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Jimmy Buffett

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Jimmy Buffett arrived in Nashville in 1969 prepared to embark on a recording career. Gerry Wood, an old Jimmy Buffett associate and currently a writer for Billboard Magazine recalls that, "Barnaby Records signed the artist to a two-album contract - and Jimmy went into the studio to record Down to Earth."

 

"Unfortunately, the album didn't sell well. Undaunted, Jimmy went back into the studio to record his second album. Daunted, Barnaby Records "lost" the master tapes for this album titled High Cumberland Jubilee. A convenient excuse for a fledgling label that didn't want another no play/ no pay LP."

 

"In a miracle that makes Lourdes look like a carnival shell game, these "lost" Buffett tapes were "found" years later, after Jimmy had become a star, and released on Janus Records. These first two albums show all the potential and promise that was soon to be realized."

 

In a story told many times, Jimmy headed for Miami for an alleged booking date. However, when he got there, no job. Settling in at old friend Jerry Jeff walker's house allowed him time to regroup. A weekend drive down the overseas highway (A1A) landed Jimmy in the town that would prove to be the biggest influence in his musical career, the town that would provide the catalyst for "Margaritaville," the town that continues to play a large role in his life, Key West.

 

The Encyclopedia of Rock, compiled by Nick Logan and Bob Woffinden, states that, "Buffett's talent was hardly the sort that could be straight-jacketed by Nashville's orthodox music establishment. After signing with ABC-Dunhill, he recorded his second debut album, ironically again in Nashville, though this time with greater artistic freedom. Released in 1973, A White Sport Coat and Pink Crustacean helped to establish him, and it was a reputation he was able to enhance with his next album, Living and Dying in 3/4 Time, which received good reviews, and contained the single "Come Monday".

 

Jimmy plunged from the frying pan of Nashville into the fire of Key West. Key West in the early 70's was much different that the Key West of today. Smugglers, servicemen, and shrimpers populated the island that had a reputation for harboring those seeking a lifestyle somewhat to the left of norm. Boarded store fronts dotted Duval St., and any dilapidated building that housed a business invariably served alcohol; over or under the counter. The proverbial end of the rainbow carried pot, but no gold. This was the cultural "melting pot" that was to inspire Jimmy to write "The Wino and I Know", "My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink, and I Don't Love Jesus", "Tin Cup Chalice", and "I Have Found Me A Home" among others. As Bob Anderson says about Jimmy in 1986 interview in High Times, "Every outlaw has a good story, and Buffett has an eye and ear for them."

 

Former Coral Reefer, Greg 'Fingers' Taylor recalls the early days in an interview with Diddy Wah Diddy, a Mississippi Blues newsletter. "In about 1972 I met Buffett. He was playing at the Hub, the Union Building at the University of Southern Mississippi. I was the local harp player, and would play with everybody. So I was just wandering through the Hub one night, and there was this guy with long blonde hair and a mustache playing 'Why Don't We Get Drunk and Screw' to about five little old ladies on break from their night class. I didn't know anything about him. I enjoyed some of the songs I was hearing, and of course I wanted to sit in. So we got up there and it was just sort of a chemistry, just one of those things. I think he had been looking for somebody else to go on the road with him. It's sort of lonely out there on the road. The next day I was driving him to his parents house in Mobile, the sun was coming up, and Jimmy was singing, there was a bonding that occurred there at that point; we knew that we were going to play music together somewhere down the line."

 

"In 1974 Buffett called and was ready to start the Coral Reefer Band. I went down to Key West. We put together the band and went on the road. Between 1974 and 1982 there was nothing but serious roadwork, especially in the seventies. On the first three albums there were essentially studio musicians in Nashville, but by the Changes in Latitudes album the band was good enough and we were enough of a unit that we went to Miami and did it as a band album. That was the one the hit came off of, 'Margaritaville". Some of my favorite rocking crazy stuff came off that album. It was a change from that Nashville play-it safe sound. I like the first albums, but they don't have the energy that 'Changes' had."

 

Michael Utley's association with Jimmy also began on the White Sport Coat album. Michael's musical introduction was the Bill Black Combo, a well known instrumental group in Memphis. From there he will hired by Atlantic Records to be part of their studio band in Miami. Michael took this band and formed The Dixie Flyers, the backup band for Rita Coolidge.

 

Jimmy heard The Dixie Flyers on Jerry Jeff Walker's Being Free album, and asked Michael to play on his first ABC Dunhill album. Michael worked off and on with Jimmy Buffett over the next several years, and became a full-time Coral Reefer in 1982.

 

With the addition of Harry Daily, the original Coral Reefer Band was now complete. However, even without a physical band, in Jimmy's mind the Reefers were always there. Patricia Ward Biederman discussed the early days in a 1984 interview, "Although most of America had never heard of Buffett until 'Margaritaville', he has had a cult following in the South ever since he began strumming his six-string on the coffeehouse circuit fifteen years ago. It is true that early Atlanta radio spots pronounced his name as if it were a serve-yourself meal and that not a single soul showed up for his New Year's Eve concert at the Bistro in 1971. But Buffett was soon packing them in throughout the south, including Florida and Texas. 'He worked this area as hard as anyone I've ever seen.' He was selling 100,000 albums when nobody in the industry knew who Jimmy Buffett was,' recalls Jack Tarver, Jr., a former concert promoter. Says Tarver, who used to book Buffett into Atlanta's Great Southeast Music Hall in the early 1970's; 'He could sell out the Music Hall three or four days running well before he had a hit. It was not unusual to see people there all four nights.' On one memorable occasion, Buffett stole the show from another unknown; a Yankee named Billy Joel. Tarver speculates that it is Buffett's humor that has always endeared him to Dixie audiences. For instance, long before he had a single sideman, let alone his Coral Reefer Band, Buffett would pause in the midst of a number and say, 'Take it, Coral Reefers,' 'He'd stop and tap his foot and there'd be no damn band there,' Tarver remembers with a laugh."

 

In 1974, 'Come Monday', a single from Living and Dying in 3/4 Time become his first Top 30 hit. Typically, Jimmy was totally unaware of the success of the single. "I was in Europe working on a film production when I heard 'Come Monday' being played in the London Airport. I figured something was happening, and called home to find out we were on the charts."

 

That same year Changes in Latitude is released and goes to Number Twelve on the Billboard Magazine Chart. 'Margaritaville" rises to Number Eight on Billboard Pop Chart, and becomes the definitive Jimmy Buffett song. Changes is also Jimmy's first platinum album, selling over one million copies

 

Jimmy's second million selling album, Son Of A Son Of A Sailor is released in 1978. The now classic You Had To Be There live double album is also released and earns Buffett a gold album. This album also awakens people to Jimmy's natural on stage charisma. A Jimmy Buffett concert develops into much more than a live performance of studio songs. A Jimmy Buffett concert is an event. Vacations are planned, marriages are postponed, and schedules are totally revamped in order to make some time an annual Buffett appearance.

 

More albums are being released, more Top 40 hits appear, Volcano, Jimmy's album recorded in 1979, also strikes gold. This album is recorded entirely at George Martin's AIR studios in Montserrat. This was one of the first major recordings to come out of AIR studios, which, since that time, has played host to many big name bands, The Rolling Stones among them.

 

Jimmy discussed his career with Frederick Burger in a 1980 interview with The Miami Herald; "I'm as successful as I want to be. I've taken my career and a band and built them around my songwriting, to the point where I can be very successful financially and very gratified artistically and do what I do best, which is write songs and play on stage...I'd love to have a No. 1 album, but I don't conceive of it. I'd have to be a Fleetwood Mac or an Eagles, but I don't want to be them. I'd have to change my style, and I'm not going to do anything -- other than what I do -- to get it." Frederick Burger continues, "Enhancing his creative stature is one thing; losing another chuck of a relatively unfettered lifestyle is quite another. He possesses an overpowering realization that, as former manager Don Lite puts it, some things cost too much."

 

Throughout is all, Jimmy receives little or no radio exposure. Literally millions of albums are being passed across records counters nationwide based solely on word-of-month advertising from JB's growing legions. Radio, being what it is, has no room for an artist whose style can not be pigeonholed. The 1985 Fall issue of Country Hits described it best, "All of the reviews written about Jimmy Buffett over the past several years have seemed to have a couple of things in common: first, the reviewers enjoy and admire Buffett and his music; and second, these same writers are at their wits end trying to come up with a nice pat label to pin on the man.

 

"Their recent attempts would indicate that Buffett is a 'unique, funky, easygoin', charismatic, enigmatic, colloquial, progressive, intellectual, maverick country-folk-rock singer/songwriter/performer.'

Confused? Don't be. What it means is that it is a whole lot easier to listen to Jimmy Buffett's music than it is to describe it in words.
 


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