James Taylor Pays Tribute to Jimmy Buffett: “It Was a Gift to Be Around Him”

After Jimmy Buffett’s death was announced on September 2, tributes from many friends, fans, and admirers have poured in all over the internet. Toby Keith called him a “tremendous influence on so many of us,” Elton John said he was “a unique and treasured entertainer,” and Blake Shelton remembered him as “an incredible talent and man.”

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Another musician who knew Buffett, and knew him very well, was James Taylor. In a moving new first-person piece written for Rolling Stone, Taylor goes deep paying tribute to his late pal, someone he said exuded “his joy of being alive and being himself. It was a gift to be around him, and it was delightful to witness that life.”

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“Jimmy didn’t have any illusions about who he was and what he was doing. He made fun of himself and he made fun of the institution of celebrity,” Taylor wrote. “His eyes were always open. And yet it was always celebratory and joyful. Sometimes melancholy, it’s true — songs about compromise, tarnished dreams, stuff like that. But you can’t think about the guy without smiling.”

As Taylor tells it, the pair first floated into each other’s kens thanks to a community of sailors he was familiar with in places like Martha’s Vineyard, Long Island, and even in the Caribbean. They finally met sometime in the early 1970s, in Taylor’s estimation, in Martha’s Vineyard. Naturally, they went sailing.

“We both were sort of brought up in it, so we had a lot in common. He liked single-hand sailing [sailing without a crew],” Taylor wrote. “He liked to sail alone on a sloop, and he loved to build and design boats. He was a competent captain. I can take my turn at the helm and hold the course for an evening or for a watch. But you got the feeling as though Jimmy could direct the whole enterprise.”

[RELATED: Elton John, Toby Keith, Blake Shelton, LL Cool J, and More Remember Jimmy Buffett]

In addition to their shared nautical backstories, the two collaborated through the years, including on Buffett’s 1979 album Volcano. Taylor refrained from sharing memories of the recording process in Montserrat because he said simply that not a lot of it could be remembered. (“It was a pretty abandoned time. There were incidents.”)

He stressed that Buffett’s lifestyle, as represented in his music, was one of hard-partying that occasionally slipped into darker edges — but that “you always felt you were in good hands, like he wouldn’t let you get into terrible trouble.” Buffett was a legend, sure, but as Taylor wrote, he was not playing a character. He was, simply, Jimmy.

“He was sly and could be wicked, but there wasn’t a mean bone in his body, and he didn’t have that maudlin sort of hippie thing going,” Taylor wrote. Read the moving, riveting, and fittingly mellow tribute in full over at Rolling Stone.

Photo by KMazur/WireImage

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