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Jimmy Buffett

Jimmy Buffett

A practitioner of a mellow, witty country-rock style he knowingly dubbed "Gulf & Western," Jimmy Buffett created a billion-dollar empire out of his fantasy of a life on the Florida coast. It was an invention he constructed over the course of several ramshackle, amiable albums in the 1970s, records that took him from a Jerry Jeff Walker acolyte to a singer/songwriter with his own distinct traits: he had a warm sunny melodicism, a fondness for breezy Caribbean rhythms and instrumentation, and an easygoing delivery that suited his sentimental streak and sense of humor. All of this was evident on the songs Buffett dubbed "The Big 8," the '70s songs that remained at the core of his repertoire throughout his career, a songbook that featured "Come Monday," "A Pirate Looks at Forty," "Why Don't We Get Drunk," "Cheeseburger in Paradise," and "Margaritaville." The latter lent its name to a variety of businesses Buffett ran in the '90s and beyond -- most prominently, he had a series of chain restaurants -- that catered to an audience that extended far beyond the Parrot Heads who were his most dedicated fans. On his records and especially at his concerts, Buffett concentrated on pleasing those Parrot Heads, singing songs that celebrated easy beachside living until his death in 2023. The posthumous Equal Strain on All Parts appeared less than two months after his passing.

Born in southern Mississippi and raised in Alabama, Buffett moved to Nashville to try to make it in country music in the late '60s. After signing to the Barnaby label, he released one album, 1970's Down to Earth, from which the socially conscious single "The Christian?" suggested he might be more at home protesting in Greenwich Village. (Barnaby "lost" his second album, High Cumberland Jubilee, though they would find it and release it after he became successful.) Instead, the songwriter moved to Key West, Florida, where he gradually evolved into the beach bum character and developed the tropical folk-rock style that would endear him to millions.

Signing to ABC-Dunhill Records (later absorbed by MCA), Buffett achieved notoriety but not much else with his second (released) album, White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean (1973), which featured a song called "Why Don't We Get Drunk" ("...and screw?" goes the chorus). Buffett revealed a more thoughtful side on Living and Dying in 3/4 Time (1974), with its song of marital separation "Come Monday," his first singles chart entry. But it took the Top Ten song "Margaritaville" and the album on which it was featured, 1977's Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, to capture Buffett's tropical worldview and, for a while, turn him into a pop star.

By the start of the '80s, Buffett's yearly albums had stopped going gold, and he briefly tried the country market again. But by the middle of the decade, it was his yearly summer tours that were filling his bank account, as a steadily growing core of Sun Belt fans he dubbed "Parrotheads" made his concerts into Mardi Gras-like affairs. Buffett launched his Margaritaville line of clothes and opened the first of his Margaritaville clubs in Key West. He also turned to fiction writing, landing on the best-seller lists.

His recording career, meanwhile, languished, though a hits compilation sold millions; a 1990 live album, Feeding Frenzy, went gold; and a 1992 box set retrospective, Boats, Beaches, Bars, and Ballads, became one of the best-selling box sets ever. Buffett finally got around to making a new album in 1994, when Fruitcakes became one of his fastest-selling records. It was followed in 1995 by Barometer Soup and Banana Wind in 1996. The following year, Buffett began working on a musical adaptation of Herman Wouk's novel Don't Stop the Carnival with the author himself. After Broadway producers expressed little interest, the production ran for six weeks in Miami in 1997. In spring of 1998, Buffett released a collection of songs from the production as he began mulling over the idea of taking the play on the road. In 1999 he released Beach House on the Moon as well as Live: Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday.

During the first few years of the millennium, Buffett's newly launched Mailboat label issued close to a dozen concert recordings, as well as the 2002 studio album Far Side of the World. Two years later, he allowed RCA to distribute his second Mailboat studio album, License to Chill. Live albums recorded in Hawaii and Boston appeared in 2005, followed by an all-new collection of songs called Take the Weather with You in 2006 and two more live sets, Live in Anguilla in 2007 and Feeding Frenzy: Live in 2008. In 2009, Buffett released Buffet Hotel, his first new studio album in three years; it debuted at 17. Next up was Songs from St. Somewhere, which arrived in August of 2013 and debuted at four on the Billboard charts. Three years later, Buffett released 'Tis the SeaSon, his first Christmas album in 20 years. Buried Treasure, Vol. 1, an archival release containing rare songs recorded in 1969, appeared in 2017. Buffett returned with Life on the Flip Side, his first collection of original songs in seven years, in the summer of 2020. The album found him collaborating with Irish singer/songwriter Paul Brady and Promise of the Real leader Lukas Nelson. Later that year he issued the compilation LP Songs You Don't Know by Heart, to accompany the documentary of the same name. In September 2022, Buffett cancelled his concerts for the rest of the year, citing health issues, then called off another series of shows in May 2023. He was well enough to sit in with Coral Reefer band guitarist Mac McAnally at a show in Rhode Island in June 2023, but it proved to be one of his final public appearances. Jimmy Buffett died on September 1, 2023, at the age of 76.

In the last two years of his life, Buffett worked on his final album, Equal Strain on All Parts. Featuring cameos by Paul McCartney and Emmylou Harris, it appeared in November 2003. Just prior to its release, the Coral Reef Band announced they'd continue playing Buffett music as a tribute to their leader ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine & William Ruhlmann

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