How a Potent Gummie with Paul McCartney, Navy Seal Training, and More Inspired Jimmy Buffett’s Final Album ‘Equal Strain on All Parts’

Equal Strain On All Parts was already set in motion in 2022. The studio space was booked for early 2023, and Jimmy Buffett had his first song ready for his 32nd album: “Fish Porn.” Co-written with his longtime fishing buddy author Carl Hiaasen, Buffett sent “Fish Porn” to his collaborator and Coral Reefer Band musical director, Michael Utley, and the remaining songs flooded in from there.

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Recorded mostly in Key West, Florida with additional parts in Nashville, Tennesse, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Los Angeles, California, the 14-track Equal Strain On All Parts was co-produced by Utley and Mac McAnally, while the title—which Buffett literally pulled out of a hat—was inspired by an expression his grandfather used to say for “a good nap.”

“I am sure he learned it early in his days as a cabin boy,” said Buffett in the liner notes of the album. “He kind of compressed the power of a giant sailing ship rig into the working of a good hammock, and from then on referred to his nap, on board the shop or in the backyard into, ‘An Equal Strain on All Parts.’” 

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Equal Strain On All Parts is a curtain call of songs spanning a persistent lust for life, the warmth of the Caribbean, and sentimental breaks that were quintessentially Buffett.

For his final album, Buffett also called on a collection of his friends, including Paul McCartney, Emmylou Harris, West African singer Angelique Kidjo, and PEI artist Lennie Gallant, along with “honorary Coral Reefer” Will Kimbrough. 

Kicking off the album, Buffett is joined by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band for an opening tribute to where it all began for him on “University of Bourbon Street.” Buffett moved to New Orleans after graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1969 and began performing to drunken revelers along Bourbon Street.

“So much of who I am and what I know came from old New Orleans,” said Buffett in the liner notes. “NOLA was my museum. It would become my Oz.”

On working with Buffett, Ben Jaffe, creative director and owner of Preservation Hall said: “When Jimmy asked us to be on a song he wrote about his New Orleans, it touched me deeply. Jimmy knew my parents back when he was busking in the French Quarter. He used to hang around Preservation Hall listening to Sweet Emma. He referred to that period of his life as his ‘musical education.’”

Buffett’s ballad “Bubbles Up” adds a more uplifting memo to the album: When this world starts a-reelin’ / From that pressure drop feelin’ / We’re just treading water each day / There’s a way to feel better. The term “Bubbles Up” references how sailors who have capsized can find their way back to the surface by following the bubbles up.

When he had previously taken Navy Seal training, which involved diving from a helicopter, Buffett once asked an officer “What do I do if I freak out?” and was told to follow the bubbles. The phrase “Bubbles Up” became one of optimism for Buffett and is his metaphor for hopefulness on the track, which is accompanied by a video of previously unseen footage of him.

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The acoustic-driven title track is another more misty-eyed moment, reflecting on a grandfather’s wisdom, in retrospect: All those little things that my grandfather said / Not so little here in my grown up head. “’Equal Strain On All Parts is special to me,” said McAnally. “JB [Buffett] gave me the task of helping him write a song that was a saying from his grandfather, who was a big influence.”

McAnally added, “Jimmy always told me that his grandfather took him to the edge of the water in Mississippi and told him you can get in this water and go anywhere in the world. I got to channel some of my family in this song too, as we had a lot of family stuff in common. I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Picking up on the heavier “My Gummie Just Kicked In,” McCartney plays bass on the humorous track inspired by a dinner party he and his wife Nancy had with Buffett and his wife Jane. The song is accompanied by a music video, featuring Buffett and a collection of artists in the studio recording the song, including the former Beatle.

“He sounds like a 25-year-old Beatle playing on this track,” said McAnally of McCartney in a statement. “He played his heart out. It was an honor.”

“Nobody Works On Friday” and “Close Calls” carry on characteristic Buffett trails, along with “Ti Punch Cafe,” featuring Kidjo and inspired by a song originally released by one of his favorite bands from Quadelope, Kassav. McAnally called the latter track “so identifiably Jimmy Buffett,” right down to marrying Kassav and Kidjo on the track. “He dreamed that up,” said McAnally, “and that’s why he is who he is.”

In a statement, Kidjo added, “Jimmy has a special place in my heart. He had this talent to bring joy and happiness around him. And this was very contagious/ This is what music was made for. I’m so grateful I had a chance to share a song with him a very beautiful and philosophical song.”

The unconditional love of a pet is honored in “Like My Dog.” Written by Scotty Emerick and Harley Allen, the track will also feature a soon-to-be-released video in partnership with the ASPCA, and encouraging pet adoption.

Equal Strain On All Parts offers other homages to some of Buffett’s favorite spots, from “Portugal or PEI,” which was inspired by a “secret” escape. Often asked, “If you ever disappear, where should we look for you?” Buffett responded “Portugal or PEI.” The track also features the Portuguese Fado guitar, which Buffett wanted everyone to learn.

[RELATED: 5 of Jimmy Buffett’s “Big 8” Songs Beloved by Parrot Heads]

At its end, Equal Strain on All Parts also takes Buffett back to Bob Dylan’s “Mozambique.” Originally released on Dylan’s 1976 album Desire, Buffett’s reimagined escape to the southern African nation features Harris, who also appeared on the original version.

“It was decided to end the album on ‘Mozambique,’ as it was the only place on the album Jimmy hadn’t been to yet,” shared McAnally.

Harris added, “Singing with Jimmy in Mozambique was, like the man himself, carefree and joyful. It’s something I will always treasure.”

Photo: Julie Skarratt / Courtesy of The Press House

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