It was a shock last Saturday to wake up to the news of Jimmy Buffett’s passing. This year of 2023, which has seen the passing of way too many music legends, has claimed yet another. This one, however, is just a bit closer to home.
I got my first guitar on Christmas Day, 1976 — ironically, Jimmy Buffett’s 30th birthday. In 1977, Buffett became a household name, thanks to “Margaritaville” and the “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” album. Young guitar pickers had a wealth of new songs that made us all yearn for a carefree life in the tropics, and the fact that they were fairly easy to play was a bonus.
The first time I saw Buffett in concert was on the Volcano tour in 1980. I was finishing up my freshman year at the University of South Carolina (also the alma mater of Jimmy’s wife, Jane). He came on to that Carolina Coliseum stage like a victorious soldier in a Hawaiian shirt after a wonderful – but way under-appreciated – opening set by J.D. Souther. There was the semi-acoustic “Hot Dog and a Road Map” tour later that year, featuring just Buffett along with bassist Harry Dailey and harmonica player Fingers Taylor. These concerts fueled my ambition to play guitar and sing for people, as well as to get back to my former Florida home.
I always got to see Buffett on his summer tour stops at Carowinds until I left college and hit the road playing music. Those musical journeys brought me to the Keys in 1984, where I found a tropical island home and a life in music that didn’t involve living out of a suitcase. I remember when the first Margaritaville store opened near the Turtle Kraals in Key West, and I’ve taken more than a few visitors to the Margaritaville Cafe on Duval Street.
I managed to catch Buffett playing live a couple of times in Key West. The first was a benefit concert to save the salt ponds at the Key West High School football field back in the 1980s. The other was at Margaritaville in 1990. No matter the event or venue, Buffett always surrounded himself with good musicians, with his main objective ensuring the audience had a great time.
And the audiences always did.
“Parrot Heads,” a term coined by Timothy Schmit, turned Buffett concerts into tropical-themed events. Tailgate parties, Hawaiian shirts, beach balls, foam fins and copious amounts of beer and blender drinks got everyone in the mood for the main event. Nobody kept the party going like Jimmy Buffett; his tours were virtually always the best happening in town. And that desire to keep the party going was instrumental in the creation and growth of the billion-dollar Margaritaville brand.
His music and brand inspired the creation of Parrot Head clubs around the world, where many of these clubs set out on a mission to “Party With a Purpose.” Buffett himself took on a few causes, many of which involved protection of our environment. He was friends with legislators and presidents, and I believe many of them were jealous of the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle. (Seriously, who wouldn’t be?)
Buffett was only 28 when he wrote and recorded “A Pirate Looks At Forty.” I was in my teens the first time I played it. Over the years, I’ve played a lot of Buffett songs. So has most everyone else who has ever played music in the Keys. Now that I am 21 years past that magical age of 40, it gives me pause to stop and consider how long Buffett has been part of all our lives.
Buffett leaves quite the legacy. In addition to his vast catalog of songs and recordings, there are the books, novels, and everything else Margarita. Buffett’s brand and business sense will ensure that his legacy will live on for decades.
Perhaps the real legacy Buffett leaves behind is the joy he brought to so many through his music. Godspeed on your next big adventure where you go, and I’m sure the rum will soon come.
– John’s Perpetual Island Tour stops every Monday at Boondocks, Wednesday at Brutus Seafood, and Thursdays at Sparky’s Landing. Check out John’s music anywhere you stream or download your music! Or point your browser to: johnbartus.hearnow.com