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Jimmy Buffett, ‘Margaritaville’ Singer Who Turned Island Escapism Into an Empire, Dead at 76

Jimmy Buffett, the musician and entrepreneur known for creating the classic anthem “Margaritaville” in 1977, passed away at the age of 76. His empire includes restaurants, resorts, and other businesses.

According to a statement published late Friday on his website and social media, Jimmy passed away peacefully on September 1st, surrounded by his loved ones, friends, music, and dogs. He carried on living his life like a song right up till the end, and he will be sorely missed. The reason for death was not made public.

Buffett spent most of his life in or close to the tropics, and whether or not his fans had any paid time off, his country-rock music allowed them to enjoy the carefree vibe of a beach vacation.

His followers known as “Parrotheads,” have developed into a distinct subculture with more than 200 local chapters around the country. His name alone conjures up visions of fruity drinks and beaches with white sand.

He was a shrewd businessman who founded many chains of restaurants utilizing lyrics from songs as his inspiration. His net worth will top $1 billion in 2023, according to Forbes.

After his debut album, 1970’s Down to Earth only sold 400 copies, such success would have come as a surprise. Buffett was born in Pascagoula, Mississippi, on December 25, 1946. His father was employed by the Alabama Dry Docks and Shipyard when the boy was growing up in Mobile, Alabama. Buffett’s grandpa was a sea captain, and he used to regale Buffett with tales of his ocean voyages throughout the globe.

Buffett fled Mobile as quickly as he could, but the city’s extravagant Mardi Gras celebration—the oldest Carnival event in the United States—had a lasting impact on Buffett’s worldview and art. In his biography, A Pirate Looks at Fifty, he said, “The way I understand it growing up, Mardi Gras was a time for partying, and partying at Mardi Gras took on a whole other definition.” “To most people, it was allowing themselves to disregard many of the rules by which they lived most of their lives.”

Jimmy Buffett, ‘Margaritaville’ Singer Who Turned Island Escapism Into an Empire, Dead at 76
Jimmy Buffett, ‘Margaritaville’ Singer Who Turned Island Escapism Into an Empire, Dead at 76

Buffett studied guitar in college at the University of Southern Mississippi to get the attention of women. He had been the first to recognize that the mission had failed, but his aspirations immediately increased. After graduating, he and his wife Maggie Washichek relocated to Nashville so that he could continue his music career. By the end of his senior year, he had started taking up jobs in New Orleans. (He said that in Nashville, 26 labels turned him down.)

In 1971, he traveled to the Florida Keys for the first time, riding along in Jerry Jeff Walker’s 1947 Packard. After his breakup with Washichek, Buffett departed Nashville. While performing concerts in Miami, he sought down Jerry Jeff, a man he had met while working as a reporter for Billboard. Together, they repaired the vehicle and traveled to Key West with it. Soon after, he instructed Jerry Jeff to return without him. Buffet had located his new residence.

Buffett became friends with a group of writers in Key West that included Tom McGuane, Jim Harrison, and Tom Corcoran. “You could get by cheaply in this run-down, undone, semi-Bohemian place and it attracted various rebellious types,” McGuane recalled.

Key West, according to Buffett, “was still a Navy town.” “The town was homosexual. The town had a bohemian vibe. It was a little fishing community. You desire a blending pot. Just that was it. It never stopped inspiring me or allowing me to hear the origins of those early tunes.

The Chart Room, where Corcoran and subsequently Buffett worked, served as the focal point of the scene. At a place named Howie’s Lounge, Buffett accepted a gig to perform during cocktail hour. “I obtained a job as a mate on a fishing boat, so I played by day, went out all night and caused trouble, slept for a little while, and then woke up at four in the morning to start fishing. I consequently believed, “I’ve got this made.”

Jimmy Buffett, ‘Margaritaville’ Singer Who Turned Island Escapism Into an Empire, Dead at 76
Jimmy Buffett, ‘Margaritaville’ Singer Who Turned Island Escapism Into an Empire, Dead at 76
image credit to Yahoo

Buffett will record three albums between the years of 1973 and 1974, setting the vocalist on a new path. Because it was produced at Tompall Glaser’s studio in Nashville, A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean has lots of Nashville twang, but songs like “Why Don’t We We Get Drunk” and “Grapefruit – Juicy Fruit” introduced Key West joie de vivre to his music for the first time. These songs reflect the essence of a location where people are too carefree to be concerned about the passing of time, making them timeless in that sense.

The following album, Living and Dying in 3/4 Time, was his lone and most pessimistic work. However, his skepticism was solely directed at Nashville and was launched from his new base like a long-range missile. This album is a fantastic place for Buffett skeptics to start because it almost entirely lacks lyrics about jellyfish, charred prawns, and other finer points of Buffettiana. It is also a fan favorite because of the slick songwriting. The benefits of island life are just briefly mentioned in “The Wino and I Know,” albeit there is a line about lobster.

As a result, his subsequent album, A1A, which bears the name of the only road leading into and out of Key West, served as a sort of change-of-address notice. The second half, which begins with “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” presented a collection of songs solely about or inspired by Buffett’s island residence. The first side was consistent with Buffett’s prior albums. The vocalist is either drinking on the beach or waking up in a hammock in the two songs that aren’t set on the ocean—three of the five songs take place entirely or primarily on the water. He had discovered his creative calling, and he never wavered from it.

He only required a listener. Buffett’s debut single, “Come Monday,” from Living and Dying, reached Number Three on the Easy Listening list of Billboard and Number 30 on the Hot 100. His first chart-topping record, A1A, made him and his Coral Reefer Band eligible to perform as the Eagles’ opening act after peaking at Number 25 on the charts. The album Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, which was released in 1977 and featured Buffett’s anthem “Margaritaville,” was the one that took off. To go from a morning hangover to an afternoon flight, Buffett started composing “Margaritaville” in Austin. “I had a margarita, which helped with the hangover, and in the car, on the way to the airport the chorus of a new song started to come to me,” the man said. “I finished ‘Margaritaville’ back in Key West after finishing a little more on the plane,” the author said.

Buffett had already addressed the issue of visitors flocking to Key West in “Migration” off A1A, thus he wanted the song to parody them in part. Even a second line, which was omitted from the song, was about “Old men in tank tops/Cruisin’ the gift shops.” Buffett, to his credit, may have associated too strongly with the song’s depiction of a tropical hell to effectively convey the criticism. Similar to how “Born in the U.S.A.” is sometimes mistaken for a national anthem, Buffett never expected how many tourists “Margaritaville” would draw to Key West.

Jimmy Buffett, ‘Margaritaville’ Singer Who Turned Island Escapism Into an Empire, Dead at 76
Jimmy Buffett, ‘Margaritaville’ Singer Who Turned Island Escapism Into an Empire, Dead at 76

Buffett didn’t exactly stop people from coming to this conclusion. The Margaritaville Beach House resort and the Margaritaville Restaurant, the latter serving as the flagship for hundreds of eateries, are two popular tourist spots in Key West that Buffett gave the Margaritaville moniker to. The empire would later grow to include Latitude Margaritaville retirement homes, many casinos, Margaritaville at Sea cruises, and Margaritaville resorts.

When Buffett rented his flat to Hunter S. Thompson in 1977, his own Key West heyday came to an end. He was residing on the island of Saint Barts when Rolling Stone featured him on the cover in 1979, where he had access to an even higher plane of island existence and met a variety of new acquaintances. Journalist Chet Flippo said that drug traffickers on Saint Barts “swear by the man and would no more make a run in their boats without Buffett cassettes on board than set sail without a few cases of [Heinekens].” Buffett’s vessel was known as the Euphoria II. A framed image of Buffett in the Oval Office with Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale was displayed in the cabin.

Few musicians with the prominence or wealth of Buffett have relied so little on record sales. The greatest hits collection Songs You Know By Heart, which was published in 1985, was his best-selling record and went seven times platinum. Even though none of his recordings from the 1980s reached the top 30 of the Billboard 200, this was the decade in which he built one of the most dependable touring companies in popular music.

Also around this time, the term “Parrotheads” was coined to describe the devoted Buffett fans who attend his concerts year after year. Timothy B. Schmit, the Coral Reefer Band’s bassist at the time, created the phrase.

When Buffett gazed out at the Cincinnati crowd, “they were glaringly brilliant to the point where it got our attention immediately. People had already started wearing Hawaiian shirts to our shows.” “I exclaimed, ‘Look at that!'” Then Schmit tells me, “They appear to be Deadheads dressed in tropical attire. They remind me of parrotheads.

In A Pirate Looks at Fifty, Buffett stated, “You know Death will get you in the end, but if you are smart and have a sense of humor, you can thumb your nose at it for a while.”



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