicago that were around that time you'll hear about how Bad Leroy Brown fit that song. I have a black belt. I don't talk about it but it is common knowledge around people who know me."
So yes, beware of Leroy Brown of Bolingbrook.
"Now Leroy more than trouble
You see he stand 'bout six feet four
All the downtown ladies call him 'Treetop Lover'
All the men just call him 'sir.'
Leroy Brown of Bolingbrook is 6'4," 250 pounds.
From 1976 until his retirement in 2006 he was head of security at Sears Tower. He recalled, "You'd be surprised. I had ladies at Sears Tower call me 'Treetop Lover'. They would try to befriend you for whatever reason. 'Treetop Lover?' I don't think my wife would love that too much."
Brown has been married 46 years to Patricia Brown.
He is grounded.
Here he is as a Big Brother to Derrick of Romeoville.
"And he's bad, bad Leroy Brown
The baddest man in the whole damn town
Badder than old King Kong
Meaner than a junkyard dog."
"I had a German Shepherd in Vietnam and two German Shepherds stateside," Brown said. "They were all mean. Bullet was the meanest."
"Now Leroy he a gambler
And he like his fancy clothes
And he like to wear his diamond rings
On everybody's nose
He got a custom Continental
He got an Eldroado too
He got a 32 gun in his pocket for fun
He got a razor in his shoe."
"A few minutes ago one of the ladies at the nursing home, goes, 'I really like that suit you have on," Brown said. "I like my shoes shined. I don't like dull shoes. That's just the way I am. I wear a suit every day. But I don't wear diamond rings. I only have one ring and that's a wedding band.
"I got a Chrysler 300. I don't have a gun in my pocket for fun. No, no. I don't drink, I don't smoke I don't go to bars."
Leroy Brown remembers the first time he heard "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown."
He was working at the Homan Sears store on the west side of Chicago. As a joke the store manager played the song over the loud speaker in the store. "About a week later my mother called me from Lake Charles, Louisiana,' Brown said. "She said, 'Leroy what have you gotten yourself into? I didn't know you walked around with a gun and a razor and all that.' I said, 'Mama, that's a song that's not me."
Leroy Brown of Bolingbrook is much, much more.