Jimmy Buffett: Increases Creativity

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Videos by American Songwriter

It was the cause for an international Parrothead panic. After a couple of years of promising to cut back on his touring schedule, Jimmy Buffett did it. He played just 26 concerts during the warm months, splitting them into two 13 show legs. Simply said, there was a little less Margaritaville to go around.It was the cause for an international Parrothead panic. After a couple of years of promising to cut back on his touring schedule, Jimmy Buffett did it. He played just 26 concerts during the warm months, splitting them into two 13 show legs. Simply said, there was a little less Margaritaville to go around.

Why this is so shocking is that sometime during the late 80’s, Buffett became pop music’s “Boy of Summer.” He’d hit the road around Memorial Day and not leave until Labor Day, setting down in towns for two and three days at a time to weave his particular kind of celebration – one filled with sea chanteys, daiquiris, fans in floral print shirts and funny hats and high praise for all that is barefoot and easygoing.

“Basically, I don’t want to play as many shows as I used to play,” Buffett, 49, explains. “It’s not earth-shattering news, is it? I have been talking about it. I guess it’s hard medicine to swallow when it happens.

“I’ll tell you what it is: you get a certain amount of dates that I sort of pick out myself, that I want to play, in order to make the summer pleasing to me as it is to everyone else who comes to the show. If I wanted to, I could go out and book 200 days a year and make tons of money, but that’s not what it’s all about. I don’t want to walk out there and feel like it’s a job.”

There’s a trade off here. Parrotheads may get to see less of Buffett in the flesh, but there will be far more of the beachcombing troubadour’s creativity to consume. For a guy whose image rests on the appearance of sea-faring laziness, wasting away is what he does in Margaritaville; after all, Buffett has a plate as full as any Type-A over-achiever. In fact, last year quietly turned into one of the busiest years in Buffett’s 36-year career. He released a new album, Banana Wind, finished the musical adaptation of the Herman Wouk novel, Don’t Stop the Carnival, signed a deal with Walt-Disney’s Touchstone Pictures for a movie version of his own best-selling novel, Where is Joe Merchant while working on collection of short stories, Daybreak On The Equator.

That’s not to mention his Margaritaville cafes in Key West and New Orleans and a new interest in Internet projects. “It’s an intriguing time,” says Buffett, who splits his time between homes in Palm Beach, FL and on Long Island with his wife and their three children, Savannah Jane, 17, Sara Delaney, 4, and Cameron Marley, 1 ½.

“I’m looking for things that interest Jimmy Buffett as far as my creative horizons,” he says. “I’m still on top of my game, which I never thought I’d be, figuring out where to go next.”

Buffett has taken a long trail to this point of his life. The Pascagoula, MS native, who has a degree in journalism of the University of Southern Mississippi, first set his eyes on becoming a country singer during the late 60s. His debut album, 1970’s Down To Earth, sold a whopping 324 copies, and his label Barnaby records misplaced the master tape of his second album. “I never did think they’d lost it,” Buffett says. “But I couldn’t really blame them.”

His next move was to Key West, where he made a living by playing seaside clubs. It was there that Buffett developed his persona, the sea-faring soul who loved his boat, his rum, a good hammock, and a sandy beach. This first emerged on his 1973 album, A White Sport Coat and A Pink Crustacean, but really took hold in 1977 when Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, which housed his signature “Margaritaville,” sold a million copies. That was the commercial peak of Buffett’s career, but he went on to cultivate one of the most faithful followings this side of the Deadheads.

“I try to find a theme more than a hit,” Buffett explains. “I do an album that a Parrothead and a fan can add to an ongoing collection.” There are enough of them to snap up about a million copies of anything Buffett releases. His 1985 compilation All The Songs You Know By Heart, is a perennial at the top of the Billboard catalog chart, selling about 500,000 copies a year. His four-CD Boats, Beaches, Bars, and Ballads is one of the rare box sets to earn platinum status. Between that and touring, Buffett appears regularly on the Forbes magazine’s top ten richest celebrities. “I’ve got a good little fan base,” says Buffett, chuckling at the understatement.

Now Buffett will see if he can duplicate that success in other areas, and having the ready fan base of Parrotheads certainly helps. There’s no secret why he’s been successful in the publishing world, either with Where Is Joe Merchant? or with two children’s books The Jolly Man and Trouble Dolls, which he co-wrote with Savannah Jane. He says Don’t Stop The Carnival has been a great stretch. “The biggest difference is I’m writing on assignment,” Buffett says. “Herman’s story is where I get my cues. I know the book so well. Before the project came out it was one of my bibles. But still, I’d have to take assignments where Herman would say we need a song for this character or this part of the show.

“It’s new, it’s challenging. There are lots of things I’ve learned in 25-30 years of rock and roll that are certainly valuable in making a transition. I like being able to incorporate what I do well and collaborate with somebody on the scale of Herman Wouk.”

Indeed, Buffett says that just spending time with Wouk made engaging in the project worthwhile. “We made it through, as friends and everything else,” Buffett says. “For me, even if it had never gotten to that finished point, just the ability to listen to Herman Wouk for four years, to listen to stories from him, has been a wonderful experience.”

Don’t Stop The Carnival, as well as the Joe Merchant film, opens another possible avenue for Buffett: a return to acting, which he dabbled in during the 1970s in the movies Rancho Deluxe and FM. For the musical, he plans “to write myself a part that’s flexible enough to go in and out: ‘so and so will be played tonight by Jimmy Buffett.’ It’ll be nice to do, but I don’t want to mislead people to believe it’s a Jimmy Buffett production. It’ll be Jimmy Buffett music, not me on stage for two hours.”

Likewise, Joe Merchant features something more along the lines of a cameo by its author. “I’ll play some rogue or something,” he says with a laugh.” “Movies are too much work: I limited it to four lines of dialog and one day of shooting. That’s about as much as I can take.”

None of this means Buffett is giving up music, mind you. He will endeavor to begin building his Island catalog. The label will get the Don’t Stop The Carnival cast recording, and Buffett is chewing on a variety of ideas for his proper album at his new home.

“I have a project in mind to go to France, play for a month and sort of record it,” Buffett says. “I lived in Paris for a while, in this great neighborhood that had all these smoky clubs. We’d rent a club, come in with an acoustic bass and combo and just play there, see who shows up and record it.

“Nowadays that seems like a neat idea – again, something new for me to do.”


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