An Introduction to Groundless
(Sal Joseph aka Joseph A. Salviuolo)
By Margaret Gletherow (nee Cafarelli)
The first time I saw Joe Salviuolo he was on TV. “Evening Magazine” presented a segment remembering Jim Croce on what would have been Jim's 35th birthday, January 10th 1978. I watched the show in fascination as the host of “Evening Magazine” spoke to various friends of Jim's gathered at his gravesite sharing their memories. This charming short Italian man spoke of how he missed Jim and then shared a song that he had written soon after Jim died, titled “Groundless”. I thought it was a beautiful song and wanted to know more about it – how can I get a copy of this song, and who are these people? The host of the show did not identify any of the folks he interviewed. Were they Jim's friends, family, fellow musicians? I had to know. Being an avid Croce fan, I thought I knew everything about him, but this was new to me.
I immediately wrote to the TV station that aired the show, asking who were these folks gathered at Jim's gravesite? I soon got a reply from the segment's producer with an address and I sent off another letter – this time to these anonymous people I had seen on TV. About a week later, and to my delight and amazement, I got a personal hand written response from Richard Fagan (who sang “Groundless” on TV) and Sal Joseph who wrote it. And not only did they send me the lyrics to “Groundless”, but Sal had included a photocopy of his manuscript of the same title. I was blown away. When I saw Sal's name, I immediately knew who he was – the writer of “Thursday” and the man who brought Jim and Maury together. I only knew him as a “name” on the record album, on the “I Got A Name” album for writing “Thursday”, and a brief mention on the “Faces I've Been” album. I had always been curious as to who this “Sal” was, and now I had a personal hand-written letter from him in my hands!
To make a very long story short – we met in June of 1978, and we've been good friends ever since. I've come to know Sal as a brilliant man. He attended Villanova University where he met Jim and became one of his closest friends. Being a few years older than Jim, Sal graduated first and went on to earn 2 masters degrees from the University of Pennsylvania – one in Folklore and one in Communications. He had jobs in broadcasting and produced “The Miner's Story” documentary, featuring themusic of then unknown singer-songwriter Jim Croce. Sal went on to become a professor at Glassboro State College, where he designed the communications program. This is where fate stepped in and the magic began. Sal met Maury Muehleisen, a student at the time, and immediately recognized the musical genius in him. Although Professor Salviuolo was up for tenure, he quit his teaching job to manage this new young talent.
In the meantime, Jim was struggling to make it on his own in the music business. Sal had produced Jim's first album “Facets” that ended up being sold and given to friends and family, and anyone who was lucky enough to see him perform in local clubs in the Philly area. Jim had also released an album with his wife Ingrid that was equally unsuccessful. At the time, Sal was hanging out with Jim, and managing Maury – these two seemed to be destined to meet. After Maury got a record deal and released “Gingerbreadd” he was looking for someone to back him up. This is where Jim and Maury hooked up – Jim played back-up to Maury! Thus the beginning of the team of Jim Croce and Maury Muehleisen. Sal brought them together and was best friends with both of them – giving them support and guidance until their careers took on a life of their own. You know the rest of the story….
Presented here is the original manuscript of “Groundless” that Sal had sent to me in 1978. I know you'll be as touched as I was when you read it.
(A Show Business Chronicle
starring Jim Croce and Maury Muehleisen)
Joseph A. Salviuolo
(aka Sal Joseph)
Jim called me on Thursday, September 13, 1973 at Denny's Aunt Clara's in Camden to tell me that he and Maury had just recorded “Thursday”, and that I should join them at the studio the next day for the final vocal session. That was his way of telling me he'd just recorded a song I'd written, and since there had been no prior mention of this, I was thoroughly surprised and thrilled. I assured him I wouldn't miss the session, and arranged to meet him at the Cashman and West offices in the morning. After hanging up, the full impact of the message came through. How typical it was for Jim to do something like that. He knew full well how happy the news would make me – especially since it was completely unexpected – but then he always did like to make people happy. In fact, making people happy was one of Jim's all time favorite things.
When I got to 40 W. 55th St. Friday morning, Jim hadn't arrived yet, so I thought I'd walk towards the St. Mauritz in hopes of meeting him along the way. Sure enough, there he was walking down West 55th St. dressed in denim fatigues – carrying a guitar in each hand. Even from a distance the gait was unmistakable. We caught up to one another and I offered to carry one of the guitars, but he laughed and said it would throw him off balance. Of course he was right about that, so he dropped them off at the office, and we left unencumbered by the tools of his trade.
As we walked along the streets of Manhattan, I couldn't help but be acutely aware of the fact that my friend was already a public figure and was getting more recognizable every day. It wasn't surprising to see the reactions of the people in Manny's music store because they knew who he was, nor was it unusual that he was recognized down around Times Square, but the strangest reaction that day was from the people in Tiffany's. We'd stopped there to drop off his defective watch. He'd already complained to them that the FM wasn't coming in too well, so they weren't at all sure what sort of character they had for a customer, but all that didn't matter because he ambled in looking more like a maintenance man than a star anyway, so he was almost completely ignored. The clerk recognized the name of course, and that made all the difference. They took down his new San Diego address and said they'd mail it out as soon as it was repaired. As things worked out, he never would see that watch again.
The rest of the day was typical. We walked and walked because we both loved to walk. Jim was a walker. I think he could have been the cosmic walker for all we know because he especially liked walking around Manhattan – the “fun” city – because everything was close to where it should be, and that meant a lot to us at the time – and I guess it still does – because, you see, I'm a Virgo and he was a Capricorn – but that's a whole different story.
New York was dreadful that day. Not only were the natives predictable, but the weather was miserable too. It rained on us again, so we arrived at the Hit Factory damp but not dampened. Maury was already there, and the tracks from the previous day were blasting from the control room speakers. The mood was festive because the new album was all but finished, and Jim and Maury's background vocals were all that remained. As I listened to the playback of “Thursday” I realized that I'd never even heard Jim sing it before. Maury had experienced the song from its inception, of course, and we had worked out the basic arrangement together, but Jim had learned it and included it in his concert repertoire without even mentioning it to me. He'd saved it for a surprise, and here he was recording it on what was to be his last album – “I Got A Name”. Little did I know it would also be the last song they would ever sing in a recording studio.
So I sat back and listened to “Thursday” – a song I'd written – being done by two of the country's hottest new pop music stars – who also happened to be two of my closest and dearest friends. The experience was overwhelming to say the least. And at that moment in time and space, there seemed to be no question that all we had been through together was finally starting to pay off.
Jim would mention later on that day that the new album was going to be “shipped gold” – an irony in light of the fact that his own personal finances had yet to reflect his success. But, then again, this was nothing new. He and Maury were still “on the road” because the economics of the music business dictated that they had no choice. Jim was a “star” but the business interests were determined to get one more tour in before he was allowed to take a break. After all, what difference would a couple more weeks make?
Everyone in the control room was feeling happy about the vocals that had just been put down, and for all practical purposes, all that remained was the mix. Jim's job was done for the day, so he wanted to get going. Maury had to stay to lay down an electrical lead line on “Age” to complete the album, so I bid him a fond farewell and said I'd be talking to him in a few days. That was the last time I'd ever see him.
Out on the street again, Jim and I started walking and talking about how much he was looking forward to just laying back in San Diego for awhile and getting into some projects we'd been talking about for years. He'd hardly even seen his new house since Ingrid and Adrian had moved in, and he said he'd try to have me join him on the last leg of the tour so we could all be together in California. They still had concerts to do in Natchitoches, Louisiana on September 20th, Sherman, Texas on the 21st, and Las Cruses, New Mexico on the 22nd. From there it was on to Los Angeles so it wouldn't be long. He said he'd try to arrange for the company to send me an airline ticket. We had to laugh about that because the first big “home free” check still hadn't arrived. He was still being kept insolvent, and I knew how much this had to bother him, but he tried not to let it bring him down. Thank God for his incredible sense of humor. There were times when that alone had kept him going. We'd always refer to various unfortunate circumstances and events as being good for “character development”, and even though we both felt we'd already had enough “character development”, there always seemed to be more in store.
At one point in our jaunt, thoroughly engrossed in our conversation, we stepped off a curb and Jim narrowly missed being flattened by a taxi cab. “What a way to go!” he laughed – “After all this, to be run over by a taxi in New York City – No, that's not the way it's supposed to be.”
By then the mild drizzle was turning into a downpour, so we opted for riding in a cab rather than on or under one, and headed for the office. I was going to be catching a bus back to New Jersey from Port Authority, so I dropped him off at the office on the way. We said our goodbyes knowing we'd be together again “just like old times” in a couple of weeks. But in less than a week he would be dead.
The bus ride back to Camden was different from all the other bus rides I'd tolerated because I was in a sort of twilight zone. My mind was spinning with past recollections and dreams of the future. I still couldn't get over the thrill of hearing “Thursday” done so well, and I felt a renewed pride in having written it. It's one thing knowing your friends like your songs, but it's certainly something else having one included on a gold album. Maybe my luck had finally changed after all. Jim's certainly had, hadn't it? The recording session I'd just left was a far cry from the one we did back in 1966 in Wilmington wasn't it? Of course it was just family and friends back then, and now it was the “big time”. Facets had become an instant collector's item because there were only a thousand copies pressed. Luckily I still had a good tape copy because my own record was broken and there were no more to be had. Jim must have given at least half of them away to family, friends, and people he knew. The rest were sold at the Riddle Paddock while he was singing there, but I doubt that they even paid for the recording costs.
Facets was basically a “demo”. Jim's dad had financed the project, and I suppose it was his way of settling the music question once and for all. Music was not his idea of a sensible occupation. It wasn't that he didn't like or appreciate music, of course, because he really did – it was just that he didn't think it was the type of business his son should ever have to depend on. Music was nice for fun, but one needed a real job too. Needless to say, there was a good deal of sense to this. The music business was fickle at best, and talent alone, no matter how great, was never a guarantee of success. So it would seem logical to have a steady income coming in from elsewhere while pursuing the elusive dream. But artists have never been known to be overly sensible, and Jim was no exception. He tried a number of jobs – ranging from selling radio spots to school teaching, but the music bug just wouldn't leave him alone. The die was cast and there was no turning back.
Jim's father's skepticism about the feasibility of success in the music business was never allayed because he died while Jim was working on what was to be his first successful album – You Don't Mess Around With Jim. Had he lived long enough to hear that first hit single, perhaps he would have changed his mind. Jim was to think of this often because his success would always be tempered by the fact that his father didn't live to see him “make it”. What he had lived to see, however, was the unfortunate release of a Capitol album bearing the name Croce.
The Croce album was a perfect example of how incredibly inept certain members of the music establishment could get. What should have been a first class presentation was rendered barely mediocre. Everything from the mix to the merchandising was patently less than professional, so it was no wonder that Croce was not a best seller. In fact, until it was re-released (renamed) on the Pickwick label and relegated too the bargain bins, it was virtually unheard of. Perhaps it was just as well.
I Got A Name would have made Jim's father very happy because it was a hit even before it was released. I still hadn't heard the rest of the album, but hearing “Thursday” was more than enough to make me happy already. What fortunate timing. Things had not been going too well for quite a while, and my spirits were sorely in need of such a boost. With childlike enthusiasm I anticipated being able to play my own song on a jukebox somewhere. Already I was assuming that it would be released as a single. As it turned out, I was right. “Thursday” was the B side of “Working At The Car Wash Blues” – the album's final “45” release. But all that was still a long ways off as the bus rolled along the Jersey flatlands. This was a time for dreaming. There was no reason to think anything but positive happy thoughts.
I thought about going to California with Jim, and I couldn't wait to see the new house. He had been on the road most of the time since moving to San Diego, so it was going to be a treat for him too. The rigors of touring had taken their toll, and he was nearly exhausted. Career plans called for another tour extension after Los Angeles, but unbeknownst to those who made such plans, he was about to change all that. It seemed he had finally learned how to say No.
It would be misleading to say that Jim was “easy”, but he couldn't stand to disappoint anyone, so he was easily taken advantage of. And this could be done both consciously and unconsciously by those he encountered. It was especially evident in business matters, as you could say he was a “manager's dream” in that regard. The current tour was a perfect example of this. Despite his humor, he was clearly worn out, but “they” expected him to continue the awesome pace they'd set. And once the new album was released, the pace would have to escalate, so where would it end? Well, Jim was about to put his foot down once and for all, and certain vested interests were in for more than they bargained for. There was no question that this would have happened had not something more incredible transpired to settle the matter. The resolution ws waiting in Natchitoches.
But for now, all seemed fine. I was looking forward to meeting some of the characters Jim had encountered in his travels. Whenever he'd say “Sal, you have to meet this guy”, I knew I was in for a treat, and lately he said it often. It wasn't surprising that he was getting to know so many show business personalities, because he himself was one of them, but I couldn't help but wonder how they reacted to meeting him. I knew that show-biz had its share of unique characters, but Jim was in a class by himself. I couldn't imagine him being artistically intimidated by anyone, regardless of their status, but I could easily imagine the reversal since he was totally capable of blowing even the most guarded of minds. To say he was unforgettable was to barely scratch the surface of the effect he had on most people – especially in first encounters. Depending on his mood and environmental circumstances, he could appear either mystical or maniacal – or anywhere in between. No social situation escaped his witty appraisal, and the pretentious were often verbally devastated.
He kept a notebook wherein he would record caustic one-liners that he dreamed up. My particular favorites were those that dealt with restaurants, and I especially liked – “Waiter – this meal should have been served on a Pamper”! But even funnier, as far as I was concerned, was an incident which occurred at Bookbinder's – a famous seafood restaurant in Philadelphia. Jim and Ingrid and Maury and Judy had been invited to dinner by Jim's new manager whom Jim had only met briefly once before. The Carpenters (who were in town for a concert) and one or two others rounded out the dinner party. At one point the conversation turned to the plight of endangered species, and I suppose it became overly serious, because when it came time for Jim to order, he told the waiter – “Bring me two live baby seal pups in a tub, and a baseball bat – I want to kill them myself”. When I heard about this I shrieked with laughter, but I'm sure the comment also elicited other less appreciative reactions from those who had just barely met him – not to mention the waiter and anyone else sitting close enough to overhear. But that was their problem. Jim had done it again!
Shrieking with laughter was a special thing between us, and we particularly savored hearing about each other's accidents – the more bizarre the better. Like, he called once to tell me he'd just fallen backwards off a roof while replacing some shingles, and it was all I could do to keep from falling off my chair. And the time I called to tell him I'd bounced two flights down a steel fire escape was enough to make him shriek to the point of getting stomach pains. Well, such was our shared sense of humor. It wasn't for everybody, but it suited us just fine.
Jim's humor was probably his greatest talent. While the public knew him best as a singer-songwriter, he was actually a comedic genius who looked forward to not having to carry his guitar on a stage at all some day. It wasn't that he didn't want to play, it was just that he didn't have to play, and that made all the difference. What he did best was make people laugh, and his humor covered the entire spectrum of comedy. I've never heard anyone do dialects and accents better, nor have I heard anyone do such off-beat impersonations. His Puerto-Rican and Black bits were flawless; his Julia Childe and Pope Paul impersonations were mind-bending. But strangest of all perhaps, was a dance routine he'd worked out which defied description. Had he ever done it on national television, a new craze would surely have swept the country. His humor was cathartic and very special. I can't think of anyone in the business who's even in the same league.
Maury called me from Charlestown at Tommy's house in Camden on my birthday (September 16) to wish me many happy returns, and to tell me there was a surprise waiting when I came to visit. I couldn't imagine what it was, but from the excitement in his voice, I knew it had to be something very special. Of course that went without saying, because everything Maury did was special. He was a sheer delight, and everyone he met was touched by his magical grace and charm. That he was a musical genius was indisputable, but the public was only just starting to realize what his family and friends had known all along. Yes, he too had been Capitolized. The Gingerbreadd (yes, two d's) album was beautifully produced, but it too became a collector's item for reasons known only to those who pretend to run record companies I suppose. That was even before he met Jim, so when they did meet, they at least had the Capitol experience in common. A dubious distinction at best.
Getting Maury's call only helped to accentuate the good mood I'd felt since seeing him in the studio two days before. His entire family was visiting with him and Judy before he had to hit the road again, and there was a party going on, so the mood was festive all the way around. I knew he didn't want to go because he was just as tired as Jim was, and there were so many other things he'd rather be doing. He was starting to play the electric bass again, and was just getting into electric guitar. He also had assembled a home recording studio, and was starting to develop some new musical ideas. Being on the road with Jim had left him no time to work on his own music, and he was looking forward to their next break so that he could do just that. There would also be time to do some of the many studio sessions that various artists had requested. That he was becoming one of the most sought-after guitarists in the business was not at all surprising. There were few who could match him already, and he had only just begun.
I told Maury that I'd be up to visit Judy in the next couple of days, and that I'd be talking to him when he called in from wherever he was going. Again he mentioned the surprise, and I made up my mind to get to Judy's as soon as possible. When he hung up, I had no reason to suspect I'd just talked with Maury for the last time.
Judy picked me up at the Paoli, Pennsylvania train station on Thursday, and we went to visit her brother George and his wife Mary in Pomeroy Heights before going home to Charlestown. That's where the surprise was waiting – and what a surprise it was – a shiny new grand piano. It was so pretty, I almost couldn't believe my eyes. There it sat – taking up most of what had become the music room – just waiting to be played. Sure enough, it sounded as good as it looked. I could imagine Maury playing some intricate classical piece – Dohnanyi perhaps – his virtuoso fingers flying over the pristine keyboard. He may have been a great guitarist, but the piano was his main instrument – the only instrument he'd ever formally studied.
Yes, Maury had finally gotten himself a piano. What fun we were going to have now I thought – what beautiful music would fill this house. Who knows where his musical mind would wander now? But I was just happy to be there, then, with Judy and the boys – enjoying one of my favorite places. And even though Maury was away, his spirit filled the house just like it always had.
As usual, Judy and I had millions of things to talk about, but the kids had to get up early for school, so we finally called it a night. I retired to the living room with its inviting fold-out sofa bed, and if I didn't fall asleep with a smile on my face – I should have – because I was feeling better than I had for a long, long time.
I don't think I heard the phone ring, but I awoke to the sound of footsteps running across the upstairs hall and down the stairs leading to the livingroom. It was Judy. She threw herself on top of me crying “they're dead – they're both dead – Maury and Jim are dead!” I was stunned. We held each other and cried. The world had turned upside down. The worst had finally happened.
Andy, Jake and Ed had heard all the commotion of course, and they came into the room and sat down on the bed in tears. Judy told them that Maury and Jim had died in a plane crash. It happened in Natchitoches, Louisiana at 10:54 PM Thursday. If the call had come any later, we'd have heard it on the radio first. Thank God for little things I suppose.
It wasn't long before the phone started ringing. The ordeal had begun. All day and well into the night we would be talking with family and friends about the horrible tragedy – drawing whatever comfort we could from those who understood the extent of our loss – while imparting some measure of comfort to those in similar circumstances. Ingrid and Adrian would be flying in from California the next day, and the Muehleisens had already made arrangements for Maury's remains to arrive in Trenton, so there was little we could do but try to cope. Friends started dropping by, and the rituals of shared grief continued. By the time my friend Tommy got to me that evening, I was physically and emotionally drained, but he was the one person I needed to see before I could close my eyes again.
Tommy and I met Ingrid and Adrian at the airport on Saturday. I couldn't believe how much in control she was. By day's end, all funeral arrangements had been made. Jim would be buried on Monday in Hayem Salomon Memorial Park in Frazier, Pennsylvania. This was only a couple of miles from Waggontown, their last Pennsylvania abode, and Ingrid felt it was the natural place for Jim to be laid to rest.
Maury would be buried in the family plot in Trenton, New Jersey on Tuesday. The wake would be on Monday night. Had only one of them been killed, it would have been hard enough to bear, but losing both of them was almost too much for me to handle. In life they'd gotten so close to each other it was hard to think of them as anything but a team of late, even though their personalities were so different, but, in death, each loss had to be reckoned with individually. Monday and Tuesday would help to focus my sorrow, but nothing was going to make it easier to bear.
Had Jim's funeral been held in Philadelphia, there would doubtless have been a huge turnout, but, as it took place in Frazer, only family and friends, and a handful of business associates were in attendance. There may have been a few fans there as well, but the crowd was small – not at all what you'd expect for the funeral of such a well-known personality. The media were conspicuously absent too, so there was none of the fanfare which might ordinarily surround such an event. The scene was quiet and dignified – the sorrow heartfelt and personal, and from all outward appearances, it could have been a private ceremony.
As I made my way toward the hearse, I was acutely aware of knowing nearly everyone I saw. Jim's uncles, aunts, and cousins – his in-laws – his friends – all were familiar in varying degrees. Apart from Elliot, the California types stood in marked contrast. This could have been a crowd gathered to hear Jim perform, but when I saw Jim's mother Flora, and his brother Richie, there was no question as to why we were there. As I embraced Flora, I could feel some of the anguish only a mother can know. The world had lost a star, but she had lost her first-born son.
Ingrid was drawing upon some incredible inner strength to keep things under control, and was still coordinating everything that was taking place. She needed two more pall-bearers, so Tom Picardo (aka T.P. West) and I joined the other four men waiting by the open hearse door. It was strangely fitting that Tommy and I do this, and as we started to carry the casket, we couldn't help but imagine what Jim might be thinking. When Tommy said “Wouldn't it be funny if we dropped it?” it was all we could do to keep from laughing out loud. That would have been something Jim would really have gotten a kick out of – his one last joke – but the moment soon passed, and the solemnity again prevailed.
The funeral services were more than ecumenical. We had a rabbi, a Roman Catholic priest, and three eulogists. I didn't know the rabbi or the priest, but the other two eulogists were Richard Croce and George Spillane. I don't remember any of the words I spoke over Jim's grave that day, but they must have been appropriate because, afterwards, the rabbi told me how deeply moved he had been. All I remember is crying in Tommy Miller's arms when it was over.
Once the services were concluded, some of us went to Ingrid's step-mother's house. There I got to talk to Elliot Abbott, and it was then that I learned the grisly details of the plane crash. Sometimes I wish I'd never asked.
We didn't stay long because there was still the long drive to Trenton and Maury's wake. This day was a long ways from ending.