James William Buffett, born December 25, 1946) is an American musician, songwriter, author, actor, and businessman. He is best known for his music, which often portrays an “island escapism” lifestyle. Together with his Coral Reefer Band, Buffett has recorded hit songs including “Margaritaville” (ranked 234th on the Recording Industry Association of America’s list of “Songs of the Century”) and “Come Monday”. He has a devoted base of fans known as “Parrotheads”.
Aside from his career in music, Buffett is also a best-selling writer and is involved in two restaurant chains named after two of his best-known songs; he owns the Margaritaville Cafe restaurant chain and co-developed the Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant chain.
Early and personal life
Buffett was born on December 25, 1946, in Pascagoula, Mississippi and spent part of his childhood in Mobile, Alabama. He is the son of Mary Lorraine and James Delaney Buffett, Jr. In grade school years, he attended St. Ignatius School, where he played the trombone in the school band. Buffett’s grandfather was a sailor, therefore he was exposed to sailing as a child which had an early effect on his life and later in his music. He later lived in Fairhope, Alabama. He graduated from McGill Institute for Boys in 1964. He began playing guitar during his first year at Auburn University before continuing his college years at Pearl River Community College and the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where he received a bachelor’s degree in history in 1969. He was initiated into the fraternity Kappa Sigma at the University of Southern Mississippi. After graduating from college, Buffett worked as a correspondent for Billboard magazine in Nashville, breaking the news of the separation of Flatt and Scruggs.
Buffett married Margie Washichek in 1969 and divorced in 1971. Buffett spent years working as the first mate on the yacht of industrialist Foster Talge on the Petticoat III in Key West while perfecting the “Caribbean Rock n’ Roll” genre. Buffett and his second wife, Jane have two daughters, Savannah Jane and Sarah Delaney, and an adopted son, Cameron Marley, and reside in Sag Harbor, New York. They separated in the early 1980s, but reconciled in 1991. Buffett also owns a home in St Barts, a Caribbean island where he lived on and off in the early 1980s while he was part owner of the Autour de Rocher hotel and restaurant. He spends part of the summer traveling about the East Coast on his sailboat. An avid pilot, Buffett owns a Dassault Falcon 900 that he often uses while on concert tour and traveling worldwide. He has also owned a Boeing Stearman, Lake Amphibian, and Grumman Albatross.
His father died May 1, 2003, at the age of 83. His mother died a few months after her husband, on September 25, 2003.
In 2015, Jimmy Buffett spoke at the University of Miami’s graduation ceremony and received an honorary doctorate in music. Wearing flip flops and aviator sunglasses, he told graduates, in a paraphrase of his song “The Pascagoula Run”, that “it’s time to see the world, time to kiss a girl, and time to cross the wild meridian.”
Buffett began his musical career in Nashville, Tennessee, during the late 1960s as a country artist and recorded his first album, the folk rock Down to Earth, in 1970. During this time, Buffett could be frequently found busking for tourists in New Orleans. Country music singer Jerry Jeff Walker took him to Key West on a busking expedition in November 1971. Buffett then moved to Key West and began establishing the easy-going beach-bum persona for which he is known. He started out playing for drinks at the Chart Room Bar in the Pier House Motel. Following this move, Buffett combined country, rock, and pop music with coastal as well as tropical lyrical themes for a sound sometimes called “gulf and western”. Today, he is a regular visitor to the Caribbean island of Saint Barts and other islands where he gets inspiration for many of his songs and some of the characters in his books.
With the untimely death of friend and mentor Jim Croce in September 1973, ABC/Dunhill Records tapped Buffett to fill his space. Earlier, Buffett had visited Croce’s farm in Pennsylvania and met with Croce in Florida.
Buffett’s third album was the 1973 A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean. Albums Living & Dying in 3/4 Time and A1A both followed in 1974, Havana Daydreamin’ appeared in 1976, and Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes followed in 1977 and featured the breakthrough hit song “Margaritaville”.
“Margaritaville” is a 1977 song that was written about a drink Buffett discovered at Lung’s restaurant on Anderson Lane in Austin, Texas, and the first huge surge of tourists who descended on Key West, Florida around that time. He wrote most of the song that night at a friend’s house in Austin, and finished it while spending time in Key West. In the United States “Margaritaville” reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and went to number one on the Easy Listening chart, also peaking at #13 on the Hot Country Songs chart. Billboard ranked it number 14 on its 1977 Pop Singles year-end chart. It remains Buffett’s highest charting solo single.
Named for the margarita cocktail, with lyrics reflecting a laid-back lifestyle in a tropical climate, “Margaritaville” has come to define Buffett’s music and career. The relative importance of the song to Buffett’s career is referred to obliquely in a parenthetical plural in the title of a Buffett greatest hits compilation album, Songs You Know By Heart: Jimmy Buffett’s Greatest Hit(s). The name has been used in the title of other Buffett compilation albums such as Meet Me In Margaritaville: The Ultimate Collection and is also the name of several commercial products licensed by Buffett. Popular culture references, throughout the years and remakes attest to the song’s continuing popularity. The song was mentioned in Blake Shelton’s 2004 single “Some Beach”.
“Margaritaville” has been inducted into the 2016 Grammy Hall of Fame for its cultural and historic significance.
During the 1980s, Buffett made far more money from his tours than his albums and became known as a popular concert draw. He released a series of albums during the following 20 years, primarily to his devoted audience, and also branched into writing and merchandising. In 1985, Buffett opened a “Margaritaville” retail store in Key West, and in 1987, he opened the Margaritaville Cafe.
In 1997, Buffett collaborated with novelist Herman Wouk to create a musical based on Wouk’s novel, Don’t Stop the Carnival. Broadway showed little interest in the play (following the failure of Paul Simon’s The Capeman), and it ran only for six weeks in Miami. He released an album of songs from the musical in 1998.
In August 2000, Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band played on the White House lawn for then-President Bill Clinton.
In 2003, he partnered in a partial duet with Alan Jackson for the song “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”, a number-one hit on the country charts. This song won the 2003 Country Music Association Award for Vocal Event of the Year. This was Buffett’s first award in his 30-year career.
Buffett’s album, License to Chill, released on July 13, 2004, sold 238,600 copies in its first week of release according to Nielsen Soundscan. With this, Buffett topped the U.S. pop albums chart for the first time in his career.
Buffett continues to tour throughout the year, although he has shifted recently to a more relaxed schedule of around 20–30 dates, with infrequent back-to-back nights, preferring to play only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. This schedule provided the title of his 1999 live album.
In the summer of 2005, Buffett teamed up with Sirius Satellite Radio and introduced Radio Margaritaville. Until this point, Radio Margaritaville was solely an online channel. Radio Margaritaville has remained on the service through Sirius’ merger with XM Radio and currently appears as XM 24. The channel broadcasts from the Margaritaville restaurant at Universal CityWalk in Orlando, Florida.
In August 2006, he released the album Take The Weather With You. The song “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On” on this album is in honor of the survivors of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. Buffett’s rendition of “Silver Wings” on the same album was made as a tribute to Merle Haggard. On August 30, 2007, he received his star on the Mohegan Sun Walk of Fame.
On April 20, 2010, a double CD of performances recorded during the 2008 and 2009 tours called Encores was released exclusively at Walmart, Walmart.com, and margaritaville.com.
Buffett partnered in a duet with the Zac Brown Band on the song “Knee Deep”: released on Brown’s 2010 album You Get What You Give, it became a hit country and pop single in 2011. Also in 2011, Buffett voiced Huckleberry Finn on Mark Twain: Words & Music, which was released on Mailboat Records. The project is a benefit for the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum and includes Clint Eastwood as Mark Twain, Garrison Keillor as the narrator, and songs by Brad Paisley, Sheryl Crow, Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, and others.
Of the over 30 albums Jimmy Buffett has released, as of October 2007, eight are Gold albums and nine are Platinum or Multiplatinum. In 2003, Buffett won his first Country Music Award for his song “It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere” with Alan Jackson, and was nominated again in 2007 for the CMA Event of the Year Award for his song “Hey Good Lookin” which featured Alan Jackson and George Strait.
Buffett has performed at the Xfinity Center amphitheatre (formerly known as Great Woods) in Mansfield, Massachusetts, 58 times, the most of any venue in his career.
Buffett began calling his music “drunken Caribbean rock ‘n’ roll” as he says on his 1978 live album You Had To Be There. Later, Buffett himself and others have used the term “gulf and western” to describe his musical style and that of other similar-sounding performers. The name derives from elements in Buffett’s early music including musical influence from country and western, along with lyrical themes from the Gulf Coast. A music critic described Buffett’s music as a combination of “tropical languor with country funkiness into what some [have] called the Key West sound, or Gulf-and-western.” The term is a play on the form of “Country & Western” and the name of the former conglomerate Gulf+Western.
Other performers identified as gulf and western are often deliberately derivative of Buffett’s musical style and some are tribute bands, or in the case of Greg “Fingers” Taylor, a former member of Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band. They can be heard on Buffett’s online Radio Margaritaville and on the compilation album series Thongs in the Key of Life. Gulf and western performers include Norman “the Caribbean Cowboy” Lee, Jim Bowley, Kenny Chesney, and Jim Morris.
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