A Tribute to Jimmy Buffet - The Last Troubadour

Jimmy Buffet - December 25, 1946 - September 1, 2023. | 

By Steven M. Lee | Special to Elk Grove News | 

As a kid growing up in the 60s and 70s, I had a deep appreciation for the music of that generation, mostly AM standards that were heard repeatedly over the airwaves. I recall hearing “Margaritaville” over and over during the summer of 1977 and recall thinking it a rather innocuous tune that while catchy, seemed a bit too commercial for my taste.

Just a year later, while away at college, I became completely engulfed into what would years later become known as the “Gulf and Western” music of the songwriter who penned Margaritaville. Instantly, I fell hard for the songwriting skills and upbeat melodies of this humorous Key West,  hard-drinking, womanizing beach bum named Jimmy Buffett. Margaritaville wasn’t even one of the top five songs on his “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” LP. The entire LP was gold to this college student trying to stay academically viable while partying as much as humanly possible. Each song seemed to be an anthem toward that goal.

His previous LP, A-1-A (a reference of the highway that runs up and down the east coast from Key West through Florida) was even more captivating to my sense of adventure and zest for coastal life. His song “Migration” became a mantra for most of my adult life. I listened to it every morning as motivation to get through the devastating heat during my summer jobs in the Kern County oil fields during my college years.

Success didn’t come easy for Buffett. He didn’t take up playing the guitar until he was in college and then saw it as a clever way to meet coeds rather than an avenue to earning a living. He moved to Nashville around 1970 to become a songwriter. There he met Jerry Jeff Walker and the two became good friends. Jerry Jeff introduced Jimmy to his Florida record contacts as Buffett continued to hone his skill as a performer in dive bars around Key West. Buffett worked during the day as a second mate on a fishing charter and night's as an entertainer. During this period, he soaked up stories from dope dealers, smugglers, hippies, and hustlers. All gave him wonderful materials for his early songs.

His first commercial hit came in 1974 with a song about missing his wife while touring and reminiscing while waiting to board another flight entitled, “Come Monday.” He wouldn’t hit the charts again until Margaritaville.

Buffett sang of faraway places, partaking of highly questionable pursuits and doing it with a sense of humor and incredible knack for rhyming that allowed me to escape to the beach or to a third-world nation where adventure was just a verse away. Many of his lyrics came from stories his grandfather, a steamship captain, would share with him when he was young. His grandfather instilled the love and mystery of the sea in Jimmy and so many of his songs are based on those stories and his love and respect of the ocean.

“A Pirate Looks at 40,” a retrospective ballad of a man who just never found his true calling in life while he shares his love and respect for the ocean is a truly wonderful song and melody. In 1981 my friends and I had concert tickets for Jimmy, front row center at the Memorial Auditorium downtown. We yelled for him to sing that song and he looked down and assured us he’d get there. Later in the show, he looked right down at us, pointed and said, “This one’s for y'all.” So classic, so Jimmy! Always playing to his audience.

I had the honor of attending many Buffett concerts over the years. Every one memorable and each crazier than the previous one. People would fill their truck beds up with plastic, sand and water so they could be at the beach. Tailgaters were nuts. Everyone wore Hawaiian shirts, shorts, flip flops, and hats with dorsal fins, margarita glasses, parrots, hula dolls, you get the picture. It was a three-hour party with Jimmy leading the way, having the time of his life and it easily transferred to his audience. Timothy B. Schmidt, more recently of the Eagles, played in the 80’s for Jimmy’s Coral Reefer Band and penned the term on the audience of “Parrot Heads.” The term stuck and his fans and fan clubs are still referred to as “Parrot Heads.”

With the success of “Margaritaville” and the aura and lifestyle it represented to so many, Buffett was able to turn a song about watching tourists sunburning on the beach while he boiled his shrimp on his front porch into a billion-dollar, yes, with a “B,” enterprise of restaurants, bars, merchandise stores, hotels, casinos, cruise ships, water parks, food, beer, furniture, blenders, and even retirement communities.

Buffett wasn’t only a singer /songwriter/business mogul. He was also a best-selling author of a couple novels and he and his daughter penned a children’s book as well. He was also a philanthropist engaged in many charitable endeavors. He created charities “Singing for Change,’” “Save the Manatee,” he created “Last Mango Bookwork” an apparel line in which proceeds go to charity. He was an active member of “The Jerry Garcia Foundation,” “Precious Paws,” Reef Relief,” Wounded Warrior Project.” hurricane relief efforts, cancer research, Alzheimer’s research and the “March of Dimes.”

Jimmy Buffet wrote the songbook of my life. His ability to transform me to a sandy beach, a smuggler’s ship, far away islands or a bayou bar room has enhanced my life immeasurably. We all need to escape reality occasionally. I’ll miss him dearly. He was a man who lived his life like a song. Genuine to the very end. Thank you, Jimmy! R.I.P.


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Capt. Benjamin Willard said...

I remember the first time I heard Jimmy Buffet. It was on a road trip from Toledo to Florida in the spring on 1977. His breakthrough album Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes had been released and it was getting a decent amount of air play in the Sunshine State. Interestingly, the title song Changes in Latitudes was getting all the air time, and not Margaritaville. I've always enjoyed his music and especially his vibe.

Godspeed Jimmy Buffet!

Eye on Elk Grove said...


What a beautiful, loving tribute to Jimmy Buffet who clearly left a footprint on your life. “Come Monday, it will be alright.” So on this Labor Day Monday, honoring Jimmy is fitting. His memory, his music, and the man he was will always be a blessing.

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