Coconut Telegraph: Back Issues
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Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. A state of mind is now a state of being. But how did Margaritaville come into a "state of being?" better yet, how did Margaritaville become a "state of mind?" How could some guy armed only with writers instruments; a pen and a legal pad, create all that is "Margaritaville?" Imagination.
It's My Job
Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. A state of mind is now a state of being. But how did Margaritaville come into a "state of being?" better yet, how did Margaritaville become a "state of mind?" How could some guy armed only with writers instruments; a pen and a legal pad, create all that is "Margaritaville?" Imagination.
Jimmy Buffett arrived in Nashville in 1969 prepared to embark on a recording career. Gerry Wood, an old JB associate and currently a writer for Billboard Magazine recalls that, "Barnaby Records signed the artist to a two-album contract--and Jimmy went into the studio to record Down to Earth."
"Unfortunately, the album didn't sell well. Undaunted, Jimmy went back into the studio to record his second album. Daunted, Barnaby Records "lost" the master tapes for this album titled High Cumberland Jubilee. A convenient excuse for a fledgling label that didn't want another no play/ no pay LP."
"In a miracle that makes Lourdes look like a carnival shell game, these "lost" Buffett tapes were "found" years later, after Jimmy had become a star, and released on Janus Records. These first two albums show all the potential and promise that was soon to be realized."
In a story told many times, Jimmy headed for Miami for an alleged booking date. However, when he got there, no job. Settling in at old friend Jerry Jeff walker's house allowed him time to regroup. A weekend drive down the overseas highway (A1A) landed Jimmy in the town that would prove to be the biggest influence in his musical career, the town that would provide the catalyst for "Margaritaville," the town that continues to play a large role in his life, Key West.
The Encyclopedia of Rock, compiled by Nick Logan and Bob Woffinden, states that, "Buffett's talent was hardly the sort that could be straight-jacketed by Nashville's orthodox music establishment. After signing with ABC-Dunhill, he recorded his second debut album, ironically again in Nashville, though this time with greater artistic freedom. Released in 1973, A White Sport Coat and Pink Crustacean helped to establish him, and it was a reputation he was able to enhance with his next album, Living and Dying in 3/4 Time, which received good reviews, and contained the single "Come Monday".
Jimmy plunged from the frying pan of Nashville into the fire of Key West. Key West in the early 70's was much different that the Key West of today. Smugglers, servicemen, and shrimpers populated the island that had a reputation for harboring those seeking a lifestyle somewhat to the left of norm. Boarded store fronts dotted Duval St., and any dilapidated building that housed a business invariably served alcohol; over or under the counter. The proverbial end of the rainbow carried pot, but no gold. This was the cultural "melting pot" that was to inspire Jimmy to write "The Wino and I Know", "My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink, and I Don't Love Jesus", "Tin Cup Chalice", and "I Have Found Me A Home" among others. As Bob Anderson says about Jimmy in 1986 interview in High Times, "Every outlaw has a good story, and Buffett has an eye and ear for them."
The "Oldest Living" Coral Reefer, Greg `Fingers' Taylor recalls the early days in an interview with Diddy Wah Diddy, a Mississippi Blues newsletter. "In about 1972 I met Buffett. He was playing at the Hub, the Union Building at the University of Southern Mississippi. I was the local harp player, and would play with everybody. So I was just wandering through the Hub one night, and there was this guy with long blonde hair and a mustache playing `Why Don't We Get Drunk and Screw' to about five little old ladies on break from their night class. I didn't know anything about him. I enjoyed some of the songs I was hearing, and of course I wanted to sit in. So we got up there and it was just sort of a chemistry, just one of those things. I think he had been looking for somebody else to go on the road with him. It's sort of lonely out there on the road. The next day I was driving him to his parents house in Mobile, the sun was coming up, and Jimmy was singing, there was a bonding that occurred there at that point; we knew that we were going to play music together somewhere down the line."
"In 1974 Buffett called and was ready to start the Coral Reefer Band. I went down to Key West. We put together the band and went on the road. Between 1974 and 1982 there was nothing but serious roadwork, especially in the seventies. On the first three albums there were essentially studio musicians in Nashville, but by the Changes in Latitudes album the band was good enough and we were enough of a unit that we went to Miami and did it as a band album. That was the one the hit came off of, `Margaritaville". Some of my favorite rocking crazy stuff came off that album. It was a change from that Nashville play-it safe sound. I like the first albums, but they don't have the energy that `Changes' had."
Michael Utley's association with Jimmy also began on the White Sport Coat album. Michael's musical introduction was the Bill Black Combo, a well known instrumental group in Memphis. From there he will hired by Atlantic Records to be part of their studio band in Miami. Michael took this band and formed The Dixie Flyers; backup band for Rita Coolidge.
Jimmy heard The Dixie Flyers on Jerry Jeff Walker's "Being Free" album, and asked Michael to play on his first ABC Dunhill album. Michael worked off and on with JB over the next several years, and became a full time Coral Reefer in 1982.
With the addition of Harry Daily, the original Coral Reefer Band was now complete. However, even without a physical band, in Jimmy's mind the Reefers were always there. Patricia Ward Biederman discussed the early days in a 1984 interview, "Although most of America had never heard of Buffett until `Margaritaville', he has had a cult following in the South ever since he began strumming his six-string on the coffeehouse circuit 15 years ago. It is true that early Atlanta radio spots pronounced his name as if it were a serve-yourself meal and that not a single soul showed up for his New Year's Eve concert at the Bistro in 1971. But Buffett was soon packing them in throughout the south, including Florida and Texas. `He worked this area as hard as anyone I've ever seen.' He was selling 100,000 albums when nobody in the industry knew who Jimmy Buffett was,' recalls Jack Tarver, Jr., a former concert promoter. Says Tarver, who used to book Buffett into Atlanta's Great Southeast Music Hall in the early 1970's; `He could sell out the Music Hall three or four days running well before he had a hit. It was not unusual to see people there all four nights.' On one memorable occasion, Buffett stole the show from another unknown; a Yankee named Billy Joel. Tarver speculates that it is Buffett's humor that has always endeared him to Dixie audiences. For instance, long before he had a single sideman, let alone his Coral Reefer Band, Buffett would pause in the midst of a number and say, `Take it, Coral Reefers,' `He'd stop and tap his foot and there'd be no damn band there,' Tarver remembers with a laugh."
In 1974, `Come Monday', a single from Living and Dying in 3/4 Time become his first Top 30 hit. Typically, Jimmy was totally unaware of the success of the single. "I was in Europe working on a film production when I heard `Come Monday' being played in the London Airport. I figured something was happening, and called home to find out we were on the charts."
All told the 70's were great years for Jimmy and The Coral Reefers. Jimmy aligned himself with a new management company, Frontline Management, and created a personal and professional relationship with the then head of Frontline, Irving Azoff. In a 1978 interview with Bill King of The Atlanta Constitution regarding his business affairs, Jimmy said, "I run `em. I've always been in control of what I was doing and (Irving) came along and he's just the greatest at it and he's helping me tremendously. But he respects my knowledge and opinions because I've had to put up with a lot to get where I've got." It was Irving Azoff who arranged for Jimmy and the Reefers to open for the Eagles, the biggest group at the time (1977), thus giving him his first big exposure that allowed him to become a headliner.
That same year Changes in Latitude is released and goes to #12 on the Billboard Magazine Chart. `Margaritaville" rises to #8 on Billboard Pop Chart, and becomes the definitive Jimmy Buffett song. Changes is also Jimmy's first platinum album, selling over one million copies
Jimmy's second million selling album, Son Of A Son Of A Sailor is released in 1978. The now classic You Had To Be There live double album is also released and earns JB a gold album. This album also awakens people to Jimmy's natural on stage charisma. A Jimmy Buffett concert develops into much more than a live performance of studio songs. A Jimmy Buffett concert is an event. Vacations are planned, marriages are postponed, and schedules are totally revamped in order to make some time an annual Buffett appearance.
More albums are being released, more Top 40 hits appear, Volcano, Jimmy's album recorded in 1979, also strikes gold. This album is recorded entirely at George Martin's AIR studios in Montserrat. This was one of the first major recordings to come out of AIR studios, which, since that time, has played host to many big name bands, the Rolling Stones among them.
Jimmy discussed his career with Frederick Burger in a 1980 interview with The Miami Herald; "I'm as successful as I want to be. I've taken my career and a band and built them around my songwriting, to the point where I can be very successful financially and very gratified artistically and do what I do best, which is write songs and play on stage...I'd love to have a No. 1 album, but I don't conceive of it. I'd have to be a Fleetwood Mac or an Eagles, but I don't want to be them. I'd have to change my style, and I'm not going to do anything -- other than what I do -- to get it." Frederick Burger continues, "Enhancing his creative stature is one thing; losing another chuck of a relatively unfettered lifestyle is quite another. He possesses an overpowering realization that, as former manager Don Lite puts it, some things cost too much."
Throughout is all, Jimmy receives little or no radio exposure. Literally millions of albums are being passed across records counters nationwide based solely on word-of-month advertising from JB's growing legions. Radio, being what it is, has no room for an artist whose style can not be pigeonholed. The 1985 Fall issue of Country Hits described it best, "All of the reviews written about Jimmy Buffett over the past several years have seemed to have a couple of things in common: first, the reviewers enjoy and admire Buffett and his music; and second, these same writers are at their wits end trying to come up with a nice pat label to pin on the man.
"Their recent attempts would indicate that Buffett is a `unique, funky, easygoin', charismatic, enigmatic, colloquial, progressive, intellectual, maverick country-folk-rock singer/songwriter/performer.' Confused? Don't be. What it means is that it is a whole lot easier to listen to Jimmy Buffett's music than it is to describe it in words."
"You have to take the best from whatever the situation is and go on. That's the whole point of the music to me. All through American history populist singers and humorists have served as the nation's tickle spot, people like Will Rogers and Mark Twain. I see myself in that vein and fulfilling that sort of responsibility. I give people a few shots. It's as much a satirical pinprick as anything else. You just have to remind people of the day-to-day funny things. When I write songs, I look for interesting little innuendoes or pieces of situations everybody has experienced."
Jimmy Buffett in a 1980 interview with Miami Heralds Tropic Magazine
"People think we're all a bunch of guys who wear shorts and floppy hats and live in Key West. But the bands he's had are an amalgam of wild rock 'n rollers, blues players, R&B players and country players. Somehow that all comes together and works and is Jimmy Buffett music."
Top 10 Burgers
The myth of the cheeseburger in paradise goes back to a long trip on my first boat, the Euphoria. We had run into some very rough weather crossing the Mona Passage between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico and broke our bow sprit. The ice in our box had melted, and we were doing the canned-food-and-peanut-butter diet. The vision of a piping hot cheeseburger kept popping into my mind. We limped up the Sir Francis Drake Channel and into Roadtown on the island of Tortola, where a brand-new marina and bar sat on the end of the dock, like a mirage. We secured the boat, kissed the ground, and headed for the restaurant. To our amazement, we were offered a menu that featured an American cheeseburger and pina coladas. Now these were the the days when supplies in that part of the world were rather scarce-when horsemeat was more plentiful than ground beef in the tiny stores of the Third World. Anyway, we gave particular instructions to the waiter on how we wanted them cooked and what we wanted on them-to which little attention was paid. It didn't matter. The overdone burgers on the burned, toasted buns tasted like manna from heaven, for they were the realization of my fantasy burgers on the trip. That's the true story. I've heard other people and places claim that I stopped or cooked in their restaurants, but this is the way it happened. I love to eat and have taken advantage of my success to travel and discover the foods of the world. There are elegant restaurants and out-of-the-way seafood joints and tiny Thai hamlets that spring into my mind when people ask where I like to eat, but that is another book. I don't eat much meat as I once did, and I now treat a cheeseburger as a treat rather than a ration. So when the urge hits me to have a burger, I try to match my desire to splurge with the right town and the right burger. I'm sure you know a place in your hometown where you believe they make the best cheeseburger in the world. These are the places I have visited personally when I was trying to come up with the perfect cheeseburger for Margaritaville in Key west. These are my cheeseburger roots.THE DEW DROP INN - Mobile, Alabama
This is where I grew up and my burger lust was formulated. The Dew Drop is still on the corner of Old Shell Road and Louiselle Street. The chili cheeseburger with the bun flattened on an industrial toaster is killer. This is also where the Heinz 57 came in. In my day, they cost 35 cents. Today they run $1.65 + tax. Still a bargain.CAMELIA GRILL - New Orleans,Louisiana
I worked my way through college by commuting between school in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and Bourbon Street where I must say I learned more of what would serve me later in life than I did in my Algebra II classes. A girl I dated who went to Dominican College first took me to the Camelia Grill. We rode the streetcar down St. Charles Avenue past the stately mansions of the Garden District to the Camelia Grill. The girl has long since left my life, but for me, a trip to the Camelia Grill is much a pilgrimage as a trip to the St. Louis Cathedral. Besides, the chocolate pie is unbelievable.ROTIER'S - Nashville, Tennessee
I moved to Nashville from Alabama, and on my struggling songwriter budget I found the burger I needed to survive. It was a little place on Elliston Place between Centennial Park and Vanderbilt called Roiter's. I am now back in Nashville part time, and the first place I went was to Roiter's for a cheeseburger. It is still as good as I remember from my "hard luck days".HERBERT'S MARKET - Palm Beach, Florida
I used to spend a lot of time in Palm Beach visiting friends and was turned on to this burger, made in the meat section of the store. It's that warm butter-toasted bun and fresh ground meat that I took note of when I started to build my burger.ORIGINAL FATBURGER - 450 South La Cienega, Los Angeles
I ate my first Fat Burger after the third show at the Troubadour one morning and have been addicted since. There are lots of new Fat Burgers all over LA, but the original is still the best. It must have something to do with that old grill.LE SELECT - St.Barthelemy, French West Indies
I sort of watched this burger evolve and actually was the cook the first night the stand opened, flipping burgers for my friend Eddie Skatlborough. I overheard some people at the counter waiting for their burgers, and they said, "How sad. You know he used to be famous, but now he's cooking cheeseburgers."RUBY'S - Harbour Island, Bahamas
Ruby's is a little spot just beyond the cemetery and library on Harbour Island. Her burgers remind me of the ones my grandmother used to make with onions and breadcrumbs in the meat, and then there is that drop-dead Bahama bread they are served on.SKY WAY DRIVE IN - Akron, Ohio
It seemed fitting that in the hotbed of Parrot Heads in Northeastern Ohio, there had to be a great cheeseburger.STEAK N SHAKE - Gainesville, Florida
I used to do free concerts in front of the Student Union building at the University of Florida, and I stayed at the Hilton Hotel. The Steak n Shake was halfway between the two, and I made it a pit stop when I was driving back and forth from one end of the state to the other.MARGARITAVILLE - Key West, Florida
After eating at all the above, I opened my own place and took the best of all of them. We don't get too many complaints on our attempt at the perfect cheeseburger. Maybe it's the location.
Under the "L" at Fullerton
In case any of you prefer hot dogs, I thought I would mention one spot. It's owned by Peter Schivarelli. Peter played football for the Notre Dame team that beat Alabama, but I forgive him for that because of his great hot dogs. It is also a perfect stop on the way to Cubs games.
SON OF A SON OF A SAILOR I saw a picture of my grandfather after he had come back from a trip to Nova Scotia. He was born there but left when he was a young man and didn't return until he was 84. He was standing on dock staring at an old sailing schooner, and the look on his face told the story of where he had come from and where he had been. I have always been very proud of my heritage as a sailor and wrote this for the men who taught me the skills.
HAVANA DAYDREAMIN' I read Far Tortuga by Peter Mathissen and fell in love with the description of the men on the turtle boat. I used them to create my own boat and my own destination. Five years after the song was written, I was singing it in the La Bodega Del Medio in Downtown Havana with the KGB, CIA, and Cuban secret police crowded around the bar trying to look normal-which goes to prove you better not dream too hard or long; your dreams just might come true.
MANANA I spent a winter living on my boat in the British Virgin Islands. One night , I was anchored in Jost Van Dyke in front of Foxy's Bar and was staring out at the lights of St. Thomas in the distance. All of a sudden the electricity went out, and the stars were the only lights left. I imagined the panic at the power plant while the stars smugly shone on into the dawn, and then the song became a chronicle of things I had done and seen that week. Better than notes on a calendar.
TREAT HER LIKE A LADY This was written for the whales-animals in danger of extinction the way I thought I was at the time. Music changed on us almost overnight, and the singer/songwriter breed who populated the music scene of the seventies seemed to be headed for the proverbial "elephant burial ground." James Taylor added his distinctive voice to this track and made the lines I cherished come alive. As it turned out, a lot of us old elephants are still alive and kicking and happy to be here. Good songs tell stories, and good stories seem to last longer than video tapes. Thank God.
STEAMER There is something terribly romantic about the old passenger ships that used to comb the oceans of the world before concrete runways and jet planes made them obsolete. I spent a night once on the Queen Mary in Long Beach trying to imagine what that era must have been like. Even with her decks full of people from bus tours, even parked next to the Spruce Goose in a jungle of oil terminals, I could still feel the ship talk to me. When I heard this song, it reminded me of the good old days.
JOLLY MON SING Dolphins gliding along beneath the bow of the ship, effortlessly crossing the wake and doing flips, set off a big wave of jealousy. If we are supposed to be such smart people, why can't we do that? It just goes to show that talking isn't everything. I wrote the picture book version with my daughter, and we wanted to make it clear that humans can learn from animals, and the natural world has room for all of our needs-not just mans.
NAUTICAL WHEELERS When I first arrived in Key West, it was still a wide open town where artists, straights, gays, shrimpers, sailors, criminals, and politicians all frequented the same bars. In the middle of this nest of vipers, a group called the "Nautical Wheelers" every Friday night under a big orange-and-white parachute at the old City Hall, next to the Salvation Army outlet where I bought my clothes. It was a change of pace to sit and watch the square dancers perform with such precision before I stumbled back out onto Duval Street where there were no rules.
TAKE IT BACK I got a call one day to write a song for the Stars and Stripes challenge. The Americans were trying to win the American Cup back from the Australians. Soon after that, my first trip to Australia came together, and we opened the tour in Perth at the time of the race. For me, it was the party of the 80's, and I think of this as the background music for an incredible stay down under.
SLOW BOAT TO CHINA These darn songs that take me off to china. I am hooked on the place. I guess Marco Polo started to whole damn thing. One day, I will get there and I hope there is still a slow boat to take me there.
CHANGES IN LATITUDES, CHANGES IN ATTITUDES Rhyming unusual words is something I've always tried to do. Anybody can rhyme cat and rat. I look for things beyond two syllables-like attitudes and latitudes.
LOVE AND LUCK "Zouk" is a popular form of music from the French Antilles, the kind that makes you dance without knowing what the singer is saying. Since the songs are in patois French, this helps. I once received a request for permission to write new lyrics to the melody of Margaritaville by a very famous European singer and thought it was great and was interested to hear their interpretation. Well this is the melody to a song called "kole Sere," written by my friend Joecely Beroard, the lead singer for a great Zouk band names Kaasav. The lyrics are mine and I hope that they like the way I interpret their music. This was the first song ever recorded at Shrimp Boat Sound in Key West and Steve Winwood is the guest organist. I thank him for taking time out from his fishing trip.
THE CAPTAIN AND THE KID This song is obviously about my grandfather, and it means a lot to me. It was written shortly after he died. I like to tell the story about this song and why I don't "pitch" my material to other people. I was living in Nashville, trying to eke out a living, and I spent a brief time trying to peddle my wares door-to-door to record producers. One day, I was playing a batch of new songs for this guy, and he stopped the tape at the end of this song, which I took to mean that he had more than a casual interest. He said, "This is a great song, but you have to change the ending. It's too sad for the old man to die." I was shocked. "I can't do that," I told him. "Why?" he asked incredulously. "Because he did," I answered and walked out. I never pitched another song to anyone again.
TRYING TO REASON WITH HURRICANE SEASON My second house in Key West was tucked away under fichus trees near the old Casa Marina Hotel. From my beach I could see the flashing red and green lights that marked the ship channel and ended at the Gulf Stream. Clouds used to gather over the the warm waters and spill out the rain and thunder. It was quite a light show. My front yard was my "thinking spot" in those days. I had a rocking chair and a hammock. When you come to think of it, you don;t need much more.
BOAT DRINKS It was February in Boston, and I was cold and wanted to go home. Rum and tonic was the antifreeze, and the newspaper was full of ads for warmer climates. I was in a place owned by Derek Sanderson, who was a very famous player for the Boston Bruins in the 70's. I came out of the bar and couldn't find a cab except for the one that was running in front of a nearby hotel. There was no driver in it, and I was too cold to think about the consequences. There is an old Navy expression which says, "Beg forgiveness, not permission." I hopped in and drove the cab back to my hotel, I did leave the fare on the seat.
ONE PARTICULAR HARBOR I had my sights sets on Tahiti a long time ago and connived my way there through my good friend Tom Moffatt in Hawaii. We went there to play a show to an unknown audience, but that didn't matter. I still had made it to Tahiti. At the airport we were met by an old expatriated American named Hugh Kelly who had run away from home a long time ago. We became instant friends, and he took me to his home on Moorea in the mountains above Cook's Bay. When I looked down at the vista, the song came out as if it had been sitting inside of me waiting for the moment.
A PIRATE LOOKS AT FORTY The real pirate's name was Phillip Clark. He was one of the most unforgettable characters I met when I first lived in Key West, back in the days before it turned into a boutique. When I finished the song, I knew I had done him justice, and it is a fitting eulogy to an old friend. He died a few years ago under an alias, washed up on a beach near San Francisco. They flew his body back to Key West where some of his ashes were scattered at sea, and some still sit above the cash register in the Full Moon Saloon.
LOVELY CRUISE This song was brought to me by a young man named Jonathan Baham. It was one of those songs that just fit the mood, and I put it on the record. I like the story and the image. It has stood the test of time.
MARGARITAVILLE This song was written about a drink in Austin, Texas, and the first huge surge of tourist who descended on Key West almost two decades ago. What can I say? People ask if I ever get tired of playing it. The answer is no. It has paid the rent for a long time and seems to put a few minutes of joy into this troubled world when sung by fans at a show. I feel very lucky.
GRAPEFRUIT-JUICY FRUIT The place was the Islander Drive-in Theatre, and the movie was Payday starring Rip Torn. The girl was from St. Petersburg, and she was running away from a bad boyfriend. the popcorn was salty, and the beer was cold.
RAGTOP DAY My mother was thought to be a little crazy by our neighbors when she bought a gold Ford Fairlane convertible instead of the standard housewife station wagon. I loved it. It started my convertible "thing" which still infects me. I've owned a long list of convertibles since that one, and I just don't think cars look right with tops on them.
FRANK AND LOLA Lola is another tough rhyme. Sometimes when you're trying to find it, the rhyme is right under your nose. Pensacola was across the state line, and it rhymed. See? There's nothing to it.
TIN CUP CHALICE This was my first Key West song. I was running from a bad marriage and a trail of debt, and wound up at the end of America. Nobody cared about either there, and they took the time to applaud the sunset at the end of the day. It was a place for me to hang my hat for awhile.
KNEES OF MY HEART Borrowed this line from a letter Sir Walter Raleigh wrote to the Queen of England begging forgiveness for some practical activity. It sounded more like a title of a Motown tune, and I couldn't pass it up. I hope Sir Walter didn't turn over in his grave.
MONEY BACK GUARANTEE When I was working on Bourbon Street as a teenager, the big trill on my day off was to ride out St Charles Avenue on the streetcar to the Audubon Zoo and back. I kept that image and when we got together with the Neville Brothers a few years back, I combined that and the silly ads on television into the lyrics of this song. I do own a bamboo steamer and use it a lot. I never had to use my money back guarantee.
COAST IS CLEAR I grew up on the Alabama Gulf Coast, and it has been a source of a lot of my music. I always like to go home after school is back in session and the crowds have left the beaches. The amusement parks are closed, and one straw covers the artificial turf of the miniature golf course. The tidal pools are once again the domain of the shorebirds, and the water changes it's darker green, signaling the approach of winter. This is the first song Mac Mcanally and I wrote together, and I think it paints the image the way I like to see it. Painting with words can be as much fun as painting with oils.
BILOXI Biloxi was the town I got my start playing music in a place called Trader Jon's. It blew away Hurricane Camille, but the memories of those days along the Mississippi Gulf Coast are still as vivid as the sunsets off toward new Orleans. Jesse Winchester got it right. All I did was sing about something I could relate to.
DISTANTLY IN LOVE Distance and love; this sounds like an oxymoron. The song was written on the beach of Huahine as I watched the sun drop into the Pacific Ocean. Love songs have never been easy to write. Somehow pain and regret seen to be the only things that can trigger my feelings, and songs are the only way to say what I feel-but once your feelings become a song, they don't belong to you anymore. They belong to all those people who identify with them.
COCONUT TELEGRAPH The Coconut Telegraph works as well as a cellular phone or a fax machine and has been around a lot longer.
STARS ON THE WATER This is one of those songs I always wished I had written. Rodney Crowell got it right when he described these great little honky tonks and seafood shacks that sit on the northern edge of the Gulf of Mexico.
WHO'S THE BLOND STRANGER? The good people of Texas kept me alive for a long time when I was not known or could not get work anywhere else. I used to commute from Key West, flying across the Gulf to play my shows-and then I'd go home again. In a two-week stint I'd start in Amarillo and wind up on Padre Island, always amazed that I was still in the same state. There was a bar down there where cowboys tied their horses to the seawall and ate oysters. That image always stuck with me, and I got together with my Texas professor Will Jennings and penned this song.
I HAVE FOUND ME A HOME I bought a red bike shortly after I decided to stay in Key West, and it served me well. Key West has changed drastically from the days when you didn't have to lock up your bike, but it's still the best place I know to ride. The streets are filled with the fragrances of exotic trees and aromas from Cuban and Bahamian kitchens. In all the traveling I have done and all the places I have lived, it still feels like home.
CHRISTMAS IN THE CARIBBEAN I guess since Christmas is my birthday, I should have written at least one Christmas song. This certainly won't give "White Christmas" a run for its money, but it proves the point that snow isn't everything.
VOLCANO One of the wildest times I've ever had in my career was an expedition to the Caribbean Island of Montserrat to record an album. The events which took place could fill a book, and one day they just might. The whole time we were there, the volcano above the studio seemed to be waiting for us to do it justice. One day Keith Sykes came into our house strumming his little Martin, singing the chorus. I took it from there, and the gods of the volcano appeared to be satisfied.
BROWN EYED GIRL This has been one of my favorite songs since the early days in New Orleans when it was first a hit. Rumor had it that Van Morrison was a student at LSU and the stadium in the song was Tiger Stadium. Van's supposed attendance at LSU has been proven untrue, but the song is a summertime anthem. Our addition to this anthem is the great steel drum arrangement written by Robert Greenidge. He thought Van Morrison was from Trinidad and wrote it about the soccer field in Port of Spain. That Van sure got around.
FINS I was in a bar somewhere up near Daytona Beach and saw a group of guys crowded around some girls who were obviously in town for a beauty contest. I sat back and listened to there conversation and took notes. For a moment I pictured that these guys had fins coming out of their backs as they hit on the girls. It was a pure feeding frenzy, and I scribbled down pieces of their conversation and wrote the song. Now it seems the "land shark" population has increased tremendously.
THE WEATHER IS HERE, I WISH YOU WERE BEAUTIFUL Graffiti in the bathrooms of good bars has always been a great source of material. I think this one either came from Captain Tony's or the Napoleon House in New Orleans.
TAMPICO TRAUMA The name Tampico has always held a sense of danger for me. I guess it comes from watching the opening scene in Treasure of Sierra Madre when Bogart and Tim Holt won the lottery. Instead of cowboys, I put a couple of rock'n rollers in the coastal town and let my imagination go.
LIVINGSTON SATURDAY NIGHT One day my old friend and now brother-in-law Thomas McGuane came over to my house in Key West and gave me a movie script he had written. He asked me to read it and said he recommended that I write the music. The script was entitled "Rancho Deluxe," and the rest is history. Yes, I am in the movie: in the bar scene, along with Tom and the late Warren Oats. I think it has a lot to do with what I learned that summer in Montana.
CUBAN CRIME OF PASSION There used to be a piano player in Key West named Billy Nine Fingers who told me stories about playing the ferryboat that once ran from Key West to Havana. It made me jealous that I hadn't been around during the wild days of Havana. One day I was reading an article in the Miami Herald about a murder that had taken place in Hialeah in which a love triangle had ended in bloodshed. The reporter called it a "Cuban Crime of Passion."
FIRST LOOK I ran away from home a lot, from the time I was twelve until now. On this particular occasion, my wife and I were separated, and I took off for Rio to go to the carnival. I went for six days, and stayed three weeks. On Mardi Gras morning, I was standing on a hang-glider launching platform, looking at Rio below me as the sun came up. That is where I started the song, and I finished it after being taught the Portuguese by my friend Angela Brum who lives in Leblon.
THE WINO AND I KNOW This was a song I wrote after listening to Gordon Lightfoot, who has been a great influence on my style. Gordon takes uncommon subject matter and turns it into lyrics that make you listen to what the singer is saying. With all the passing trends of the last two decades, I still haven't changed my style of writing. A good story is never out of fashion. Thanks, God.
THE GREAT FILLING STATION HOLDUP Before convenience stores and crack cocaine became popular, filling station holdups were the big crimes in much of the rural South. I got the idea for this song from an actual newspaper article that described the recovered property from one such holdup. For some reason it just struck me as funny.
WHY DON'T WE GET DRUNK This song was written as a piece of total satire when I did my first album in Nashville. I was hearing a lot of very suggestive country songs-in particular, Conway Twitty's "Let's Go All The Way." I figured I would write a song that would leave no doubt in anybody's mind. I thought back to a late night in an Atlanta diner where I was eating and watching this out-of-focus businessman trying to pick up a hooker. That's all the inspiration I needed.
ELVIS IMITATORS This song was written my Steve Goodman and John Prine. Elvis is still dead or alive, and this song has remained locked away in the vaults of Margaritaville Records for years now, just waiting for the perfect time to be sprung on an unsuspecting public. So against a lot of people's better judgement, I broke it out. So far I have not heard from Elvis, so I don't know if he likes it or not-but I wouldn't be surprised if he's seen at one of our shows this summer.
PENCIL THIN MUSTACHE The thing about writing a song like this is that the older you get, the more people there are who need an explanation of the characters in the song. I shudder to think how old Sky king's niece Penny is today. It all started with that two-toned Ricky Ricardo jacket. I can't wait for them to come back.
KICK IT IN SECOND WIND This came out of those days at the Troubadour and the famous "third show." I don't remember too many of them, as you can imagine the state of a band that takes the stage at two in the morning. The third show at the Troubadour was sort of the "Pork Chop Hill" of rock'n roll-some of us made it, some of us didn't. I guess I was lucky.
DESPERATION SAMBA I wound up in Mexico one day, passing through Tijuana on my way to Rosarito Beach. I was passing through the bizarre streets of this border town listening to the radio from San Diego when the DJ mentioned that it was Halloween. I looked around and realized that none of these people needed a costume.
WHEN SALOME PLAYS THE DRUM Salome and her band played one year at L'Ananas, a restaurant in St. Barts, and she filled the place with tourists and locals who watched her seductively play the drum she held between her legs. Just for the record, Salome was not thrown out of town.
THEY DON'T DANCE LIKE CARMEN NO MORE I loved Carmen Miranda before I knew her name. Her hat was filled with fruit piled up to the sky. I guess this song came out of my "Cuban period" when I first got to Key West and came in contact with the Latin passion for fun.
PASCAGOULA RUN Billy Buffett was the best worst influence in my formative years. He was a sailor through and through and lived life to the fullest. The day he pulled into our driveway in that Jaguar, my heart skipped a beat. And when he asked me to drive him to New Orleans, I didn't realize it, but I had crossed the wild meridian. My alter boy days were done, and my eyes were open wide. Thank you, Uncle Bill.
SENDING THE OLD MAN HOME This song literally came out of the blue. I was in traction on the top floor of Cedars Sinai hospital with my leg broken for the third time, wondering what else could go wrong. I mean, I had done a few bad things, but nothing to deserve three broken legs. That's when the earthquake shook the hospital as if it were a cardboard box. I ordered more painkillers and drifted off. There was a movie on TV called The Gallant Hours starring James Cagney as Admiral "Bull" Halsey, and I flashed between the movie and images of my grandfather and the Officers Club at Pearl Harbor. The collage of images stayed with me the next day when I checked out of the hospital and flew home to Alabama where the ground was flat and didn't move. There I wrote this song. It is still one of my favorites.
DOMINO COLLEGE One of those winters back in the early eighties, Dan Fogelberg showed up in St. Barts, and we took off south aboard that grand old yacht Escapade. The night before, my guitar had been stolen out of my car, and of course we had been inspired by events of the week and wanted to write songs. Now our trip had a mission. We picked up some leads in the marketplace in Charlestown, the main city on the island of Nevis, which led us to the hills to Butlertown, where we met a man who made guitars. On the way to his home, we passed a roadside shed with a cold beer sign and the words "Domino College" painted on a piece of driftwood. I sat in for a few games and was given a quick education by the old men seated around the table. That night, as we lay at anchor under the cliffs below Brimstone Hill listening to the monkeys jabbering in the trees, we stared this song. I have often thought I might like to go back down to Domino College and get my master's degree.
COME MONDAY This was the first hit record I ever had. I was working in London, far away from the brown L.A. haze, when I heard it on the radio and called the states and got the good news. I guess that was when I realized that I might be able to keep my phony baloney job for awhile.
DEFYING GRAVITY Like a solid relief pitcher, Jesse Winchester is a source of songs I return to again and again. I love the message in this song, simple and to the point. I never do dream I may fall-and if I do fall, what the hell.
SURVIVE There are some days on the road when you have the blues and nothing will get rid of them. You just have to ride it out like a bad cold or a storm, and things will eventually get better. This song came out of one of those spells, and I did survive.
INCOMMUNICADO The day John Wayne died, I drove to the top of Independence Pass above Aspen and walked along the Continental Divide. Somehow Travis McGee crept into my mind as I pondered the incredible vista. After a Mexican meal in Leadville, I wrote this song on the way back to Aspen.
I HEARD I WAS IN TOWN I'm amused by the rumors that crop up out of nowhere about me and what I've done. I have been spotted at parties by drug agents when I was actually two thousand miles away. I have bought ocean liners. I have been seen on stage in countries where I have never set foot, and have played golf on courses that I have never seen. Word just seems to get around.
BALLAD OF SPIDER JOHN Willis Alan Ramsey is one of the great Texas troubadours who has built a musical legacy. I think he is one of the best writers I have ever known, and I hope to one day hear that he has made another album.
LITTLE MISS MAGIC When Savannah Jane was born, my world was definitely altered. Once, when she was very small, she pointed to a spot on the globe and told me she had been a princess in China. Before she could speak I would watch her follow the blades of the ceiling fan with her big brown eyes, and I couldn't help but to be a proud father. Besides, if you don't write a song about your daughter, you will go to hell.
CALIFORNIA PROMISES Steve Goodman came to the studio in L.A. when we were just about to finish the One Particular Harbor album and played this song for me. I had always wanted to try to get Earl Klugh to play one of my records, and I guess the God's were smiling on us. My dear friend Rita Coolidge was singing background vocals and somehow got in touch with Earl, who was playing a gig in L.A. He came to the studio. Earl was a true gentleman and was taken back by Robert Greenidge's steel drum parts and the chance to meet Jack Nicholson-I'd called to let Jack know Earl was playing. Jack was an even bigger Earl Klugh fan than I was, and it was fun to watch them give each other compliments. Just another magic night in "show bidness."
IF THE PHONE DOESN'T RING, IT'S ME This phrase sort of sums it all up: "Good days' bad days, and going half mad days." We all have them. This is as close as I can get to a sad song.
AFRICAN FRIEND For the amount of shit that the Haitian people have had to endure over the centuries, they are the warmest and friendliest people I have come across in my travels. This song was written after a trip to Port-Au-Prince and a wild night in the old casino that made me feel as if I were in a Bogey movie. Those damn Bogey movies have put me in some tight spots as I've tried to create fact out of fiction.
EVERLASTING MOON You have never heard this before unless you were at the lives shows in Atlanta or Cincinnati in the summer of '90. Matt Betton and I penned this. I love the idea that somebody steals the moon and moves it to a better place. Who but a bunch of baby boomers could conceive such a notion?
PRE-YOU I never learn much from listening to myself, but other people are a wealth of information. This title came while I was riding an elevator at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. A sailor was telling his buddy that he had run into an old girlfriend on the beach in Mexico while he was on his honeymoon. "What did you tell your wife?" the buddy asked. "I just said, 'Oh baby, she was pre-you.'" By the time the elevator hit the ground floor, I had the first verse, and I took the roots of this tune to New York and finished it with Ralph Macdonald and Bill Salters. Ralph produced this track and got Grover Washington Jr. to play the solo (in case you think you've heard this style of horn before).
MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT Back in prehistoric times (the sixties) when I was working on Bourbon Street, I used to go to the Ivanhoe Piano Bar on my break and listen to a couple of local singers called the Neville Brothers. Needless to day, we have all made it off Bourbon Street and on to better things, but I still don't think there are too many bands around today who can compare to Art, Cyril, Charlie and Aaron when they harmonize. It was a thrill to work with them on this song which was one if three that I wrote with Art, Will Jennings, and Mike Utley one summer in New Orleans. The other two songs eventually made it onto Neville albums, but this one did not. It was inspired by late-night television ads and the St. Charles Avenue streetcar in New Orleans.
COAST OF MARSEILLES I believe that this is one the best songs I have ever heard. Keith Sykes wrote this years back when he was hanging around Key West, and it felt as if it had been molded for me. I ever get tired of singing this song.
ISLAND I wrote this with David Loggins. I thought back to a time when I had been holed up in San Salvador in the Bahamas waiting for the weather to break, watching how simple island people live and wondering if I could ever really slow down that much. I am still wondering.
HE WENT TO PARIS Chicago is where I truly cut my teeth as a performer, working as the opening act at the Quiet Knight. I opened for a variety of people from Neil Sedaka to Bob Marley, and when I got frustrated with the crowds, the old one-armed clean-up man with the big German shepherd always consoled me. It took me a few days of asking to find out Eddie was more than a janitor. He was a gifted painter and a wonderful pianist. We would stay up after the club closed, and he would sing me songs from the Spanish Civil War where he had fought as a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade against the Fascists. Eddie Balchowsky was indeed an inspiration. He was larger than life, and as Mark Twain said "he'd gone out into the territory". This song is a tribute to his spirit.
STARS FELL ON ALABAMA I have been called a cornball and a hopeless romantic. I appreciate those labels, and I don't apologize for my feelings. I have always loved the Tin Pan Alley kind of songs that came out of writing teams in the forties. This one, of course, was known to me as a kid, and I like to play it at shows now. It's fun to see teenagers mouth the words to a song they might never heard if I hadn't been such a cornball.
CHANGING CHANNELS This was written for Isabella, the imaginary heroine of my short story " I Wish Lunch Could Last Forever". I miss her and catch up with her life in the next story. I assure you she is still changing channels.
TWELVE VOLT MAN Michael Nesmith once told me a story about a man he ran into down in Baja who is the unknown inspiration for this song. During the Baja race, Michael had broken down somewhere near East Jesus and went to a small village to wait for his repair team. He ran into an American, a fisherman who lived in a small hut with what he called his "essentials". He had a collection of my albums, packaged margarita mix from America, an old Waring blender, and a tape player hooked up to a peculiar power system made out of a Honda generator and a Sears Die Hard battery. It seems he would fish all week, and on Friday night, he and his friends would hook up the blender and tape player and make margaritas while they sang along to my songs. This ceremony would last until the gas for the generator dried up. I got the inspiration to write this when I was in Isla Mujeres, a small island near Cancun, where life had escaped most of the twentieth century. The tough part was rhyming Die Hard, but with a few inspiring margaritas, the word came. This is one of my favorite songs.
Interviewed Jimmy Buffett
By Paul Lomartire
I never wanted to interview Jimmy Buffett. The reason is that I need to hold on to a few personal reporter rules so I won't lose my mind in the newspaper game. The rules are simple and have served me well for many years.
- Write the truth-it makes sleeping easier.
- Never sleep with a source or the religion editor.
- Never interview a celebrity you admire-which is why I never wanted to meet Jimmy Buffett while serving as a newspaper reporter.
No one wants to find out firsthand that a favorite writer, singer or athlete is vain, boring, stupid, petty, rude, or well....human. We all need at least one illusion that's protected and can remain as cloudy and pure as a pearl. Buffett's music, like air, was always there when I needed it and that was just fine. The Buffett tapes helped whether I was writing for a living in Milwaukee, Tampa, the Venezuelan Colombian border, Wichita, Kansas or Miami. Through the years and newspaper jobs I was occasionally assigned Buffett stories and each one was handled from a comfortable distance. Until I took the Miami newspaper job.
Living in a Key West suburb, the comings and goings of Margaritaville's mayor provided constant news both in print and as newborn gossip. An environmental writer would have a story about a Buffett project. An education writer would offer something about Buffett and the Inter-American Scholarship Fund. A political writer would deliver a Buffett anecdote that revealed a survivor's sense of government. For six months in Miami I heard about the political Buffett, environmental Buffett, educational Buffett, and businessman Buffett, but no reporter ever suggested pulling it all together for a story. Buffett always meant the same things to newspapers; songs, an album, a tour. Other reporters said Buffett didn't do many interviews-fine with me-and I considered I could pull the story together without him.
Unfortunately, editors don't think in those terms. They need someone to say no, then work from that. I considered it was a sure thing; Buffett wouldn't sit for an interview. Then, while still in the planning stages, I saw a magazine cover story about Buffett. It was a shark attack. A hit and run job. After you've been in the business awhile, you tend to shrug off the hammer jobs. It happens and you can't carry the sins of your industry around with you. But I wasn't the only one who read the story in the regional magazine. The editor told me my total Buffett story would run only if a Buffett interview was it's core. Now, not only did I have to interview a man still black and blue from the hit and run, a man who didn't like doing interviews to begin with. I decided to first collect all the interviews I needed from the people working for, and with Buffett. Calls covered the state of Florida and included the Save The Manatee Club--which Buffett chairs, the Florida Inter-American Scholarship Fund, Buffett's "Caribbean Soul" clothing line based in Orlando, the Margaritaville Store and Cafe at the Last Resort, and the Friends Of Florida, a non-profit organization established to protect the state's natural resources.
Then calls came in. One from U.S. Senator Bob Graham's office, Buffett's friends rallied. Now, what about the interview. If you make your living talking to strangers, several hundred each year, you might meet a woman like Sunshine Smith a half-dozen times in a career. She's stationed in a office above the Margaritaville Store and Cafe near Buffett's Key West home. Street-wise with a sense of humor, she's honest and direct in her role as Buffett's lieutenant. A friend from the singers bad old days, inevitably Buffett sets lines and quickly moves to deeper water . It is then up to Sunshine to follow behind making sure the hooks stay baited and catch is hauled in. She listened to my interview request--fifteen minutes or six questions, whichever came first. She said she'd have to ask Buffett. He said yes, as we found out later based on Sunshine's nod.
The photographer and I found ourselves on a Key West sidewalk. Murry Sill, a longtime Buffett fan, was the Miami News photographer who wondered out loud what I dreaded--what if he's a jerk? We both knew the music would never sound the same to us if this turned out to be a nightmare interview. That happens, too. Public people admired from a distance have turned out to be legendary head cases totally consumed by themselves. Some so badly consumed you couldn't even blame drugs for their behavior. But, in defense of public people, they meet an incredible number of equally stupid and crude writers. Just seeing a Cross pen and a reporter's note book can bring out their worst. It happens. Based on instinct, Sunshine was gambling we weren't jerks. Based on instinct, we assumed Buffett would be a regular guy. And he was. After eating lunch, Buffett hit the sidewalk in front of his own Margaritaville Cafe. He was with writer Tom McGuane. And even if Buffett had turned out to be the most twisted man I ever met, I probably would have recalled him fondly because he introduced me to McGuane. But Buffett proved all we could hope for during the interview at his home. He was in good spirits, laughing, asking questions, listening and answering. He insisted we go beyond the aforementioned fifteen minutes/six questions. Talking to Buffett is as easy and entertaining as killing a hot afternoon trading stories with a colorful stranger at a cheap little seaside joint. He posed for Murry's photos and then, after a couple of hours, his home became busy with the comings and goings of a high profile music career. The story was well received by readers. Now when I listen to Buffett's music it sounds even better. A pearl preserved.
His music has been described at different times as "shrimp boat rock", "calypso country" and "gulf and western". I grew up in the coastal south. I love rhythm and blues music, and the cross between R&B and Harry Belafonte. Calypso too, like banjo or steel drum sounds. they affect the human spirit or psyche in a way that's very pleasant and relaxing. If I've done anything, I've combined my particular eccentric tastes in a variety of music. it's like pouring all the ingredients into a veg-o-matic and you come out with a new drink. that's what I'm serving up."
It must be a potent concoction; even though he hasn't had a hit since "Margaritaville," his nationwide concerts are sellouts and his tapes and CD's sell very well, especially among the boating set. As a musician, Buffett sees himself as a storyteller, an entertainer who spins tales of island life through the songs he sings and write, such as "Pirate Looks At 40" and "Son Of A Sailor." When he talks about his performing and his songwriting, he sounds more like a writer than a musician. "The art of storytelling, or bar singing, is what I come from, and I'm very proud of that fact because I think it's an extension of yarn-spinning that's been a part of American humor for centuries.
"The basic way to be a good writer is to keep your eyes and ears open and keep an open mind. If you can listen and you have a bit of imagination, you can create. I listen to everything. But don't go to a particular place and listen to the bellman at the hotel that caters to the tourists. Go down to the local bar, to the waterfront, where the fish are cleaned, and listen to the local people. That's where you get your information." He likes to cite another well-known Key West resident when he talks about his work. "If you go back over my music in sequence over the past 20 years, you'll find it's pretty much autobiographical. You can figure out a lot of the things that have happened in my life. Hemingway said, "There are two kinds of stories, the ones you live and the ones you make up. And nobody knows the difference. "I don't ever tell which is which.
Buffett came to Key West from Nashville, a town he never planned to make a permanent home, but one he knew was a necessary stop in his career. After a couple of years there, he threw in the beach towel and headed south. "There were a lot of people traveling in the Caribbean and they'd always stop at Key West, so I'd hear stories about other neat places. I lived in Key West a good number of years before I could afford a boat". Although he's navigated around the world several times, Buffett's moorings are firmly in the Caribbean.
"It's where I prefer to live. I grew up on Mobile Bay, where the water was rather dull-looking and all the cypress trees around gave it a reddish color. The first time I saw clear water and white sand beaches, I became addicted to them". If the name Jimmy Buffett is not yet a household word, his musical town of "Margaritaville" may well be. He turned the name of the popular drink into a smash hit song in 1977 when he sang of "wasting away" on a tropical beach looking for nothing important than a "lost shaker of salt." Buffett's Margaritaville thus entered the American lexicon, summing up in one the image of a nomadic, beachbum lifestyle. Even today Buffett and Margaritaville are as much a pair as sun and fun, rum and coke.
This article originally appeared in Islands Magazine
A Place in the Shade
My fantasy has been to find that perfect laid-back town by the ocean, the kind of place where the locals are all legendary characters who spend their days mixing up margaritas, where the air is always warm, and where the sea is crystal clear - a real Margaritaville of the mind.
There'd have to be a bar right on the beach complete with ceiling fans and cigarette smoke - a bar like the one in the movie To Have And Have Not. Hoagy Carmichael would play the piano while Lauren Bacall sang. Humphrey Bogart would be sitting alone at the end of the bar, just taking it all in.
I've been looking for a town like that, a real Margaritaville, for years now-maybe ever since I was a kid and my grandfather explained to me that you could trace a line on a map from our home near Mobile Bay, Alabama, across the ocean and wind up at some of the most exotic places on earth.
Later on I majored in history at the University of Southern Mississippi, and I became fascinated by the history of the Caribbean. By then my mental image of Margaritaville had grown more complex. I took elements from books like Herman Wouk's Don't Stop The Carnival, which is about a New York public relations man who buys a bar on a fictitious tropical island. Then there were movies like Donovan's Reef, and the TV series Adventures In Paradise, which really influenced me at a young age.
It all blended together like tequila, salt, and limes: Margaritaville became a combination of the romance of the ocean, the romance of history, and my impressions of a few of the places I'd been. There's a town in Mexico, for instance, called Puerto Morales; it's a real Mexican fishing village located about 20 miles south of Cancun. And then there's a place called the Rosarito Beach Hotel, 45 minutes south of San Diego, where you can get good lobster with diablo sauce and a margarita. That hotel is the closest, neatest getaway I've found.
Back when I knew it in 1971, Key West used to be a lot like Margaritaville; it was a place designed for complete escapism. Around that time I was running from a bad marriage and bad weather, and I had to get back to the ocean. The line in my Volcano album- "I shot six holes in the freezer, I think I got cabin fever"- well that's real life. I did that once: plugged my refrigerator. And then I thought, Jimmy, you better get yourself to the ocean, boy.
Well, I lived in Key West for three years, and mostly all I did is hang out in the bars. Then I got a boat, and that opened up another whole avenue, just like it did for my grandfather. Most of the people I knew in Key West seven or eight years ago aren't there anymore. All that's left are the legends, so it's not that comfortable for me. But then Margaritaville is a place you have to keep looking for.
One of the worst investments I ever made was buying a bar, something like the one in To Have and Have Not. It's the only American bar on the Caribbean island of St. Barthelemy. I've done everything there from peeling onions to mixing drinks. It's the biggest damn financial nightmare - a great, dumb, stupid, wonderful thing to own - I've yet to see a dime come out of it, but I bought it truly for no reason than to be able to sit on a stool and tell whoever I'm talking to that I own part of a bar in the Caribbean. Now, I try to explain to the accountants that the stories I'll get out of that place are worth more than any monetary gain.I doubt they understand.
I really love to tour the Midwest in nasty weather, say in February and March. We set up palm trees on stage and project pictures of boats and ocean scenes. People show up in Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts, and for a couple of hours I try to take them to Margaritaville. And it's possible, because Margaritaville is as much a state of mind as a place.
Right now I'm working on a movie version of Margaritaville. It's great; I get to construct a perfect paradise. The island in the film is a cross section of all the neat old places I've visited, and the inhabitants are the characters in my songs. I'm even using the guy with the solar panels- the 12 volt man. I'll be a new genre: the coconut musical comedy.
Maybe It'll be the ultimate place to go for spring break. Maybe the movie will affect people the way "Adventure in Paradise" affected me. That series changed my life. It made me want to get the hell away from Mobile, Alabama; it got me started on my search for Margaritaville.
Why I Love My Seaplane
The view from Bora Bora today is not the one on the postcards. There are no bare-breasted Polynesian beauties drinking from coconut shell around my bungalow, and I can't see Bali Hai because the visibility is only about a quarter of a mile across the lagoon. No, I sit here after spending fourteen hours on four different airplanes which took me six thousand miles in relative discomfort thinking how much I really miss flying my plane.
A few hours ago, as this pirate was looking at forty, I remembered that I had vowed to get my private license by that time. My flying days go back to my misspent years at the University of Southern Mississippi where my good friend, Bobby Vincent, introduced me to flying. Bobby went on to fly fighters for the Navy, and I discovered women, the guitar, and poverty, so flying went out the window. Time and again I would occasionally try to pick up where I had left off with my flying lessons, but I never saw it through until the deadline I set for myself approached, and then I got serious.
Taking off and landing in the water held a romantic fascination for me. The plane I bought was a Lake Renegade, a single-engine amphibian. I christened her Lady of the Waters and hired an instructor to come down to Key West to teach me to fly. Now, to a former alter boy, that kind of monetary investment certainly provided enough guilt-incentive to study hard. Studying doesn't come easily to me; I wasn't much good at it when I was supposed to be doing it. But six months later I was the proud bearer of a single-engine land-and-rating.
To date, I have logged more than five-hundred hours flying my plane. I have traveled west across the Gulf of Mexico to Belize and Guatemala, and southeast through all the islands of the Bahamas, Haiti, the Virgins, and the Lesser Antilles. To all my sailing friends who think I have turned traitor by taking to the air, I have not sold my sailboat (the Savannah Jane is alive and well in Nantucket), but the Lady of the Waters certainly does go to weather better than any boat. The time in the air when I am at the controls is the time away from all the distractions on the ground. My head is filled with only navigating, since it is essential to know where I am. When it is time to come down, I come down where I want to. I usually pick small, out-of-the way airports with good restaurants like the Hangerburger or skyview-social gathering sites for people who hang out at small airports and talk about planes. These are fliers and mechanics and not packaged tour groups on their way to over-booked hotels on islands filled with people who hate them. To be able to escape the world of commercial aviation and airports is one of the true luxuries of flying yourself.
Last fall I decided to fly up to New York from the Bahamas. I was in no hurry and figured a two-and-a-half-day run if the weather stayed good. I loaded my gear and my dog, who is my co-pilot a lot of the time. Once airborne, I put the auto-pilot on, popped a CD into the player, and served myself lunch. That day Air Jimmy was serving fresh conch salad and grilled lobster on Bimini bread. I stopped that night in St. Augustine, Fl., at a small field, had delicious seafood dinner, and went to bed. The next morning I took off and headed up the east coast where I landed at the Wright Brothers Airport on the outer banks of North Carolina. I flew till dusk, landing at Tangier Island in the middle of Chesapeake Bay. My dog Cheeseburger and I had a long run on the beach a chatted with with an old timer who had never been off the island. Now, if you are in a real big hurry to do whatever it is you do, then this kind of flying seems ridiculous. I am a writer, and I find a hell of a lot more interesting people, places, and things to write about in the small airports of the world than in lonosphere Lounges.
The best thing about my particular airplane is that it can land in the water-more than once. Landing an airplane in the water does not compute with a lot of people. Many times when I was learning the art of water landings, boats would scurry across the shallow waters of the Florida Keys thinking they had seen a plane crash, only to be disappointed when I took off above the mangroves. I have been a creature of the coast for as long as I can remember . Being able to land in the water gives me lots of liquid runways along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and the beaches of the Bahamas where I can drop my anchor and climb out on the wing for a nap or a swim.
Finally there is the safety of factor involved in flying. It keeps me off the street. I live in south Florida where driving well is a lost art. You don't have to know much about how a car works to drive one. I feel much safer in the air where you must have a little intelligence just to get up there in the first place.
But now my airplane is sitting in the hanger in Key West as I watch the rain clouds move low over the Pacific, and I miss the Lady of the Waters today. I look out over the lagoon and picture my approach over the outer motes-I could come down gently over the reef in front of the Hotel Bora Bora where the dancing girls would run into the water and put leis of fresh jasmine and bougainvillea around my neck and whisk me away to the shore like Lee Marvin in Donovan's Reef. Then the local gendarme informs me that I am not allowed to land a seaplane in French waters. At this point I say au revoir to the girls and leave the earth, bound for Australia. Just me and Cheeseburger, my co-pilot, a couple of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, and some good flying music. Lindbergh had the right idea years ago. Fly alone and be in charge of your own destiny. I wonder what he would think of my compact disc player mounted next to my navigation radios.
Bubbles Up, Rock Star
Remember Rock Star, Bubbles Up
In "A Pirate Looks At Fifty", Jimmy credits flight survival training for hitting five decades. A 10-year old edition of the Coconut Telegraph carried the news
Lt . Jim (Famous Amos) Anderson reports on Jimmy's experiences at the Navy's survival school.
It all started last winter, when I gave the Margaritaville Store a concert photo of Jimmy. I soon received a short note from him saying he'd sure like to get a flight in a Navy jet. Jimmy ended by saying "I have a helmet"--- a la Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider. So with great enthusiasm I set out to make the flight happen. The navy however is very reluctant to take civilians up in tactical jet aircraft. Finally the project was okayed, provided that Jimmy successfully complete the Naval Aviation survival school in Norfolk, VA.
Jimmy arrived on a Sunday night to start "boot camp" for his week-long hitch in the Navy. He began by learning the effects of flight on the human body during spins and the high "G" maneuvers of an aerial dogfight--then received instructions on how to eject, maneuver his parachute, and deploy his lifecraft. The second day, the real fun began--the water survival test. Jimmy and I got suited up in full flight gear--flight suit, boots, survival equipment, parachute harness, and helmet (about 30 pounds of equipment in all). The first event was the 75-yard swim. Now, Jimmy trained hard in Key West for this by swimming daily "laps" in the Atlantic. But he hadn't counted on his flight gear being so cumbersome or the fact that this is FRESH water which, compared to salt water, has absolutely NO buoyancy.
His first 65 yards went very well. However, he caught a wave and a mouthful of water which made his last 10 yards very...interesting. He made it, though, and did better than most. We then went on to the drownproofing test, which required us to float unaided for 10 minutes--no life preserver of any kind. we both did exceptionally well until we caught a glimpse of each other struggling to keep our noses above the waterline and started laughing. It's still not clear to me how we made it through the rest of the test.
Finally we came to the last event which some call the drowning pool...a device designed to teach pilots how to survive a helicopter ditching at sea. A large, barrel-shaped compartment was suspended high above a deep pool. Each person was strapped to a seat and the "dunker" plunged into the pool, flipped upside down, and quickly sank to the bottom. The trick? Unbuckling and finding the way out and up to the surface. Jimmy has to do it 5 times instead of the required 4, because once he unstrapped and "escaped" too soon (I think he just wanted to do an encore). At days end Jimmy was exhausted but exuberant. He had graduated with flying colors from the Navy's survival training school and was ready for his flight.
(Ed. Note: LCDR Dan Carroll shares with us his observations of Jimmy's flight.)
Friday, May 16, 1986, Jimmy Buffett donned the flight gear of a Navy Fighter pilot, and turned a lifelong dream into an experience of a lifetime. Jimmy teamed up with the pilots of Fighter Squadron Forty-Five at the Naval Air Station in Key West, Florida, and took off seated at the controls of a TA-4 Skyhawk--a plane whose flight characteristics and maneuverability simulate the Third World jets that U.S. forces may someday face in combat.
Jimmy had received extensive briefing on the aircraft and it's systems (including ejection seat operation). Jimmy then taxied out and took off for a mock air battle performed over the Gulf of Mexico near the Dry Tortugas. That day, Jimmy gained the deepest respect and appreciation for the men he was flying with and for their job. Upon his return to Earth he was the portrait of pleasure.
Jimmy Buffett will always know the unique satisfaction that accompanies the rush of performing live for 50,000 people. But the next time you see him in concert and he flashes that knowing smile mid-song, be advised that at least part of it is fueled from having pulled 6 "G's" with a big grin on his face.
Jimmy and the guys were relying on Key West to provide the inspiration for the next album. Hardly an original idea, a variety of artists possessing a variety of talents have treated Key West in a similar fashion. I don't mean "leave the money on the table" fashion, but rather a more positive "feel the vibes" fashion. Jimmy Buffett's not the first successful author to frequent the backrooms and bar stools of southernmost saloons. Authors and attitudes ranging from Ernest Hemingway to Tennessee Williams; writers so polarized they seem at times to meet on the other side, have borrowed from Key West's bank of creativity habits. Not hard to imagine Big Daddy and Brick having and having not in Freddy's Bar, "tin roof's must get awful hot, huh?" John James Audubon painted, Mario Sanchez carved and Count Carl Von Cosel waxed necrophilic, but that's another story.
Jimmy and the resident Coral Reefers came to Key West ready to work, set to scare up the ghosts of Key West past and explore the southernmost city's streets; an urban Ouija board-finding the answers wherever they were led. "Between the studio at the Fish Camp and the old Monroe County Library, we searched the works of our collective favorite authors for source material. When the songs were done we peddled our bikes and mopeds across town to Shrimp Boat Sound."
I peddled my bike across town to Shrimp Boat Sound one afternoon too. A typical Key West afternoon, which translates to another day in paradise for those less fortunate than I. Except for a few potentially breezy late summer - early fall months, latitude 24.6 is a great place to make an honest living. The streets were lined with out off town visitors vainly trying not to look like tourist, T-shirt vendors apathetically propped, ankles crossed, against rented walls abusing tobacco products and host a Buffett wanna-be's heading for Mallory Square to strum strangely familiar tunes on warped six strings wondering why the hell they haven't made it yet. I was about to find out.
Recording an album is a long, arduous painstaking process. At least it was for me, I couldn't find a bottle opener. I've been backstage at Jimmy Buffett concerts more than once, and I'm always impressed with the professionalism of the band and the crew. The mechanics of putting together a tour are mind boggling; transportation, food and lodging, setting-up - all carried out flawlessly. Except for bottle openers, it's always tough to find a bottle opener back there. Contrast this with my arrival at Shrimp Boat Sound studios. Back door wide open, dogs coming and going, musicians, engineers and producers fishing, sleeping and, shall we say, contemplating the universe. All this just a couple blocks off Duval Street, Key West's main drag.
On this particular day Nicolette Larson and Mary Harris were providing the background vocals to Remittance Man. I thought they sounded terrific the first time, but producer Russell Kunkel had them repeat the verse several times, "remittance ma-an, so far away from home" and I swear each rendition sounded better. Kunkel knew what he was after.
Russell Kunkel became a Margaritaville merry prankster somewhere near Montserrat in the Caribbean, receiving credit on drums and percussion on Jimmy's Volcano album. A noted session drummer, Russ Kunkel is every baby boomer's post adolescent vinyl vision; performing with Dan Fogelberg, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Nicks, Carley Simon and many more flashback favorites. Why, he's spent more time in my album collection than I have.
Shrimp Boat Sound studio is much different than when first constructed. In November, 1987, I spoke with Ross Ritto, Jimmy's audio engineer for the last 20 years, and "spent the greater part of the afternoon bumming cigarettes and information on Jimmy's newly constructed Shrimp Boat Sound studio."
Eight years later almost everything is new. The most attractive addition, according to guitarist Peter Mayer, is the vintage NEVE sound board. This board, I'm sure, makes complete sense to the musicians, engineers and producers standing around me. I on the other hand fell like an unenlightened motorist, peering under the hood scrutinizing...well I don't know what the hell I'm looking at. Peter finds the board very appealing, claiming the old electronics have yet to be reproduced, that the "warmth" supplied by the board has not been duplicated by more modern technology. I'll take his word for it, it sounded great.
It would take more than an afternoon to understand all that goes on here. Suffice it to say it was an education. Russell Kunkel, Spock to Jimmy's Captain Kirk, rested, reclined and focused, signaled with a thumbs up when all went well, Nicolette Larson and Mary Harris' rapturous blending literally brought a tear to my eye, but I'm a sucker for pretty harmony, and Rob Eaton deftly tweaking buttons and knobs to give Remittance Man a 'New Age" feel.
Break time. Sandwiches were ordered, beverages were served and melanin levels were raised. I had to get back to work. Well maybe just one more Corona, if I could just find a bottle opener.
Death of a Troubador
Jimmy called the other day to let us know Bobby Ingram was on his way down, and that it was OK to give him the keys to the house. "Fred Neil died in Summerland," he explained, "and a friend's coming down to take care of things." I'm thinking who's Fred Neil, while Jimmy continues, "he was a real character, strong influence on me, Jerry Jeff, bunch of people...maybe you could do a piece on him."
The next search yielded more. Fred Neil was a genius...Fred Neil was the prototypical flake...Fred Neil was born in Florida, sang in a gospel group, worked his way the 50's rockabilly south, and achieved folk-fame in Greenwich Village in the early 60's. "A notorious recluse, he made only a few recordings before disappearing from public view forever."
The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music states that, "he performed on the Grand Ole Opry as a teenage and Buddy Holly recorded some of his songs." The web is much more telling, the list of people he performed with and influenced is lengthy and varied. Bob Dylan, John Sebastian, David Crosby, and others too numerous to mention claim Fred Neil as an inspiration.
He returned to Florida in 1965, making rare appearances in New York. According to bassist Steve DeNaut, "When Fred Neil came to town, as he did every so often, it was a big deal. All of the folksingers wanted to see him."
R. Unterberger writes in the All Music Guide that, "Neil's subsequent slide into obscurity was strange and quick. Always a recluse, he retreated to his home in Coconut Grove, FL., after achieving cult success, and hasn't released anything since a live album in 1971."
Other interests evolved and with Ric O'Barry, a marine biologist, Fred Neil founds 'The Dolphin Research Project', an organization dedicated (according to Fred himself) "to stopping the capture, trafficking and exploitation of dolphins worldwide".
SUMMERLAND KEY, Fla. (Reuters) - Folk song writer Fred Neil, who penned the theme song "Everybody's Talkin''' from the 1969 movie "Midnight Cowboy,'' has died, police said. Neil was found dead on Saturday at his home in Summerland Key, Florida, apparently of natural causes. Neil emerged from Greenwich Village, New York, in the mid-1960s. "Everybody's Talkin''' performed by Harry Nilsson, was featured in "Midnight Cowboy'' starring Dustin Hoffman and became a Top 10 hit. In 1970, Neil, a native Floridian, founded The Dolphin Research Project to stop trafficking and exploitation of dolphins. In 2000, he wrote the music for "The Dolphin Project'' video. The book, "American Troubadours: Groundbreaking Singer Songwriters of the Sixties'' released in the United Kingdom in March, devoted a chapter to Neil.
Prior to my first visit to New Orleans I had never heard of the "Parrot Heads." If you've never encountered them either, let me explain. Those who devotedly follow the rock group The Grateful Dead are called "Dead Heads," and those who devoted follow Jimmy Buffett are called "Parrot Heads." The first thing you notice about Parrot Heads is the way they dress at Buffett's concerts. If you see grown men in grass skirts with rubber sharks and birds in their straw hats, the familiar sounds of Buffett's hit song "Margaritaville" is not far behind. It seems their main reason to exist is to have fun, in that laid back quasi-Caribbean Buffett style. In addition, there are 40 states that boast Parrot Head organizations doing charitable work in their communities.
I was in New Orleans to interview Mr. Buffett and attend a taping for a new series called A & E In Concert. Fortunately, Buffett suggested we do not do a traditional sit down type interview. Instead, we met at his "Margaritaville Cafe and Store" and went on a walking tour of the French Quarter. He talked about his life and the town he loves so much.
Forrest I've been to a lot of places and I'm almost embarrassed to admit I've never been to New Orleans. This is my first time. How long have you had your Margaritaville Cafe here?
Buffett We've been here going on two years now. And don't be embarrassed. Come on, I'll show you around. This actually happens to be where it all started out for me. We're right in the same neighborhood where I started out a long time ago.
Our first stop was the Mississippi River bank.
Buffett I ran away from home to this town. I used to always come down here when I was working Bourbon Street when I was about 18 years old and sit down on the rocks on this river as my contemplating spot. I also came down here when I wasn't contemplating...I remember one day waking up right here rather early in the morning with my performing clothes on from the night before, a bit wrinkled, and tourists were taking my picture. I thought, boy, I've really made it in show business now. (Laughs) But, I had a history here before that. My Grandfather was a captain on a steamship and we'd always come over here as kids and meet his ship and then come into town. I was eight or nine years old, and those were my biggest memories-I think that's why I always think of New Orleans as the northern edge of the Caribbean, because his ship was always leaving from here and going to exotic sounding places like Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro. So I always equated New Orleans with that world, and it was a gateway out. I came here and got started musically, which was my gateway out to the world. And it's a place I always come back to. And it feels strangely enough like some kind of home to me here. I spend a lot of time here.
We left the river and started walking the streets of the quarter.
Buffett See, this is early morning and it's a great time in the French Quarter. It's a great sort of cross culturalization because you can see the night people coming home and the day people going to work.
We stopped at one of the many beautiful old buildings that makes you think you're in Europe.
Buffett This is Tujague's. It's a place I've been coming since I was about 8 years old. It used to be my grandfather's favorite place because we'd meet him on the boat, and come right to Tujague's. It's been there since 1856, and it still is a great restaurant that I go to a lot today. And it's one of those things that's interesting because I was with my daughter, we were down here, and she said to me, "You know, Dad, this town is as much fun as any place I've ever been." And I thought about that because when I was her age it was as much fun to me. I know it's a part of what makes New Orleans what it is: not a very progressive or thinking place. It likes staying stuck in it's roots of time and space. And I think that's great, when you've got a city that gives generations that kind of fun-and I'm not talking about walking down Bourbon Street, I'm talking about the cultural life of the town that you don't see in the Chamber of Commerce ads. And that's part of it. That's just an old neighborhood place that still serves great food, and I've been going there now for 40 years. (Laughs)
We crossed the street and walked down a narrow street of the French Quarter. Balconies, overflowing with flowers and vines seem to be on every block.
Forrest People don't always equate you with New Orleans. More like Key West. But you say you played on the streets here when you were younger?
Buffett I did. I started here when I was about 18. It was my first real job. I went to school in Mississippi, 'cause it was such a close commute to New Orleans. And I started when I was 18 on Bourbon Street in a place called the Bayou Room. And I think it was all Elvis' fault. 'Cause I remember the scene from King Creole when Elvis comes down Bourbon Street and the crawfish lady's singing. I knew at that point I wanted to go to New Orleans and I wanted to sing and live in New Orleans. And strangely enough it all wound up that way. I came here in 1966 the first time and have continued to play music here ever since. But a lot of people don't know that I spent about four years working around here on Bourbon Street. Everything from a barker to a musician.
Buffett pointed to a bar we happened to be passing.
Buffett That's the only place that I was ever fired from because I played drums. I could do "The Look of Love" great, but when it came to "You Can't Always Get What You Want" I was a little stymied in my drumming performance and technique. (Laughs)
Forrest Did you ever put a case out on the street and just play?
Buffett I sure did. I used to street sing here. As a matter of fact, about four or five Mardi Gras ago I got so inspired that I just borrowed a guitar from a street singer, got out and sang on the street one day.
Forrest How much did you make that night?
Buffett I made about $11. (Laughs)
Forrest I heard you once say that pirates were your heroes. What do you mean by that?
Buffett Oh, yeah, when everybody else was studying generals and American war heroes, Jean Lafitte was my hero. I remember when I was a kid I had a plastic model. Everybody else was building battleships, I was building the Black Falcon, which was Lafitte's ship. And he, of course, was heavily entwined with the early history of New Orleans. I guess he was my pirate hero and still is in a way.
Forrest Was it because they were bad guys or romantic or...?
Buffett They were romantic. They looked a lot more adventurous than the people that lived in Sunset Hills in Mobile, Alabama, at the time. (Laughs) I think that it just kindled that spirit that had always been there from my family heritage. We're all seamen. How I wound up doing what I do here is beyond me. It certainly isn't in my family history. So they were all sailors and seamen who came in and out of New Orleans many times.
We rounded the corner and Jimmy realized we were on the street where he first lived in New Orleans, as he announced proudly, "This is where I lost my virginity!" We went into the building and the owner let us up.
Buffett Well, this was the place. I was 18 years old, an alter boy from Mobile, Alabama, and I came here Looking for fun. And this is where I found it. She knows who she is. This was a great old spot in those days-it was like living in a Tennessee Williams play, and that's what I wanted to do when I came to New Orleans. And I did it. (Laughs)
We went out on the balcony and looked down at the street below.
Buffett Oh, this is cool. Check this out, this is a great thing. I don't know if you can see it, but see the marble tile work there? Angela Bercardos-this was an ice cream parlor, it's now called Croissant D'or. But when I lived here it was an Italian ice cream parlor. But, check it out. "Ladies' Entrance," it says. (Laughs) We've come a long way, baby. But this is the other thing I think to me was always a great point of New Orleans. When I think back about it, the balcony was a place where you had a perch, sort of like a bird, and you could look down on what was happening in the streets and other people's lives, and they didn't know you were there. So, you got a broader panorama of life in general. And the balconies in the French Quarter were always like that. I was so broke in those days that I couldn't afford a balcony apartment, so I'd go visit friends who had balcony apartments. And I thought, one day I'm going to make enough money to have a balcony apartment. And I did. (Laughs) I did.
We continued walking the streets.
Forrest The books you've been writing lately, short stories and your novel, is that a logical extension from songwriting or is that a whole other process for you?
Buffett Well, it's a logical extension but it's what I wanted to do first. I, fortunately, had a 20 year music career that got in the way. I wanted to start out being a writer, 'cause when I first came to New Orleans it was a writers' haven, there were great writers-Walker Percy, Tennessee Williams, people that I'd read. And when I lived there I stared reading the things that were effected by their being here. And I wound up in New Orleans for all those years and it was a great place, really a catalyst creatively. Places I've lived since then had to have some kind of uniqueness and character about them. And logically Key West, and then Down Island. So, all of that stuff sort of had it's roots here and went crazy. (Laughs)
Forrest Do you have a couple more novels in you?
Buffett I might. But I'm not forcing them out. When they come they come.
Forrest Just take your time with them?
Buffett Yeah, I think more short stories now. You know, you just have to do what you're going to do, and I'm just going to see what happens. I come back down here, and I always write very well here. When I was doing the books I came here and spent a lot of time just holed up and let it flow, and it really works. And you find as a writer there are certain spots on the planet where you write better than others, and I believe in that. And this is one of them.
We paused in front of a small church.
Forrest I've noticed New Orleans has a strong spiritual side with an emphasis on voodoo and the like. What do you think about all that?
Buffett Oh, I believe in all of it. I think there's more to the cultural roots of the world than the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant religion. I think it's great because New Orleans is the only city in America that has a European feel to it to me, as much traveling as I have done. And I love that fact that you have the sort of cultural abnormalities sitting in the middle of the most redneck area of the country. (Laughs) I think that's what appeals to me about New Orleans more than anything is the fact that when I ran away from home most of the people I knew went to Memphis, or Atlanta, or New York, got straight jibs. But I never had any doubt in my mind that I wanted to run away to New Orleans and do something weird.
Forrest Do you know a hit song when you write it?
Buffett Well, your talking to a guy who's only had two and a half hits in his career, so I don't guess I do. (Laughs) You know, I've never thought about a hit song. I just write what comes out. "Margaritaville," I thought it was good, but I didn't think it was going to have the reaction that it had. And the same for "Come Monday." I know that I make records for people who like Jimmy Buffett music. And it started with a small bunch of crazy people coming to bars, and it's developed into this huge fan base for which I am very happy. And I think it was a lot of hard work and a lot of luck, but I wouldn't want it any other way. I don't really believe that hit records have anything to do with your career. It has to do with you hanging your name on that shingle, and they pay good money to come see you and they walk away going, hey, that's the best two hours of fun I've had. That's what it really means to me. And whether it's music or books, that's sort of the simple technique which I follow. My books, I didn't plan to write Tolstoy.
We headed back to his club.
ForrestYou're not only a singer-songwriter and author but now a very successful businessman with your own record label and a couple of clubs and stores. Are you surprised by your own success?
Buffett Well, it all just sort of came out of an interest in fun. It all started down here, when I look back on it. And learning how to be a good performer and entertainer sort of created an audience, and the audience created a demand for other things. The stores and the things like that, the business side of things came out at the point when, I'd say probably in the early '70s, it looked like the year of the singer-songwriter was over, 'cause music changed in our time and the spotlight was out. You know, I saw people dropping off of record labels like flies. Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, I figured I was next. So, I said, well hell, I'm going to cash in on something, which is only my good name-and we went into the merchandising business because people wanted it. And from there it just developed into stores. You know, I figured in those days really making it would be owning your own club. Because I worked for such-I'll just say, interesting club owners, that...
Forrest (Laughs) That's diplomatic.
Buffett Yeah, I'm trying to be. (Laughs) I said, boy, if I ever get my own place I'll do it differently. Well, lo and behold, when we decided to do a club there was never any doubt in my mind that my heart told me to go to New Orleans. After the success of Key West, which was very easy, and it was such a natural, New Orleans was the second natural spot to me. A lot of people said, why would you want to do that? And I just-I think what it really is, there's no theory to it, but I always saw myself as Ricky Ricardo, you know what I mean?
Forrest (Laughs) I'm not sure I know what you mean.
Buffett Remember Ricky Ricardo would go to the club to work? I wanted to go to the club.
Forrest Was your wife always trying to break into show business?
Buffett Oh, no, no, she stays far behind the scenes. But I wanted to do a club, and it's like coming to the club, and there's the club. So, we're here. And ironically enough, it's in the same neighborhood that I started out in 20 years ago