Through three decades as one of the nation's top touring acts, Jimmy Buffett never charted a No. 1 single or won a major music award until he teamed up with Alan Jackson for the hit, "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere." The collaboration won vocal event of the year honors at the 2003 CMA Awards.
Born December 25, 1946, in Pascagoula, Miss., but raised in Mobile, Ala., Buffett describes his songs as "90 percent 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 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. Working as the Nashville correspondent for Billboard magazine, he built up the contacts that led to his 1970 debut for Barnaby Records, but the album and its follow-up were not well-produced.
Buffett settled in Key West, Fla., 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 U.S. Top 30 hit "Come Monday."
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.
In 1975, Buffett formed the Coral Reefer Band and their first album together, Havana Daydreaming. His next album, arguably his best, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, included the million-selling single and 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 Top 10 with Son of a Son of a Sailor, which included "Cheeseburger in Paradise" (a pop hit) and "Livingston Saturday Night."
He 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 him to the charts. Fruitcakes included two of his most humorous tracks, "Everybody's Got a Cousin in Miami" and "Fruitcakes" itself. The excessive length of both songs (over seven minutes each) indicated that he was ignoring potential radio and video play and merely playing for his fans.
His commercial fortunes improved in the mid-'90s with a series of 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 imprint, ending a long association with major labels. (The Margaritaville imprint was released through Island Records). He also runs Radio Margaritaville, a free-form, 24-hour Internet radio station.
His 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 & Ballads, includes the Parrothead Handbook.
At the 2003 CMA Awards in Nashville, Buffett and Jackson opened the show with "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere." After winning the vocal event award later that night, Buffett noted, "It was about 31 years ago that I came to this town to pursue my musical madness, and I've never won anything for anything, and it's great to do it here."
In May 2004, Buffett released License to Chill on RCA Records Nashville. The first single, a remake of Hank Williams' "Hey, Good Lookin'," featured guest vocals by Clint Black, Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, Toby Keith and George Strait. Buffett, Jackson and Strait teamed up for concert at Texas Stadium in Dallas on May 29, 2004.
Buffett released another country album, Take the Weather With You, on RCA at the end of 2006.