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?”
The answer is simple: 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 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.”
Former 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 was 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 it 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. After all, Margaritaville is a state of mind. Or let’s say Margaritaville was a state of mind. In January 1985 Jimmy opened the original Margaritaville Store in Key West, Florida and discovered a new outlet not only for his adventurous spirit, but for his pre-Parrot Head llifestyle seeking fans.
Jimmy was in Australia early in 1987 for the international sailboat race, the America’s Cup. Australia was defending the cup and Jimmy contributed to the U.S. effort to recapture it with a rallying song for Dennis Conner and the Stars and Stripes crew, Take It Back.
It was around this time that Jimmy developed a passion for flying and began taking lessons to master the sky as he had the seas. His initial purchase complimented his love for the ocean – a Lake Renegade amphibious aircraft.
The Parrot Looks At Forty tour began in June, 1987 and a review in Nashville’s Tennessean noted that, “There are few concert experiences as downright fun as being in the midst of the Parrot Head brotherhood. Buffett hasn’t had a major hit since ‘Margaritaville’ ten years ago: If his audiences routinely respond the way they did last night, that indicates there’s something wrong with the contemporary radio and record business.
Jimmy returned to Key West to put together his own recording studio, Shrimp Boat Sound. The first album worked on in the new studio was Hot Water. “…it was pretty much home grown. The band came to Key West to work initially. The first time I went to work I rode my bicycle and I could smell the Cuban food and the flowers and I thought, ‘Man, I like this.’ Then if we wanted to change things or fool around with production, we had the time and the place to do it without being too costly.”
For nearly three years in Lands End Village customers entered the Margaritaville Store looking for a restaurant, naturally assuming that Margaritaville was a place to get a margarita and oh, by the way, did we know that Jimmy had another popular song with cheeseburger in the title. Well we listened, and late in 1987 the Margaritaville Cafe joined the Margaritaville Store at 500 Duval Street. Months of preparation led up to the December ’87 opening. Jimmy graced the cafe stage for the first time proclaiming, “When I started out playing bars in this town, all I wanted was enough money to buy a boat I could sail away on if success faded. The other alternative was to buy my own bar so I could hire myself and just keep singing. Welcome to Margaritaville!”
1989 began with Jimmy in Shrimpboat Sound, and it still had that new studio smell, completing initial roughs of what would be his 17th MCA release Off To See The Lizard. Plans were also underway for a Caribbean Musical Festival in Miami’s Bayfront Park & Amphitheatre. The fundraising concert was held to benefit the Florida Inter-American Scholarship Foundation, providing scholarships for students from the Caribbean Basin to study in local universities and colleges.
Jimmy invested in a baseball franchise that year whose future would include 2 World Champion Trophies. The Miami Miracles (originally named the Marlins) were a member of the Class A Florida State League who actually played several sanctioned games here in Key West. The team had a partial agreement with the Cleveland Indians, playing several members from the team’s farm system on their roster. Miamian Wayne Huizenga put together a blockbuster deal to operate a major league ball team in South Florida. The Miracle franchise once again became the Florida Marlins.
In 1989 legislation entitling the Save The Manatee Trust Fund to benefit from thousands of dollars passed the Florida House and Senate. The bill authorizes the printing and distribution of Save The Manatee license plates. Thanks in part to the encouragement and support of Jimmy Buffett, environmental education and marine mammal research will get a much needed financial lift.
Jimmy landed on the New York Times Best Sellers list for over seven months with his first book, Tales From Margaritaville / Fictional Facts and Factual Fictions. Long hailed as a “genius at storytelling,” Jimmy replaces lyrics with prose in his first collection of short stories, Tales From Margaritaville. Jimmy appeared on the Larry King talk show to promote the book, and discussed among other things the following:
Larry King: Considering your obvious skills what took you so long to write a book?
Jimmy: I’ve wanted to write a book of short stories for a long time, and it finally got to the point where I thought I better get this down. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all around the world and also fortunate enough to keep my eyes and ears open.
LK: How would you describe yourself, are you a kind of balladeer?
JB: Yea, I think of myself as a troubadour in the old sense…storytellers and entertainers.
LK: How did Margaritaville come about?
JB: I hate to admit it, but it was a 5-minute song. I was on my way back from Austin, TX and I ran into an overabundance of tourists attacking Key West. So I took it all in and wrote the song. I’d had one song, “Come Monday,” that was pretty successful. But when Margaritaville went there was no stopping it. And it’s been very kind to me since then.
LK: Is it hard to top that (success of one song)?
JB: I never let that kind of thing affect me. I’m glad it happened, I certainly don’t mind playing it for people. I know of performers who after years will announce they don’t do their old songs anymore. I think when people are paying good money to come see you it doesn’t take that much to please them.
In later interviews Jimmy summed it up best stating that, “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 pace and listen to the bellman at the hotel that caters to 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.”
Peter Mayer, Jim Mayer and Roger Guth as the PM Band toured with the Moody Blues and Chicago, and have played and worked with Jimmy for nearly two decades, but they first recorded with Jimmy on the Off To See the Lizard album. Jimmy recruited producer Elliot Scheiner to work with him on the new album. Elliot’s list of credits at the time included Steely Dan, Bruce Hornsby and Eagle Glenn Frey. He introduced Jimmy to keyboardist and songwriter Jay Oliver. Jay operated a recording studio in St. Louis, and was helpful in getting Warner Brothers Records to sign the PM Band. Jay suggested to Jimmy that he use the band to record the album. Much of the recording was to take place at Shrimpboat Sound studio in Key West, so the Mayer brothers and Roger were happy to sign on. It was considered by all to be a creative and rewarding collaboration, so the band joined Jimmy on tour as the Coral Reefers that summer and the association continues today.
In 1990 Jimmy released his second live album, Feeding Frenzy and we noted that, “In the spirit of self serve gas stations, salad bars and indoor ultraviolet lighting, Coconut Telegraph readers are given the opportunity to “roll your own.” Jimmy decided to let the fans determine the set list for the summer tour. Comparing to his first live album, You Had To Be There, Jimmy said, “I was in a cast when I made that album, I had just broken my leg in three places, but I still made it look like I was having fun. The new live album was even more fun. I’m singing better – I’m still not a great singer or a great guitar player, but I’m a great Jimmy Buffett.”
The album was released in Key West late in October to coincide with Key West’s annual week-long celebration, Fantasy Fest. The party started around noon on Smather’s Beach, with a performance overlooking the Caribbean. The stage morphed into a float, Margaritaville’s entry in the Fantasy Fest parade down Duval Street.
Jimmy and his literary offspring Savannah Jane Buffett teamed up with artist Lambert Davis in their second children’s book Trouble Dolls. Their first effort, Jolly Mon was inspired by Jolly Mon Sing from The Last Mango In Paris album and quickly became a best seller. This new tale from the best selling trio takes place in the Florida Everglades. A young girl solicits the help of her Guatemalan Trouble Dolls in the search and rescue of her father, a pilot who seaplane has crashed in the marshy Florida swamps.
Where Is Joe Merchant placed Jimmy back on the New York Times Best Seller List. Frank Bama, Trevor Kane, and Desdemona became as much a part of Buffett lore as the thirty-nine year old pirate. “Buffett’s modern-day pirate story takes us on a wild, colorful ride from Key West to the islands – both mythical and real.”
Another summer, another tour and more threats to retire. “I haven’t had a summer off in 20 years. I used to threaten to retire, but I just want a little time off.” Jimmy also summed up his feelings stating that, “What keeps me going is I fortunately have a job that I love to do, I’ve always been addicted to live performing. I think that has a lot to do with the popularity and the fact that there are not a lot of people out there – even in successful terms – that are really that hooked into their audiences. Most people are forced into this marketing, kind of record company theory that you’re forced into having a video and doing things that, to me, are for a very short-circuited career. Mine has been a long-circuited career.”
Another key reason for Jimmy’s success is his fans. It was about this time that Parrot Heads begin to form local clubs. Thousands of people across the country banning together to positively affect their communities under the Parrot Head moniker. Jimmy noted the phenomenon, but is unable to describe or explain it. “My interpretation is that they are basically pretty normal people with a slight strain of insanity in their makeup. There aren’t many causes out there, and Parrot Head-ism seems to be one that they can affectionately embrace.”
In 1992 Jimmy’s box set was released. It contained 4 CD’s with songs categorized by Boats, Beaches, Bars and Ballads along with a number of rarities distributed throughout the four titles. The box set also contained the Parrot Head handbook, a valuable addition to the collection with several stories by Jimmy, rare photos, track by track description of each song, and much more. Sales of the box set place it in the quadruple platinum category.
August 5, 1992. The French Quarter in New Orleans is the site of the second Margaritaville Store & Café. Jimmy has long and strong ties to the Crescent City, the city that witnessed his first public performance. “My grandfather was a captain on a steamship and we’d come over here as kids and meet his ship. I think that’s why I 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 equated New Orleans with that world, and it was a gateway out. I came here and started musically which was my gateway out to the world. And it’s a place I always come back to.”
Jimmy’s love affair with flying is now in full bloom. And as in most love affairs, there’s an element of surprise, including an attempted homicide and near drowning. “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 altar 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-sea rating.”
Several years later and in a bigger plane served as target practice for local uniformed sharpshooters in Negril, Jamaica. Jimmy and friends had just touched down near Negril and were enjoying a swim when the plane was fired upon. Local authorities had mistaken the outing for a smuggling operation. All was made well and in true Buffett fashion, a song came out of the experience.
Late in 1992, Jimmy received a letter from fellow pilot Tom Claytor. Tom, in the midst of his Bush Pilot Expedition – a solo flight around the globe in a single engine bush plane – saw Jimmy in the AOPA Pilot Magazine and sent his compliments on Jimmy’s choice of plane. Jimmy replied, expressing envy at Tom’s journey and offered to buy him lunch at the end of his journey. The Coconut Telegraph offers periodic reports on Tom’s whereabouts. Tom Claytor was last spotted playing Elephant Polo in Hua Hin, Thailand helping the Mobile Easy team clinch the Kings Cup Tournament beating the Australian team 6-4.
In August, 1992 the Recession Recess Tour careened across the country. One stop that year was in Washington state where Jimmy was interviewed on KIRO Radio by entertainment editor Terry Rose. The lengthy discussion covered a variety of topics, particularly touring.
KIRO: “Growing older but not up.” You epitomize that, you’ve done it for 25 years with your music. You’ve given people youth and joy and verve…is it time to move on?
JB: No, I like what I’m doing. I have a great summer job and there are plenty of things I love to do; from films to making records, to producing records. But what I really love is to perform live. I don’t do it as much, part of my touring schedule has diminished, but I’ll always work. I may do fewer dates or take a year off. It’s been 25 years and as much fun as it’s been, the road is still really a grind. I’m at a point now where I can pick and choose what I want to do. I don’t see it as moving on, I see it as a point where I have options.
KIRO: You once said that, Your life has been living out a fantasy, and you get the pleasure of telling the rest of the world about it. Is that still true?
JB: Well, yea. The place where the fantasy seems to be dwindling is with the people; we have more tourists than travelers running around the world. I run all over the country and all over the world, and still find spots that just take my breath away. As long as you’re in motion, life is an experience and it’s meant to be lived. Fortunately, I come from a family of gypsies and sailors. When I was 5 years old I was already thinking about getting out of Mobile.
KIRO: Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the joy you’ve given millions of people with your songs?
JB: I get it mainly from the stage – it’s an indescribable feeling. You asked about drugs, but the greatest narcotic is applause. There’s not a better rush for me and that’s where I get it. It’s great to have a job like that, to make a little difference. The world’s a terrible place. It was never meant to be hospitable, so if I can bring a little humor and little escapism, I think that’s great.
In 1994 Jimmy added acting to his resume with his bruising performance in a movie based on the controversial turn of the century baseball player Ty Cobb. Jimmy played a handicapped heckler beaten by Tommy Lee Jones’ Cobb. The intent of the scene was to portray Cobb as being despicable enough to not only beat someone in the stands, but to beat a disabled person as well. After several takes, Jimmy was battered and bruised, but still climbed aboard a flatbed truck to deliver an impromptu performance for the cast and crew.
Jimmy would later appear, audibly at any rate, as a pilot in the movie Congo…a convoluted tale of an urbane electronically amplified talking ape and her return to the jungle accompanied by the Rocky Horror Picture Show guy as a treasure hunter. If I remember correctly Jimmy’s plane blew up.
Jimmy dedicated the Fruitcakes album to his old friend Gamble Rogers. The liner notes state that, “As we each continued down our respective paths, we saw less and less of each other, but stayed in touch as good friends do. When the Margaritaville Cafe opened its doors in Key West, it was Gamble whom I asked to initiate the stage and hopefully leave his mark there for others to follow. That week we shared many a good laugh recalling our days together and caught up on the years that were passing so quickly. He had settled into a quieter routine of teaching and doing festivals around Florida. I was trying to hold down the fort of the troubadours that was being bombarded constantly by pop culture. I attribute a lot of my ability to remain true to my vision to Gamble Rogers and what he taught me. Many of his tricks of twenty years ago are the same ones I still use today. With love and respect, I dedicate this collection of songs to the memory of James Gamble Rogers, a troubadour and a friend who has gone over to the other side where the guardian angels dwell and has in all likelihood, become one.”
Gamble Rogers was inducted to the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 1998.
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 was born and raised on the shores of the Northern Gulf of Mexico, which runs from Perdido Bay on the Florida, Alabama border (just east of the Flora Bama bar) to the Pearl River that separates Mississippi from Louisiana. To most folks, it is about as far south as you can go without getting your feet wet. To me it is the northern edge of the Caribbean. The night sky and constellations above Pascagoula look pretty much the same as those above Martinique. The culture that came with the early French explorers was cradled in New Orleans but flowed east and west permeating the bayous, beaches and bays that make up this unique region. Banana Wind is an island term…a wind not as dangerous as a hurricane but strong enough to blow bananas off the trees. This collection of songs is just a continuation of my story. Stories of ships and sailors, life and death, women and children, love and friendship, seaplanes and paradoxes.”
Jimmy’s work as a playwright was in full swing, adapting Pulitzer Prize winning author Herman Wouk’s Don’t Stop The Carnival to a musical. For those uninitiated, Don’t Stop the Carnival is the timeless story of a man seeking the mythical simpler life in the islands. Jimmy read the book years ago and knew from his personal travels how typical the story was. Jimmy met with Herman Wouk and a personal and professional relationship was born – along with the musical Don’t Stop The Carnival. “It’s a book I’d go back and re-read. Herman went away and didn’t realize the impact he’d left on the Caribbean culture. Hotel owners that I run into, anybody that lives and exists in the Caribbean knows Don’t Stop The Carnival. It’s like a bible. But he had no idea this was going on. Carnival is a cornerstone of the Jimmy Buffett mythology. I put it right up there with the movie Donovan’s Reef, Gardner Mckay and the schooner Tiki, and ‘To Have and Have Not.’ All of these early influences snuck into my songs.” Herman Wouk has written the libretto for the musical and Jimmy has composed the music and the lyrics.
In September, 1997 Jimmy was invited to participate in “an exceptional concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall.” Music for Montserrat, an all-star event organized by Sir George and Lady Martin will raise funds for the victims of the Soufriere volcano on the island of Montserrat. The volcano has been in a continuous state of eruption since July 1995. The artists confirmed represent rock n’ roll royalty: Eric Clapton, Elton John, Mark Knopfler, Paul McCartney and Sting. Sir George Martin stated, “I have often been asked why I chose Montserrat as a location for a sophisticated modern recording studio. The answer was simple. I fell in love with the place and the people.” Jimmy recorded the gold selling album, Volcano at Air Studios Montserrat in 1979.
The legendary Brian Wilson; composer, producer, arranger and performer of some of the most cherished music in rock history, returns to raise the creative bar yet again with a stunning new collection of songs co-written with some of today’s most respected lyricists. Jimmy’s contribution to the Imagination album was the song South American. Brian Wilson and Joe Thomas recorded the music track and then came to Key West to record with Jimmy. Thomas recalls, “Jimmy didn’t have anything on paper. We couldn’t even find him at first. Then he just flew in on his seaplane, sat down with Brian and bam, they worked it right out.”
The Big Guy made one of his all too rare appearances at the Key West cafe, “I’m on my way to Cuba to report on the Pope’s visit for Rolling Stone Magazine, so I thought I’d drop by.”
Pope John Paul II made an historic visit to Cuba in January 1998. It is the first time a pope has visited the island nation ever and the first time he was welcome since Fidel Castro rose to power in the Communist Revolution of 1959. Jimmy sent reports from the front line to the Coconut Telegraph.
“Departed Key West for Habana. I don’t know if it’s El Nino or Pope John Paul’s doing, but we have an amazing night to cross the Gulf Stream. The stars are out and we are following the blinking lights of the Key West ship channel south.”
Wednesday, 01/21/98: This is not a normal day in Habana. Fidel gave everybody the day off, with pay, to welcome the Pope and the preparations are very visible. Juan Pablo, as he is called down here, is hanging from buildings and plastered on signs all along the main route. We move to Miramar, it is a tarnished version of Coral Gables and A1A in Palm Beach. A lot of “tear downs” and “fixer uppers,” and cops everywhere. Boy are they young.
Thursday, 01/22/98: The average Cuban can not go to tourist clubs or hotel bars, so they gather at night along the Malecon with a bottle of white rum and a guitar and sing to the ocean. It reminded me of a time in my life when I used to do exactly the same thing in Key West on Mallory Square.
The song Margaritaville passes 4 million performance mark. Based on a recording time of three minutes, the song has surpassed over 200,000 hours of airplay – 21 years. Performance figures are determined from the logged reports of approximately 500,000 hours of airplay submitted by U.S. radio networks, plus local AM and FM outlets, and a census of six million hours of television.
In January, 1998 CF Martin & Co. honored Jimmy with a Limited Edition Signature Model Guitar. “Characteristics personally specified by Jimmy make this model perfectly suited for both stage performance and studio recording. Inspired by his fondness for the Florida Keys, Buffett chose a graceful windswept palm tree for the headstock of his signature model.” A portion of the proceeds from the sale of each guitar was donated to the W.O. Smith Nashville Community Music School. The school provides music instruction, instruments and learning materials to children from the Nashville area.
Beach House On The Moon was recorded at Mac McAnally’s La La Land studio in Muscle Shoals, AL. and Jimmy’s Shrimpboat Sound in Key West.Jimmy kept a journal during the recording process, sharing thoughts and deeds, dinners and desserts. Most of the notes were made available to Coconut Telegraph readers. Reflections, lyric changes and reminiscing all combine in a personal narrative rather than any chronological accounting of the making of an album. A view of the entries follow:
01/14/99: We came to Muscle Shoals for a change, and because my band had been down last year to do Pete’s record and said that the room had the magic. You listen to stuff like that coming from people that you trust. We had also come because Mac and I had talked about doing some tracks with the legendary rhythm section of Roger Hawkins and David Hood. I won’t go into detail, but tracks like “When a Man Loves a Woman” and “Respect” just to name a few are good enough for me. If you want to know more, there is plenty about the Muscle Shoals Sound in any rock ‘n roll encyclopedia.
(And in Key West) 01/20/99: Less than a week ago, I was sitting in the corner of the honeymoon suite in Muscle Shoals working under the gray sky of a cold morning. Now the view from my window is a familiar one, the harbour of Key West. It is full season and the weather is perfect. The energy and feeling of the band that was created in Alabama is alive and well and ready to go again here in Key West.
The Margaritaville Store opens in Charleston. It incorporates elements of the Low Country in a way that sets it apart from the Margaritaville Stores in Key West or New Orleans. The interior wood is mostly from the Wando River. A 30-foot-tall mast scoured by the marshes of Drum Island rises up to a second floor skylight near the middle of the store. The store has a maritime feel from days gone by. The tall wooden mast rises past heating and cooling ducts draped in sail cloth. A tin roof cargo dock at the right rear of the store has a rustic feel. Old ship’s cannons poke through the wall next to the cargo dock. Much time and effort went into the store’s rehab, and it shows. Check it out next time you’re in the low country. The Post & Currier in Charleston, SC. noted, “Store of the year: Jimmy Buffett opens Margaritaville Charleston in August on King Street, giving Lowcountry Parrot Heads the perfect place to replace their lost shaker of salt.”
Margaritaville at Universal Studios Citywalk held their grand opening on March 4, 1999. An island in a sea of theme park attractions, Margaritaville serves as a respite from ubiquitous cartoon characters, a relief from Orlando’s meteorological mood swings and a recluse for visitors unfazed by the latest advances in adolescent amusement. The acorn planted in Lands End Village in 1985 was now a mighty oak, well pine at any rate, and plenty of it. Fifteen thousand square feet, three bars, full stage, outside patio and balcony seating, state of the art sound / video system, and an erupting volcano. The oversize doors swing open, welcoming the visitor to Jimmy’s Emerald City. You’re not in Orlando anymore, you’re in Margaritaville. The interior of the restaurant is a Jimmy Buffett / Florida Keys cyclorama, a pictorial primer of fictional facts and factual fictions – balseros to bridge tenders, sailors to seaplanes. Jimmy and the Coral Reefers inaugurated the balcony with a free performance at the opening. 12,000 lottery-winning ticket holders were allowed inside the ropes and thousands more lined the lake.
More than a decade ago, Alan Roy Scott, founder of Music Bridges Around the World, dreamt of bringing together musicians from different countries and traditions to play together. His approach of uniting artists who normally wouldn’t meet has taken him to several countries, including Russia, Romania, Indonesia, Ireland and, most recently, Cuba.
With the success of the Platinum-selling Buena Vista Social Club (produced by Ry Cooder and performed by Cooder and a host of top-notch Cuban musicians), many more Cuban acts are touring the United States, and the popularity of Cuban music has soared. So, in the fall of 1997, Scott began exploring the possibility of collaboration between songwriters and performers from the United States and their Cuban counterparts, to take place in Cuba.
The plan was to pair Cuban and American musicians to work together and record songs in Havana over the course of a week. Toward the end of the stay, a selection of songs would be performed and recorded live. Jimmy participated as did Bonnie Rait, Joan Osborne, REM’s Peter Buck among others.
Jimmy & The Coral Reefer Band played the Universal Amphitheatre on New Year’s Eve, 1999 ringing in a new year, a new decade, a new century and a new millennium. The once-in-a-thousand-year celebration promised to safely steer Parrot Heads into Y2K compliancy. Computer failures, power outages, societal breakdown, widespread death and destruction…or not. May as well go out with a bang, and who better than the master of myth to show us the way.
And so the new millennium began with a shot, of tequila that is. Margaritaville Tequila was introduced to an increasingly thirsty public. The growth in world consumption of tequila is threatening production of the celebrated cactus juice according to Alberto Cardenas, governor of the western state of Jalisco, the heartland of Mexico’s tequila industry. But fear not, anticipated acceptance by Parrot Head tequila drinkers – an embarrassingly redundant phrase – prompted long term planning. That long term planning included a partnership with Mott’s, producers of many popular cocktail mixes, to introduce Margaritaville Margarita Mix.
Jimmy Buffett’s presentation of Herman Wouk’s Don’t Stop the Carnival begins an open-ended run at the Atlantis Theatre on April 6, 2001. Set amid the tropical splendor of Atlantis, Paradise Island, the newly remodeled theatre, outfitted with professional lighting and sound, and circled by beautifully back-lit travel posters, presents the perfect venue to display the theatrical tour of Kinja.
Jimmy’s infatuation with the Pulitzer Prize Winning novelists’ mid-life tale continues; a Gold Album for the CD of the same name, an award winning play at Coconut Grove Theatre in south Miami, and now a 90-minute musical revue satiated with singing and dancing, and laced with just enough narrative to propel the spectacle to it’s carnival-costumed conclusion. Local musicians and dancers, along with stateside cast members, create a colorful, collaborative cast of Amerigo natives theatrically illustrating how t’ings really work “down island.”
Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Cafe in Universal Studios CityWalk Orlando tempts fate and depletes cactus juice supplies by stockpiling over 1300 gallons of Margaritaville Tequila in its quest for entry into the Guiness Book of World Records.
On Friday, May 18 the last bottle of tequila was poured into a 7500-gallon FDA approved polyethylene tank affectionately called “Big Rita,” thus shattering the World’s Largest Margarita record and the Largest Cocktail record as well.
Listed below are a few fun facts:
~ Big Rita is 13 feet high and 12 feet wide.
~ Big Rita weighs 2000 pounds when empty.
~ Big Rita weighs 50,000 pounds when full.
~ 4500 gallons of Margaritaville margarita mix is required for this drinkable recipe.
~ 1125 gallons of Margaritaville Tequila is an integral part of the recipe.
~ 38,400 20-ounce Margaritas can be served.
~ It took 2 days to make the World’s Largest Margarita.
Big Rita’s 15 minutes were soon up and her fate was undecided until…. Hoisted on a truck, strapped to a barge and eventually rolled up the narrow driveway at the Margaritaville in Negril Jamaica, Big Rita is now a Rum Runner. When in Rome Big Rita..
Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville officially entered into an agreement with the Jamaica based Margaritaville to combine forces in bringing the proper state of mind to four more Caribbean destinations. We were not privy to the negotiations, and lack the legal enlightenment to comment on the pact, however, it looks like what could commonly be called a win-win situation.
Margaritaville can be found in Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rios and Air Margaritaville in Jamaica’s Sangster International Airport.
Far Side of the World: “My Grandfather ran away from home at age 13, jumping from the second story window of a clapboard house on a pleasant looking neighborhood street above the harbour at Sydney, Nova Scotia. He did not return home until he was 84 years old. Talking to him after his return home, he simply said that things hadn’t changed much since he had left. Before Alzheimer’s disease erased his memory, I took my father up to Nova Scotia to visit our Canadian cousins and we stood in the window of that house looking down at the same view my Grandfather saw when he made his decision to see the world. Later that night over a lobster dinner, I asked my Dad what he was thinking when we stood there together at that window. He smiled and said, ‘I’m glad as hell the old man jumped.’ So am I, I replied.”
Nashville, TN – Following Alan Jackson’s two recent Academy of Country Music Awards wins and the RIAA’s Quadruple Platinum (4,000,000 units) certification of his Drive album, the reigning Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year delivers his new single, “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere.” Recorded with friend Jimmy Buffett at Shrimp Boat Sound Studio in Key West last month, Jackson’s sure-to-be summer anthem is one of two new tracks included on his latest CD, Alan Jackson’s Greatest Hits Vol. II.
“Somebody pitched me that song,” Alan Jackson claims, “and I said ‘Man! This sounds like Buffett!’ Sure enough – it already had his name in there, and it sounded like him, so it just felt natural to go ahead and do the thing. And he was kind enough to sing on it.”
Meet Me In Margaritaville: Jimmy’s notes and observations are collected here, capturing past to present to Parrot Head. The 38 track, 2-CD Meet Me In Margaritaville set includes six new recordings of Jimmy’s personal favorites, 4 new live recordings and 2 new songs; Everybody’s Talkin’ and Sail On Sailor.
Everybody’s Talkin’ is Jimmy’s tribute to a fellow troubadour. “Fred Neil was one of the most compelling folk-rockers to emerge from Greenwich Village in the mid-60’s.” Bob Dylan, John Sebastian, David Crosby and many others too numerous to mention claim Fred as an influence. Jimmy knew Fred from his folk-singing days in Coconut Grove, and maintained a strong friendship until his death 2 years ago. For a great historical look at an early Buffett influence see www.fredneil.com
One would predict that Alan Jackson’s amazingly popular CMA Award winning and Grammy nominated “5 O’Clock Somewhere,” featuring Jimmy on the song and the video had served as a catalyst for his “new found affection” for country music, but there’s no cause and effect here. In an interview with Dave Hoekstra from the Chicago Sun-Times Jimmy said, “I know this looks like the most commercial kind of cash-in possibility. But is has been obvious I have been affecting the writing and performing of country music for the past several years. I figured, ‘I can write Jimmy Buffett country songs as anybody.’ This whole thing was on the drawing board.”
And as for familiarity with Key West, Jimmy told the Windy City newshound, “These kids who are doing the songs today are fun. Toby Keith came to the studio and did something. Alan did something. I’m inviting other guys who if their schedule permits, will come do the new record with me.”
They arrived sometime after Thanksgiving. Nashville’s finest heading south by air or by sea drawn to Key West like the proverbial moth to a flame, anxious to contribute to Jimmy’s latest effort, License to Chill. Several were already familiar with Shrimp Boat Sound, having borrowed from the Key West creative culture in the past.
“Hey Good Lookin’,” the first single from License To Chill, was creating a buzz before it was sent to radio. Fans heard the song on stations that jumped on it early and quickly spread the word. During the recording of the tune, which was written by the great Hank Williams, Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Clint Black and George Strait all came in to sing on the track. It’s an exciting collaboration and you can hear it in the music.
Texas treasure, George Strait holds the career record for CMA nominations with seventy-one and the record for the most number one singles by a single artist in any genre. Strait has released 31 albums, all of which have hit gold or platinum status, selling over 62 million copies total. Strait and Jackson won the 2000 CMA Award for Vocal Event of the Year for “Murder on Music Row” and toured together during the 2001 George Strait Country Music Festival.
Reigning CMA Entertainer and Male Vocalist, Alan Jackson is currently nominated for eight ACM Awards including Single, Song, Video and Vocal Collaboration of the Year for the eight-week #1 hit, ‘It’s Five O’clock Somewhere’ with Jimmy Buffett. Propelled by the success of ‘It’s Five O’clock Somewhere’ and the chart-topping, ‘Remember When’ (Jackson’s 31 #1 single), his Greatest Hits Volume II CD was recently certified triple platinum. Jackson’s 2004 tour is one of country’s hottest tickets on the road with capacity crowd concerts across the country.
Toby Keith and his Video Director, Michael Salomon won three Flame Worthy Awards for Collaborative Video of the year for “Beer for My Horses” with Willie Nelson, and the Flame Worthy Video of the Year for “American Soldier.” Michael won the Flame Worthy Video Director of the Year for “Beer for My Horses.”
Clint Black, according to Equity Records head Mike Kraski, “is the standard-bearer of what an artist is about… He’s a songwriter, stellar musician, one of the best live performers in any genre of music, a tremendous singer, and distinctive stylist. He’s a producer, a video director… what more can you say about the guy? He is an artist’s artist.”
In May 2004, Jimmy joined the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders in Irving, TX to host a concert in Texas Stadium. Joining Jimmy and the gals were reigning CMA Entertainer and Male Vocalist Alan Jackson and fellow CMA record holder George Strait. Billed as a triple header, the three fishing buddies performed nearly 60 songs over three sets to a thundering crowd of 50,000 leis and Levi wearin’ red headed Parrot Necks. Alan Jackson, looking tropical in an Hawaiian shirt, opened the marathon music festival at, appropriately enough, 5 o’clock thanking the crowd for, “letting us come out here to play some country music and….whatever that is that Jimmy Buffett does.”
Jimmy’s stadium tour continued to Fenway Park in Boston. “Fenway Park is not just a stadium. To those who worship at the altar of baseball in New England, it is a cathedral. There are no gargoyles carved into the facade, but there is a Green Monster in left field and a pipe organ in the rafters. So, with those kinds of thoughts I climbed down from the “duck boat” that brought us to work and walked away from Yawkey Way through the tunnel and onto the centerfield turf at Fenway Park. I knew it was going to be a special weekend.
I knew we had done our part to rid Fenway of the Curse. Well, it worked, and if being onstage at Fenway wasn’t enough of a thrill, to actually be credited with being part of the process of ridding Fenway and the Boston Red Sox of that nagging Curse made me a happy boy. So if you were able to attend or just want to catch a memory, here is our contribution to the Red Sox Nation.”
A Salty Piece Of Land, Jimmy’s latest novel picks up Tully Mars – a character from his original best seller, Tales From Margaritaville.
“It’s not on any chart, but the tropical island of Cayo Loco is the perfect place to run away from all your problems. If you’re looking for a license to chill, come along as cowboy Tully Mars takes his pony to the shore-on an unforgettable Caribbean adventure as colorful and wonderfully bizarre as cocktail hour at your favorite expatriate bar. From a lovely sunset sail in Punta Margarita to a wild spring-break foam party in San Pedro, Tully encounters an assortment of treasure hunters, rock stars, sailors, seaplane pilots, pirates, and even a ghost or two. Waking from a ganja buzz on the beach in Tulum, Tully can’t believe his eyes when a 142-foot schooner emerges out of the ocean mist. At its helm is Cleopatra Highbourne, the eccentric 102-year-old sea captain who will take him to a lighthouse on a salty piece of land that will change his life forever.”
Once again, master storyteller Jimmy Buffett weaves a mesmerizing tale that combines both humor and emotional reflection. After all, one man’s cathedral is another man’s fishing hole. And in Jimmy Buffett’s world, paradise is just a state of mind.