The Song Remains: Jimmy Buffett (1946 – 2023)

An end to ‘Island Escapism’.

It was a sad weekend for Parrotheads everywhere, with the news that James William Buffett had departed this life at the age of just 76, a victim of skin cancer and lymphoma.

Back in the early 1980s I was living and working in New Orleans. I’d taken up with a southern belle and she proposed a weekend trip to the Pensacola coast in Florida. As we were setting off, she said she needed to set the mood for Florida and put the first of several Jimmy Buffett cassettes in the car player. At this point I had never heard of Jimmy Buffett – although he’d been going since the early 70s, he was still something of a local phenomena; by the time we reached Florida, I was a total convert. Jimmy Buffett’s music always conjures up visions of a tropical beach and a party in the sun.

Although he has always been associated with the Florida Keys, Buffett was born in Pascagoula, Mississippi (December 25th, 1946) and spent his early life in Mobile and Fairhope, both in Alabama. He got his love of the sea and sailing from his grandfather, who was a steamboat captain, and this would later influence his music and his lifestyle. He graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg with a degree in History. After graduating he moved to New Orleans, where he spent some time busking on the streets of the French Quarter, before relocating to Nashville in 1970 to pursue a career in songwriting and music journalism. It was fellow singer Jerry Jeff Walker, who introduced Buffett to Key West, when the two of them went there for a busking holiday and an escape from the pressures of Nashville. Buffett fell in love with the place and moved there early in 1972. Up until this point, he’d been trying to promote himself as a country rock singer, something that can be heard on his 1970 debut album, ‘Down to Earth’, but once he established himself in the Florida Keys he started to develop the beach bum folk rock sound he would become known for. The death of his close friend and mentor, the great Jim Croce, in 1973, saw Buffett signed to Croce’s record label, ABC/Dunhill, as a potential replacement, and he would stay with the label throughout the 70s, before moving to MCA in the 80s and then setting up his own record labels, Margaritaville Records and, subsequently, Mailboat Records. He became increasingly well known for his relaxed and easy style of music, which he dubbed “Gulf & Western”, and which included elements of folk, country, rock and Caribbean influences in the form of calypso.

Despite his easygoing lifestyle and his apparent refusal to take life particularly seriously, Buffett became a very successful businessman. In addition to his record labels, his Margaritaville brand has also launched successful restaurants, hotels, casinos, cruise experiences and a host of other products. He has created retirement communities, launched his Landshark lager and a brand of legalised marijuana, ‘Coral Reefer’, launched a video game, ‘Margaritaville Online’, invested in American Football and Baseball teams and became a shareholder in Warren Buffett’s (no relation) investment company, Berkshire Hathaway. Jimmy Buffett has been recognised as one of the world’s richest musicians, with a net worth of $1 billion at the time of his death.

In addition to his business ventures, Buffett found time to become a qualified sailor and pilot. He wrote three number-one bestsellers, the novels ‘Tales From Margaritaville’ and ‘Where Is Joe Merchant?’, plus his memoir, ‘A Pirate Looks at Fifty’. He has written a number of other books along with two children’s books co-written with his eldest daughter, Savannah Jane Buffett. He has appeared in some 80 films and TV shows, more often than not playing himself!

He also involved himself extensively in charity work, especially ecological projects, such as the ‘Save The Manatee Club’, which he formed with former Florida governor, Bob Graham. He also supported the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory and has raised funds for hurricane victims throughout the American Gulf states.

Jimmy Buffett was a real renaissance man but his fans, the aforementioned Parrotheads, will remember him for his great music; for the albums with names like ‘A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean’, ‘Last Mango in Paris’ and ‘Off to See the Lizard’ among the 29 studio albums, 9 compilation albums and 14 live albums he recorded throughout his career. He’ll be remembered for the ‘Big 8’, the songs that his devoted fans always expected to hear and which he performed at every show, including ‘Margaritaville’, ‘Fins’, ‘Volcano’ and ‘Why Don’t we Get Drunk’.

With his passing, Jimmy Buffett leaves a big hole in the entertainment world. A man whose philosophy seemed to be to have a good time all the time, the world could do with more people with Buffett’s constant positive outlook on life. Farewell to the Pirate.

About Rick Bayles 354 Articles
Now living the life of a political émigré in rural France and dreaming of the day I'll be able to sing those Cajun lyrics with an authentic accent!
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments