Born 25 December
1946, Pascogoula, Mississippi, USA, but raised in Mobile, Alabama.
Country rock singer Buffett describes his songs as "90 per cent
autobiographical", a statement attested to by his narratives of wine,
women and song. He is "the son of the son of a sailor", and he describes
his grandfather's life in the track "The Captain And The Kid". His
father was a naval architect, who often took Buffett on sailing trips.
Buffett studied journalism at the University of Southern Mississippi,
describing those years and his urge to perform in "Migration". Working
as the Nashville correspondent for Billboard magazine, he built up the
contacts that led to his 1970 debut for Barnaby Records. The album and a
later follow-up were not well produced and the best song was one he
re-recorded, "In The Shelter".
Buffett settled in Key West and although initially involved in
smuggling, he changed his ways when offered $25,000 to make an album for
ABC Records. He went to Nashville, recorded A White Sport Coat And A
Pink Crustacean for $10,000 and bought a boat with the remainder. The
album included several story-songs about misdemeanors ("The Great
Filling Station Holdup", "Peanut Butter Conspiracy"), together with the
lazy feel of "He Went To Paris", which was recorded by Waylon Jennings.
His humorous "Why Don't We Get Drunk And Screw?" was written under the
pseudonym of Marvin Gardens, who made imaginary appearances at Buffett's
one-man concerts. Living And Dying In 3/4 Time included his US Top 30
hit "Come Monday". Its ban in the UK by the BBC because of a reference
to Hush Puppies shoes led to a shrewd Jonathan King cover version,
referring to tennis shoes instead. Buffett's 1974 album, A1A, was named
after the access road to the beach in Florida, and he commented, "I
never planned to make a whole series of albums about Key West. It was a
natural process." Buffett also wrote the music for a movie about cattle
rustlers, Rancho Deluxe, scripted by his brother-in-law Tom McGuane.
McGuane described Buffett's music as lying "at the curious hinterland
where Hank Williams and Xavier Cugat meet', and Buffett was the first
person to consistently bring Caribbean rhythms to Nashville. Indeed,
David Allan Coe, who recorded an attack on him called "Jimmy Buffett",
nevertheless copied his style.
In 1975, Buffett formed the Coral Reefer Band and their first album
together, Havana Daydreaming, included a song about the boredom of
touring: "This Hotel Room". His next album, arguably his best, Changes
In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes, included the million-selling single
US Top 10 hit "Margaritaville". A bitter verse about "old men in tank
tops" was initially omitted, but was included on Buffett's irrepressible
concert album, You Had To Be There. Buffett reached the US Top 10 with
Son Of A Son Of A Sailor, which included "Cheeseburger In Paradise", a
US pop hit, and "Livingston Saturday Night", which was featured in the
movie FM. Buffett continued to record prolifically, moving over to
contemporary rock sounds, but his songs began to lack sparkle. The best
tracks on two of his albums were remakes of standards, "Stars Fell On
Alabama" and "On A Slow Boat To China". Hot Water, released in 1988,
included guest appearances by Rita Coolidge, the Neville Brothers, James
Taylor and Steve Winwood, but failed to restore Buffett to the charts.
Fruitcakes included two of his most humorous tracks, "Everybody's Got A
Cousin In Miama" and "Fruitcakes" itself. The excessive length of both
songs (over seven minutes each) indicated that Buffett was ignoring
potential radio and video play and merely playing for his fans.
Nevertheless, Buffett's commercial fortunes improved in the mid-90s with
a series of US Top 10 albums on his custom imprint, Margaritaville (also
the name of his store). Carnival was the soundtrack to an adaptation of
Herman Wouk's Don't Stop The Carnival, and an interesting stylistic
diversion for the singer. In 1999 he launched his own Mailboat label,
ending a long association with major labels (Margaritaville was released
through Island Records). He also runs Radio Margaritaville, a free-form,
24-hour Internet radio station.
Buffett's songs continue to reflect his Key West lifestyle and to quote
"He Went To Paris": "Some of it's tragic and some of it's magic, but I
had a good life all the way." He remains a major concert attraction,
especially in Florida where he addresses his fans as "Parrotheads". The
magnificent 72-track, 4-CD box set Boats Beaches, Bars And Ballads,
includes the Parrothead Handbook.