About the song
If you are a fan of classic rock, you probably know the song “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce. It’s a catchy and humorous tune about a tough guy from Chicago who meets his match in a bar fight. But did you know that the song was based on a real person that Croce met in the army?
In this blog post, I will tell you the story behind one of Croce’s most popular songs, and how he turned a real-life character into a musical legend. I will also share some interesting facts about the song’s history, reception and legacy.
The Real Leroy Brown
Jim Croce was a folk rock singer-songwriter who had a short but successful career in the early 1970s. He is best known for his hits “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim”, “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels)”, “Time in a Bottle” and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”.
Croce joined the US National Guard in 1966, hoping to avoid being drafted to Vietnam. He married his wife Ingrid that year, and hoped to pursue his music career. However, he was sent for training shortly after their wedding.
According to Ingrid Croce, Jim had no interest in being a soldier and had to repeat basic training. But he did meet some interesting people who inspired his songs. One of them was Leroy Brown, a sergeant at Fort Jackson.
Ingrid Croce told Songfacts: “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.”
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.
“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” is an uptempo, strophic story song written by Jim Croce. Released as part of his 1973 album Life and Times, the song was a No. 1 hit for him, spending two weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1973. Billboard ranked it as the No. 2 song for 1973.
The song tells the story of Leroy Brown, a 6’4″ tall man from the South Side of Chicago whose size, attitude, and tendency to carry weapons have given him a reputation in which he is adored by women and feared by men. He is said to dress in fancy clothes and wear diamond rings, and to own a custom Lincoln Continental and a Cadillac Eldorado, implying he has a lot of money. He is also known to carry a .32 caliber handgun in his pocket and a razor in his shoe.
One day in a bar he makes a pass at a pretty married woman named Doris, whose jealous husband engages Brown in a fight. Leroy loses badly, and is described as looking “like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces gone”.
The story of a widely feared man being bested in a fight is similar to that of Croce’s earlier song “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim”. According to Billboard, it is “filled with humorous lines and a catchy arrangement.” Cash Box described it as “a delightful new single in the same musical vein as his ‘You Don’t Mess Around with Jim’ smash that started his career.” Record World called it “another story-song similar to the one that started it all for [Croce], ‘You Don’t Mess Around With Jim’.”
The piano riff at the beginning was based on Bobby Darin’s “Queen of the Hop”.