Singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett is known for humorous chronicles of a laid-back seafaring life; his philosophical outlook is encapsulated in tunes like "Why Dont We Get Drunk (and Screw)" and "My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink and I Dont Love Jesus." He has since built a small Key West-based financial empire, written several best-selling books, and become a leading environmentalist.
Raised in the Deep South, Buffett attended Auburn University and then the University of Southern Mississippi, majoring in journalism (he later worked as a Billboard reporter). He moved to Nashville in the late Sixties, intent on becoming a country singer. His first album, 1970s Down to Earth, sold 324 copies. Barnaby Records then temporarily misplaced the master tape of his second album before its release. By 1972 Buffett had left both Nashville and a failed marriage, moving to Key West. There he helped to support himself by smuggling a little marijuana from the Caribbean. He signed to ABC-Dunhill, and his 1973 release, A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean, found Buffett developing his drunken-sailor persona. Buffetts commercial breakthrough came in 1977 with the platinum Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes (#12) and its hit single, "Margaritaville" (#8).
During that period Buffett toured infrequently, spending most of his time living on his 50-foot ketch Euphoria II. He frequently docked at Montserrat, where his 1979 LP Volcano was recorded. He formed the first version of his Coral Reefer Band in 1975. Buffett scored and acted in the 1974 film Rancho Deluxe, and appeared in the 1977 movie FM His 1981 Coconut Telegraph album inspired a fan-club newsletter of the same name, which has maintained a worldwide subscriber base of "Parrot Heads."
The 1985 compilation Songs You Know By Heart (subtitled Jimmy Buffett's Greatest Hit[s] in self-mocking reference to the fact that "Margaritaville" was his only major pop hit) sold two million copies; 1992s Boats Beaches Bars & Ballads also went platinum. By that time Buffett had established a Margaritaville empire, including a record label and Margaritaville Store and Cafe outlets in Key West and New Orleans. He also wrote two best-selling books, Tales from Margaritaville, a collection of short stories, and the novel Where Is Joe Merchant?, as well as two childrens books, The Jolly Man and Trouble Dolls, both coauthured with his daughter, Savannah Jane. He continues performing to sell-out crowds and crusades on behalf of Floridas endangered manatees. In 1993 Forbes magazine listed Buffett as the 40th richest entertainer in the world, with an estimated 1992-93 income of $20 million.
-Rolling Stone Magazine
If someone who saw Jimmy Buffett during the early days of his career--say 1972, when he was the opening act at a Miami coffeehouse/club called the Flick--was plucked from the past and deposited in the midst of a modern-day Buffett concert, that person's jaw would drop lower than Key West. Just as the Grateful Dead have their core following of Deadheads, Buffett's own loyal troops, called "Parrot Heads" due to their colorfully tropical taste in hats, are among the most colorful in pop history. Jimmy Buffett: Not just a singer, but a cultural icon.
How did it happen? Buffett (b. Dec. 25, 1946, Pascagoula, Miss.) had humble but well-educated beginnings, graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi with a degree in history and journalism (he was a one-time Billboard correspondent) and a hankering to establish himself as a country singer. He moved to Nashville by the end of the '60s and recorded two albums for Barnaby, but neither sold, and his career floundered. Next stop: Miami, where an expected job didn't materialize--after which a near-broke Buffett took buddy Jerry Jeff Walker's advice and moved south to Key West.
Thereafter, Buffett's career swiftly kicked into gear. The cover of 1973's A White Sport Coat & A Pink Crustacean, his first album under a new deal with Dunhill (which would ultimately be absorbed by MCA), instantly established Buffett's redoubtable persona: A droopy-eyed, too-pleasant-to-be-smarmy Buffett was beaming barefoot atop a crate of Florida lobsters. With liner notes by local literary fixture Tom McGuane and the now-classic "Why Don't We Get Drunk" ("and screw" mysteriously missing from the official title) credited to one "Marvin Gardens," Buffett had produced a warm album of colorful story-songs that showed equal traces of humor, sentiment, and a keen grasp of Americana. With 1974's "Come Monday," Buffett produced his first hit single; his next, 1977's "Margaritaville," took him to the top 10 and gave him his first platinum album, Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes.
In one sense, Buffett enjoyed his peak record-selling years between 1977-79: He had three additional top 40 hits (Changes' title track, "Cheeseburger In Paradise" and "Fins") as well as one platinum (Son Of A Son Of A Sailor) and two gold (You Had To Be There: Jimmy Buffet In Concert and Volcano) albums in that timespan. Though he'd again nab platinum honors with 1985's Songs You Know By Heart compilation, by then he'd become much more than a mere record-seller. For his growing legion of fans, Buffett was an annual summer concert tradition in the same sense that the Beach Boys were; his records may not have been going quadruple platinum, but attendance at his concerts was booming, and he quickly became a regular top-grossing artist. At the same time, Buffett's creative juices were flowing in several other directions as well: He was an entrepreneur (he'd opened two retail operations, the Margaritaville Store & Cafe, first in Key West, then New Orleans); a crusader (he's been instrumental in Florida conservationists' efforts to save the manatee); a sailor (he'd bought a boat with his first big royalty check); a pilot (he flies his own single-engine amphibian plane); a record company head (he launched Margaritaville Records in 1992); and an author of both bestsellers (Where Is Joe Merchant? and Tales From Margaritaville) and childrens' books (The Jolly Mon and Trouble Dolls, co-written with his young daughter.
Not that Buffett's records don't continue to sell. Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads, a four-CD career retrospective boxed set issued in 1992 went on to become MCA's biggest-selling boxed set ever. And the Parrot Heads are increasing in number: Buffett made headlines as one of the biggest concert draws of the summer of 1993. "What gets so surreal to me is that I figured this was going to peak some time ago," he told a reporter. "I thought everybody would start going to somebody else's shows. But it hasn't happened."
This Biography was written by Dave DiMartino
+albums and lyrics+
1970 -- Down to Earth (Barnaby)
1973 -- A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean
1974 -- Living and Dying in 3/4 Time
1975 -- A1A
1976 -- Havana Daydreamin (ABC)
1976 -- High Cumberland Jubilee (Barnaby)
1977 -- Changes in Latitudes, Changes in
1978 -- Son of a Son of a Sailor
1979 -- Volcano (MCA)
1981 -- Coconut Telegraph (MCA)
1981 -- Somewhere Over China
1983 -- One Particular Harbour
1984 -- Riddles in the Sand
1985 -- Last Mango in Paris
1986 -- Floridays
1988 -- Hot Water
1989 -- Off to See the Lizard
1992 -- Boats Beaches Bars & Ballads
1993 -- Before the Beach
1994 -- Fruitcakes
1995 -- Barometer Soup
1996 -- Banana Wind
1996 -- Christmas Island
1999 -- Beach House on the Moon
+return to paradise+