Jimmy Buffett: Much More Than Margaritaville

Santa Barbara County Bowl May 22, 1977
Santa Barbara County Bowl May 22, 1977

I was born in Los Angeles in the mid 50’s. We lived on the west side of LA until I was 4 and then we moved into a new home in South Pasadena where I went to elementary school.
There were four events that had a profound influence on me during this period. In October of 1963, the Dodgers beat the Yankees in 4 straight games behind the pitching of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, my new heroes. I was hooked on Dodger Blue and wanted to be nothing but a big league baseball player. Then in the very next month, November of 1963, President John Kennedy was assassinated while riding in the back of a convertible limousine and all of the innocence of my world changed forever. It was three months later when I discovered my new heroes and a new passion that has lasted all of my life. The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, and rock and roll music entered by world. I begged my Mom for a transistor radio and from that point on, I was listening to KRLA and KHJ constantly. I had a little earphone that I would plug into when I went to bed and would listen all night or until it fell out in my sleep. Between music and Dodger baseball, that little radio got me through some odd times for a little kid.
Over the next few years, we moved back into LA and music and baseball were my passions. I upgraded my sound system from that little transistor to a clock radio that had AM and FM and by 1967 was listening to “hippie” rock stations on FM radio, which opened up the world of music to the blues, folk, R&B, Motown and old country and bluegrass music. For Christmas one year, my Mom gave me a little suitcase stereo record player with detachable speakers right about the same time that The Beatles released Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. I started buying albums whenever I could scrape up some cash and through the years I still feel an addiction to collect vinyl to add to the collection.In High School, football and music occupied most of my attention. I realized that I wasn’t as good a baseball player as I wanted to be and since I was big and slow, I was perfect to play as an offensive tackle. Also, I had and have no musical talent, so listening was my way of connecting to music.
So how did Jimmy Buffett come to my attention? I remember it like it was yesterday. In the summer of 1973, my best friend told me about this album he just got from a guy named Jimmy Buffett and that I needed to come over to hear it. I was sure he made a mistake and was actually talking about the soul singer Jimmy Ruffin. So I went over to his house and he put on A White Sports Coat and a Pink Crustacean. Right off the bat, the steel guitar opening of Great Filling Station Holdup  pulled me in, and the honky tonk rhythm hooked me. Side one continues with Railroad Lady, He Went To Paris, Grapefruit Juicy Fruit, Cuban Crime of Passion and ends with Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw. C’mon, this album side alone is a classic. Side two has Peanut Butter Conspiracy, They Don’t Dance Like Carmen No More, I Have Found Me a Home, Lovely Lady and Death of an Unpopular Poet. Reading the liner notes on the album, I realized that Buffett had written or co-written every song. Not only did this album turn me on to Jimmy but it also gave me a new found love of honky tonk and country western. Over the next year or so, Jimmy released Living and Dying in 3/4 Time, and A1A and solidified his reputation as a beach loving poet who certainly was living a full and mostly irresponsible life. Exactly what I wanted for myself. I look at these three albums as his most influential because they created the basis for his incredible career as a writer, performer and ultimately an empire maker. By the end of the 70’s he had released these classic Buffett albums, Havana Daydreaming, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, Son of a Son of a Sailor and Volcano.In September of 1975 I got the first opportunity to see Jimmy in concert. We scored tickets for a show at the Roxy in Hollywood. I look back at this as one those experiences that are hard to match. The Roxy was a small nightclub and being that close to the stage and already a big fan of his music, it left me with the memory of a magical night. It was this tour in 75 that he brought along his first full version of the Coral Reefer Band and I got to see Greg “Fingers” Taylor on the harmonica. His sound has had such a great presence on many of Jimmy’s songs. This was 2 years before Margaritaville was released, long before the Parrot Head explosion came to be, but the fans who were there, knew he was something special.
The 1970’s were an incredible time in my life. While going to Cal State Fullerton, I worked at a Special Education school as the PE teacher and coach. My best friend and roommate taught High School there and we ended up starting a tutoring program at the Sea Scouts base in Newport Beach. The scouts provided us a sailboat and every Friday, we would teach sailing to a group of 8-10 of the kids from our school. The rest of the week, that sail boat belonged to us and we took advantage of it whenever we could.
By this time, Buffett’s songs about the sea life, with his love of the Florida Keys and his explorations in the Caribbean, developed his image as modern day pirate/gypsy, who saw the poetry in a glass of rum or as we now know in a blender filled with Tequila, a fresh squeezed lime and some salt. The long nautical history in his bloodlines brought out some of the best music of his career. On his album, Havana Daydreamin’ in 1976 he daydreamed about the beauty of Old Havana, and sang about his grandfather, the old sailor who had a huge influence on him in The Captain and the Kid. Early on he wrote  The Stories We Could Tell and it seemed that all of his songs were a way to tell a great story. He had classic ballads that still give me the chills, A Pirate Looks At 40, He Went To Paris, Nautical Wheelers, California Promises. His concerts were becoming events and the party atmosphere was defiantly providing a real incentive for the crowds to come out. In May of 1977, I saw a show Jimmy headlined at the Santa Barbara County Bowl on a Sunday afternoon. His opening performers were the guitar legend Leo Kottke and the wonderful character and performer, the late Leon Redbone. We sat in our beach chairs about 15 feet from the stage and had another one of those epic music experiences that only gets better in our memories. (see photo from this show)
In December 1978, I was at a Friday afternoon happy hour at the Red Onion in Newport Beach after a “rough” afternoon of sailing with the kids from our tutoring program. As I was at the bar trying to order a couple of shots of Jose Cuervo Gold for my buddy and me, a beautiful young woman was getting the bartender’s attention as she ordered up a couple of Cuervo Golds as well. We greeted each other and I realized very quickly that I had just met somebody unbelievably special. As the evening came on, she and her friends invited us to join them to go dancing at a Disco. Now I will admit, I wasn’t particularly the Disco kind of guy. I was not paying much attention to this type of music, and didn’t have much of a wardrobe beyond jeans, t-shirts and bathing suits. I did have a couple of Hawaiian shirts primarily because Jimmy Buffett was sporting them as well, so somehow we all ended up in the bar/lounge/disco at the Hof”s Hut in Irvine for a wild night of dancing to Donna Summer, Kool and the Gang, Sylvester, Sister Sledge and probably the Bee Gees doing Saturday Night Fever songs. There was Wild Cherry doing Play That Funky Music, Earth Wind and Fire playing Boogie Wonderland and The Village People singing YMCA. They did not play one Jimmy Buffett song and my new beautiful girlfriend, Connie, only knew about him because of some crazy ass song, Margaritaville.
As we moved into 1979, Connie and I moved in as well and by November we were married. I gave up my job as a Special Ed teacher, I got a couple of haircuts and took a job as a salesman for a toner and paper company. That was the beginning of the business career that I just retired from last year in 2018. But the important part of this particular story is the music. Connie came from a musical family, they were all really good singers in the tradition of the great show tunes and movie musicals. Her father had a magnificent voice and sang wherever he could and her mother played and taught acoustic guitar. Also, most of her family members were school teachers so they were a very well rounded bunch. Connie was the youngest child of the 3 kids and was also the rebel of the family, so her music choices were based on rock and roll and we had many of the same albums and liked many of the same performers such as The Beatles and The Stones, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, The Band, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Bonnie Raitt and many others. The thing was, she was also listening to a lot of Disco at this time period and I was listening to Buffett and all of the long-haired Outlaw country players like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Jerry Jeff Walker and especially Bob Dylan. And she really wasn’t much into that type of music. We would trade off playing albums. She would get one and then I’d get the next one. She would play Le Freak by Chic and I’d play Red Headed Stranger by Willie, then she would play a KC and the Sunshine Band record and I would follow up with One Particular Harbor by Jimmy. It worked. After a while we were both appreciating each other’s choices. And the artist she really begin to like, Jimmy Buffett.We were living in North County San Diego area during the first 4 years of our marriage and ended up seeing several Buffett shows at the San Diego State Amphitheatre. Nothing but pure fun and the Parrot Head thing was happening. The parking lot parties started to take on a life of their own. In 1984, a couple of days before our 5 year anniversary, we got an opportunity for a couple of seats at a tribute show in Costa Mesa that Jimmy was involved in for his dear friend and fellow songwriter Steve Goodman who had recently passed away from Leukemia. The tickets were available to us from a friend of Connie’s who was the girlfriend of Jimmy’s sound guy. These tickets ended up being golden. We sat in the 2nd row center, next to Steve Goodman’s family and saw Jackson Browne, George Carlin, Martin MullJohn Prine, Willie Nelson, Booker T JonesRandy Newman, Rosanne Cash, Kris Kristofferson, JD Souther, Emmylou Harris and Jimmy Buffett. Another one of those epic moments where fate put us in the right place at the right time.
So those are the early days of my relationship to Jimmy Buffett music. In 1985 our son Adam was born and in 1988 our daughter Samantha came along. We didn’t go to as many shows as we had, in fact, I am not sure we saw another Buffett show in the 80’s after they were born. We did pick it back up again in the 90’s and went to several shows again, mostly in Orange County with many of them at Irvine Meadows. We kept the record collection going and every album that Jimmy released was played at home and in the car and on our road trips across the country. All of our mix tapes had some Jimmy songs and also some disco as well as R&B, the Blues, Cajun, Country, rock and roll and a lot of The Beatles. Adam and Sami certainly had a lot of Buffett music as they grew up. Today they listen to his albums on their turntables. And even though they see me as a stereotype of the aging Parrot Head trying to hang on to some of my past, they are respectful of the music, and that is the point, the music is damn good.
Here’s a couple of things that I think about when I think Buffett’s influence on me all these years. He started off performing his songs on the street corners in New Orleans. Legend has it that all he wanted was enough money to buy a nice boat. Once he had that, if he didn’t make it in the music business, at least he had his boat. He wrote the song My Lovely Lady that was on his White Sport Coat… album. In it he sang,and” I don’t want the fame that brings confusion, that people recognize you on a plane, all I wants the quiet the comforts, that living with my lovely lady brings” Well from the street corner’s busking to the fame and wealth that very few musicians have ever achieved, he is still a very solid and well respected guy. He has written books, some good ones and some that are kind of goofy. He is influenced by Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway and tells some great stories. His albums, few and far between these days are still good but his old albums from back in the day are actually getting better with the years. He sells out every performance he has around the world, and his business acumen has allowed him to be able to build an empire that should be on a Monopoly board. He is an activist for the environment and his organizations and his Parrot Head Fan Clubs are having fun and raising millions for charity. He still has great reverence for his songs, his fans and his friends. On his 1974 album A1A his song The Stories We Could Tell, had these lines in it.

If your on the road trackin’ down your every night,
Playin’ for a living, beneath the brightly colored lights
If you ever wonder why you ride the carousel
You do it for the stories you could tell
And if it all blows up and goes to hell
I wish we could sit upon the bed in some hotel
Just listen to the stories we could tell.

 

Santa Barbara County Bowl May 22, 1977

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