Chester County's Rock History: Jim Croce, Maury Muehleisen and Chubby Checker's Suburban Roots
Rural Chester County has made some surprising contributions to rock ’n’ roll history. The most enduring memories come courtesy of singer/songwriter Jim Croce. But there’s more.
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At 76 years old, Hy Mayerson is the unofficial rock historian of Birchrunville.
A 40-year resident of the incorporated crossroads hamlet, the practicing attorney possesses a shock of wispy white hair, a mischievous smile and crystal-clear blue eyes. “Those were the best times—the music, the parties, the whole scene,” says Mayerson. “Sure, drugs were a part of it. But what we really cared about were the friendships. I met so many special people back then, including the Croces.”
Thanks to iconic R&B producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Philadelphia had an undeniable sway over listening audiences in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Not as many are aware of Chester County’s connection to celebrated singer/songwriter Jim Croce and other key players in popular music at the time. In Birchrunville, a bucolic village in West Vincent Township, the living was mellow, if not downright communal, back then. In many ways, it still is.
Born in South Philadelphia, Croce attended Villanova University, where he majored in psychology and minored in German, graduating in 1965. A member of the Villanova Singers and the Villanova Spires, he was also a student disc jockey at WKVU.
Croce got his start in the music business playing frat parties and coffeehouses in the area. In 1971, after a disillusioning three years in New York City, he and his wife, Ingrid, moved to Lyndell, 11 miles west of Mayerson’s home in Birchrunville. Their son, A.J., was also born that year.
To make ends meet, Croce worked odd jobs as he struggled to gain traction in the regional music scene. Like Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel a few years later, he became a popular draw at the small but influential Main Point coffeehouse in Bryn Mawr. Undoubtedly inspired by his bucolic surroundings, Croce wrote some of his best-known songs, including “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and “I’ve Got a Name,” at his Lyndell home.
Meanwhile, Mayerson’s Birchrunville property became a regular gathering spot for Croce and other musicians, often until the wee hours of the morning. “I used to have a wood-framed dome on my land, and it became the hub where we’d all meet and have parties,” Mayerson says.
Among Croce’s best friends was guitarist Maury Muehleisen. “They’d play on the road together,” remembers Mayerson. “Ingrid was a dear friend with Maury’s girlfriend, Judy Coffin, who lived just down the road from me. It was all such a hippie climate.”
“The four of us were inseparable,” recalls Ingrid Croce, who co-authored 2012’s I Got a Name: The Jim Croce Story, a well-received biography of her husband. “Music was always in the air. And while Jim was driving a truck and working construction, I was planting gardens, painting, making pottery and cooking for the multitudes that constantly visited. I can tell you that some of my fondest memories come back to me from the Lyndell and Birchrunville connection we had.”
A Trenton, N.J., native, Muehleisen met Croce in the late 1960s, and the two found an immediate rapport. Muehleisen soon became his backup guitarist, and the two made three albums together, touring extensively and appearing on The Tonight Show and American Bandstand.
The Croces often performed at the Main Point as a duo. “When Jim and I played there, it seemed that everyone we met came back to our house to make music and enjoy whatever I found in the garden,” says Ingrid. “James Taylor, the Manhattan Transfer and my buddy, Arlo Guthrie, all hung out until it was time for Jim to go to work at 4 a.m.”